During the lockdowns this year nostalgic snacks on toast, especially those involving cheese, have been enjoying a bit of a revival.
If you are fond of cheesy things on toast, who can resist something called English monkey?
Dating back a couple of hundred years or more this thrifty relative of Welsh rarebit helps eke out the cheese and goes further than the classic rarebit mix. Store leftover monkey topping in the fridge: it keeps fresh for several days.
The name is a bit of a puzzle* and appeared in American cookery books towards the end of the nineteenth century as an established alternative to Welsh rarebit. Welsh rarebit was generally made with ale (although many of us often substitute milk) but this tee-total and economical version is made with breadcrumbs.
Whatever the history, care is needed to make English Monkey look and taste as appetising as Welsh Rarebit. The breadcrumbs which make it go further can make the topping bland and stodgy if you add too many and give it a lumpy and distinctly unappealing appearance.
This version contains at least half the amount of breadcrumbs suggested in early recipes, plus extra seasoning borrowed from the classic rarebit.
Top Serving Suggestion
As well as toast, it tastes fantastic spread over toasted crumpets and topped with extra cheese and a red pickled jalapeno before popping back under the grill.
Make sure the bread for the crumbs is 2-3 days old and on the dry side.
Tear the bread into small pieces and whiz in a food processor so they are as fine as possible.
The cheese should be extra mature or vintage for the fullest flavour.
Season with a generous hand.
Top with a little extra grated cheese and a sprinkle of Cayenne before popping under the grill.
Enough for 6-8 slices of toast
- Small knob of butter
- 200-250ml milk
- 50g bread crumbs (see above)
- 125g extra mature Cheddar cheese, grated
- 1 medium-large egg, beaten
- ¼ teaspoon dry mustard, freshly ground black, ground white and Cayenne pepper
- Shake of Henderson’s relish or Worcester sauce to taste
- 6-8 pieces of bread
- Butter for spreading
Melt the butter, in a heavy bottomed milk pan. Add 200m milk and crumbs and warm through over a low heat, stirring until you get a smooth consistency. You may need to add more milk.
Add the cheese a little at a time stirring until melted
Once melted, stir in the, beaten egg gradually and season with mustard, pepper and sauce or relish. (Push the mustard and Cayenne through a tea strainer to avoid clumping).
Continue to cook for 2-3 minutes still with the heat low, until thick and bubbling,
Meanwhile, toast the bread, cool slightly and let the steam escape before buttering thinly, taking the butter right to the edges.
Pour or spread over the toast.
Top with extra grated cheese and pop under the grill until bubbling.
Refrigerate any leftover topping: see introduction.
Reviving Leftover Monkey
Heat through any leftovers stored in the fridge with a little extra milk stirred in and pour it over the toast as before. Alternatively, spread directly on the toast straight from the fridge.
*No pun intended on the curious ‘monkey puzzle’ Araucaria araucana tree loved by the Victorians: and still seen in gardens today.
Blushing Bunny Anyone?
If you liked the English monkey, there’s another cheese and breadcrumb version called blushing bunny that's popular in America involving a tin of condensed tomato soup. I’ve not been brave enough to try it yet but when I do, I’ll keep you posted!