Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Pursuit of Happiness - Perfecting the Reuben

Food Origin: The Reuben Sandwich… this is going to be long.
Debate continues as to the origin of this sandwich. Some swear it was 1916 when Arnold Reuben, owner of Reuben’s Delicatessen in New York served the first Reuben. Others swear it was Reuben Kulakofsky of the Blackstone Hotel in Omaha Nebraska circa 1925. Still others claim it was Fern Snider of the Rose Bowl Restaurant, still in Omaha, in the 1956 National Sandwich Contest. Well, after a lot of reading and digging I have deduced, with my keen senses, the true origin of the Reuben sandwich.

It was Colonel Mustard in the Billiard room with a Candlestick.

Regardless of the WHO, the WHERE, or the WHEN, the Reuben is one of the quintessential sandwiches. This is noticeable by the fact that you can refer to it as “A Reuben” and people know you are talking about a sandwich and not the guy next door. All GREAT sandwiches have experienced this phenomenon, a Monte Cristo, a Grilled Cheese, a Muffaletta, and a BLT, just to name a few. Yes, like all these, the Reuben has taken the world by storm and can be found everywhere. Now that is not to say that all Reubens on the menus of the world are *good* Reubens, just that they exist. But truly great Reubens can sometimes be found in the most unlikely places. After all, one of the best Reubens I have had in my life came from a little “Chinese” deli in Riverside, California. Go figure.

There is yet another mystery regarding the famed Reuben… The Dressing… I was raised with Mayonnaise gracing my rye bread. Thousand Island, which seems to be the accepted norm now days, was not allowed in the house for my mother abhorred all things with hidden sugar, and let’s face it, Thousand Island dressing might as well be dessert it is so sweet. In my research, however, I discovered that the original Reuben was made with Russian dressing…

This presents its own set of issues…. There is NO single recipe for the elusive Russian dressing, from which Thousand Island was derived. Oh yes, there are recipes claiming to be original but they range from Mayonnaise based to Yogurt based to Oil based and back again, containing everything from caviar to chopped boiled eggs and yes, even sweet pickle relish and ketchup. (Thus, the connection of Thousand Island dressing is made.) One thing was abundantly clear though; Russian dressing is spicier than Thousand Island, since it contains Chili sauce or Cayenne pepper, an ingredient that was a standard in almost all the recipes I found.

It was at this point, however, that I realized that I was not going to really be able to produce a Traditional Reuben sandwich at home, since no one seems to know what one *really* is. So I have resigned myself to producing what I THINK is as close as I can get in the modern age…

I decided to tackle this by concentrating first, on the individual ingredients.

Corned Beef...
This year I was privy to the idea of steaming instead of crock-potting it. I decided to experiment after a little internet browsing through the LA times.

Simply place water and the spice packet, if you have one, in the bottom pot. (I used my wok, cause it has this nifty steamer grate… THANKS DAD!!! My dad is the guru of kitchen gadgetry)

Line the steamer basket with cabbage leaves (I use a Napa cabbage)

Place the meat on top with the fat facing up.

Cover and Steam for 50 minutes per lb.

Remove and slice after cooling slightly…. YUM!!!

I snitched some… Tender, Juicy and delicious!!!!!

Ok, the Corned Beef completed!!

Now, Dressing...I had purchased Annie’s Organic Thousand Island dressing as a base… Why? There were four reasons:
  • It contains no High fructose Corn Syrup like all the others (It’s sweetened with good old fashioned sugar)
  • It is based on Yogurt instead of Mayo or just oil, which I feel more closely resembles the Russian Salad dressing.

  • Well… It’s organic, which always makes me feel better, since none of the other stuff is.

  • Finally, it was on sale and actually cheaper than Wishbone, Kraft, Girards or Ken’s Steak house.
So, to my Thousand Island I added some Cayenne pepper (I resisted using Chipotle powder)
Dressing designed……

OK, Swiss is the cheese. There is no doubt about that. But I was being stubborn, if I was going use Swiss cheese, I wanted SWISS cheese… Thus I needed Emmental… The Original, that most U.S. Swiss, as well as the Norwegian Jarlsburg are modeled after.

Cheese chosen.....

