Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Classic Reuben

Sometimes, you just want a big sandwich. I’m not talking about peanut butter and jelly, although I enjoy those quite a bit. I’m talking lots of deli meat, cheese and other stuff hot off the grill. Enter, the Reuben sandwich.

The classic Reuben is a hot sandwich, chock full of corned beef, with swish cheese, thousand island dressing and sauerkraut, served on rye bread and then grilled. Several variations exist including the Rachael, substituting pastrami or turkey for the corned beef and coleslaw for the sauerkraut. On the west coast and in Vegas they substitute Dijon mustard for the thousand island dressing. In Florida they really get weird, substituting grouper for the corned beef and using coleslaw.

The origin of the Reuben depends on who you talk to. One account credits Reuben Kulakofsky, a Lithuanian-born grocer from Nebraska. It may have been a group effort by Kulakofsky and his poker buddies. They held a weekly poker night in the Blackstone Hotel between1920 and 1935. The sandwich first gained local fame when Charles Schimmel, the hotel’s owner, put it on the Blackstone's lunch menu.

Another account credits Arnold Reuben, the owner of the once-famous Reuben's Delicatessen in New York. According to an interview with Craig Claiborne, Reuben invented the "Reuben special" around 1914. A few others are around as well, blaming different culprits and celebrities. Whatever story is true, this is a filling and satisfying sandwich.

Equipment needed
mesh strainer
measuring cups
non-stick skillet
dutch oven, stockpot, or cast iron skillet
cooling rack
rimmed baking sheet

1 pound sauerkraut
2 tablespoons butter, or more as needed
8 slices rye bread
3/4 cup thousand island dressing
8 slices Swiss cheese (8 ounces)
1 1/5 pounds corned beef, thinly sliced

Rinse the sauerkraut in a mesh strainer under cold running water. Drain well and squeeze out as much excess moisture as you can.

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees.

Assemble the sandwiches by layering the ingredients as follows:
1 slice rye bread
1 tablespoon dressing
1 slice Swiss cheese
1/3 cup sauerkraut
another tablespoon dressing
6 ounces corned beef
another slice of Swiss cheese
1 more tablespoon of dressing
1 slice of rye bread on top

Press gently down on the sandwich to set everything together.

Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium-low heat. Spread 1 teaspoon butter over one side of each sandwich and put them in the hot skillet, butter-side down. You should be able to do two sandwiches as a time. Place a dutch oven, stockpot, or a cast iron skillet over the top as a weight to press them down. Cook until crisp and golden, about 3-5 minutes. Remove the weight and spread more butter on top. Flip the sandwiches, replace the weight, and cook for another 3-5 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack set over a baking sheet in the oven to keep them warm while you cook the remaining sandwiches. Cut them in half if desired. Serve with pickle and potato chips.

Makes 4 sandwiches.

If you have an electric grill, or pannini grill, the process is much simpler. Butter both sides of the sandwiches and cook until crisp and golden.

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