Being of German, Dane, and Swiss descent; or DaSwiGerm, if you will (The 'w' is pronounced like a 'v'). I know my Kraut… Whether it be Zuurkool, Surkal or Kapusta (which is actually Polish). The point is that I love Sauerkraut; mixed in mashed potatoes, served over knockwurst/bratwurst, eaten directly from the jar with a fork, or on my Reuben. Love it!!! But I am picky…

A little about kraut… Sauerkraut is cabbage that has been lacto-fermented. The same way as cold process pickled cucumbers (Barrel Pickles). This process is performed in 3 phases utilizing the beneficial bacterial beasties (they are small) already contained in the cabbage leaf, lactobacillus being one of them. This family of beneficial bacteria is responsible for producing buttermilk, Sour Cream, Creme Fraiche, Yogurt and changing the 'pH' of most Cheeses. Thusly, sauerkraut should really only contain the following:

Cabbage, Water, and Salt, maybe with caraway seeds and a little sugar for those Bavarians out there.

My choice is usually Bubbies because is contains only those three ingredients.
Sodium Bisulfate, Sodium Benzoate and High Fructose Corn Syrup have no business in sauerkraut. For all the touted health benefits of sauerkraut, I would think the presence of artificial preservatives and HFCS would pretty much cancel those out.

Sauerkraut Selected……..

Kimmel Rye bread made with Caraway seeds… This is where I deviated a little, I love Sour Dough, and I found a Sour Dough Rye with Kimmel (Caraway Seeds) so I was good to go!!!

Bread bought....

That's everything... WHEW!! Finally, on with the Sandwich…….

The Reuben

2 sliced Sour Kimmel Rye Bread
Unsalted Butter
Thousand Island Dressing (with added Cayenne) or Russian (if you can find it)
Corned Beef
2 Skillets (sorry but your gonna need 2)
Sandwich knife (or a bread knife and a butter knife)

Let us begin….

Butter the bread slices on both sides and lay on a little waxed paper.

Slice your cheese fairly thin.

Portion out your Sauerkraut if making more than one sandwich. (this is heat and eat, no waiting)

Heat up both skillets. Please DO NOT use Raw Cast Iron for the corned beef and kraut, it will react and taste funny. I do, however, like to use cast iron for the bread and cheese.

Begin grilling or pan searing the bread in one skillet while heating the corned beef in the other.

When the beef is just about heated through move it to the edges of the skillet and add the kraut in the middle. (My skillet was too small so I removed it and tented it to keep it warm)

Flip your Bread and add cheese to 1 slice, then cover to foster melting.

Heat sauerkraut thoroughly, this will steam off some of the excess juices and dry it out a little so your bread will not become soggy half way through your sandwich.

Remove bread from skillet and apply dressing to the un-cheesed side.

Lay Sauerkraut on the cheese covered slice.

Lay down the Corned Beef next,

then the dressed slice of bread on top.
Press down lightly and slice with your knife on the bias…
Move to a plate and serve immediately with a chilled Harp or Guinness….

Mmmmmmm..... Happiness IS a well made Reuben.... and a Cold beer.
Yeah, the final pictures weren't great, but after smelling this thing cooking, I could not wait, so I only took two in hopes that they would come out, then I began eating with great exhuberance...



Brian said...

HOLY SMOKES!! As a native NY'er I'm a big fan of Deli food and ethnic Jewish/ Russian/ Eastern Euro meats, sandwiches and soups and one of my biggest gripes with the Reuben sandwich at any restaurant is that they put so much crud on the sandwich that you cannot eat it like a sandwich and the bread is always too moist and it falls apart.

I sometimes tell them to put the toasted rye bread on the side (so that the sauerkraut can drain on my dish and not the bread then I just make it myself.

I sometimes eat my Reuben with knife and fork (yes I am ashamed) Thanks so much for the great recipe and tip about the cast iron pan.

Keep up the good work my man!

Spryte said...

I keep trying Reubens and so far haven't liked them.

I think I should like them, so I keep trying.

I'd really love to try yours!!!

DDpie said...

I so emailed this to Jim, hehehehehehe. Along with LEMON MERINGUE PIE, this is one of his absolute favs. Maybe I'll get up the nerve to try another corned beef someday. [sigh]