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September 2013



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Starving artists

Starving Artists in the Kitchen--Reuben Sandwich!

Hi all--this time the Starving Artists explore a classic, a good old reuben sandwich. Since it’s one of Joseph’s specialties, I’m going to turn this column over to him, too--I just enjoy.  And yep, it’s still a lot less expensive if you make these at home, let alone better!  And hey, remember, the builders of the Great Wall of China got sauerkraut to keep them healthy and strong!

(Of course if I'd been thinking when I did the illustration, I'm not sure I would have included the lyrics from that old song--I definitely do NOT want "all the men to be transported, far beyond the northern sea!" I'm just fine with mine right here!)

(a la Joseph!)

A classic no-brainer, right? A grilled sandwich on rye bread with corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and Thousand Island dressing. What could be so hard?

Well, if that were true, why am I almost invariably disappointed-going-on-disgusted whenever I order one whilst eating out?
For one thing, unless it’s a deli, most restaurants use frozen corned beef. Might as well used the canned stuff (known to the Brits as “bully beef”), which in fact is what I originally thought they were using. And if they are using the good stuff, they almost invariably skimp on it. And never mind what they charge you for it.

So I gave up on restaurant Reubens. If I want one, I’ll make it myself.

Which is why we’re here.

To make a good Reuben, you really have to start at a deli – the one in the supermarket will do, but in any case, avoid the pre-packaged corned beef and cheeses that hang on the wall. Get good corned beef and Swiss cheese, sliced very thin. The meat won’t heat and the cheese won’t melt if they’re sliced too thick.

Good quality, heavy Jewish rye bread is a must – don’t mess with the swirly stuff. It looks pretty but it doesn’t hold up to a proper Reuben. If you don’t have a good local bakery within reach (sadly, I don’t), and if you don’t care to make your own (again, I don’t), Pepperidge Farm Jewish rye will do fine. It needs to be heavy because it’s going to have to withstand some major stress – there’s a lot of juicy, gooey stuff on this puppy! A one-pound loaf should be fairly small. It most definitely should NOT be fluffy like Wonder Bread or you will have a major mess on your hands.

And probably in your lap.

Sauerkraut. If you don’t make your own (which is best!)*, read the ingredients. If it has anything in it besides cabbage, caraway seeds and salt, keep looking. Water? Not in good sauerkraut, but it’s hard to find commercial stuff without it. Actually, kraut with caraway seeds, normally labeled “Bavarian style,” isn’t an absolute must, but I prefer it. If you can’t find it you can add your own caraway seeds.

Thousand Island dressing. You can buy it off the shelf if you want, but it’s better if you make your own. This will make far more than you’ll need for one sandwich but it’ll keep as long as your mayonnaise will.

1 cup mayonnaise (Don’t you DARE use Miracle Whip!!)
1/3 cup sweet pickle relish
2 T ketchup (we use the new Clearly Organic* brand–who knows how close to the ideal it is, but it’s good!)
That’s all there is to Thousand Island.

OK, here we go.
Have all your ingredients at room temperature and ready to go because this sandwich is built in a hot skillet. The ingredients should be added as quickly as possible without being sloppy. The exact quantity of each ingredient is up to you. I’d say about five or six slices of corned beef, enough kraut to make about a loose ½” thick layer and three or four slices of Swiss cheese. However, the order in which you add the ingredients does matter!

Also, just as a heads up – it’s best to have TWO spatulas handy. It makes turning the sandwich over a LOT easier!
Pre-heat your skillet to medium heat. Once it’s hot, melt a little butter in it, just enough to cover the bottom of the pan. Not margarine – butter. Don’t argue with me. If you don’t believe me, make a suet ball from margarine. The birds won’t touch it no matter how cold the winter is. They’re telling you something. Listen to them.

Take two pieces of rye bread and butter one side of each. Turn them over and spread the remaining sides with Thousand Island dressing. I tend to lay it on a little thick.

Put one slice of bread in the skillet, butter side down.

Add the cheese, one slice at a time. You don’t want it stuck together; that makes it harder to melt.

Add the corned beef. Like the cheese, don’t just throw it on all together like a slab; add one slice at a time in a kind of loose pile. Don’t worry; you’ll flatten it down later.

Add the sauerkraut and the remaining slice of bread, dressing side down of course. Cover the skillet.

When the bottom slice of bread is fully browned, use two spatulas – one on the top and one on the bottom – to flip the sandwich over. Some say to put a plate on the sandwich and a weight on top of the plate at this point, but I really don’t find that necessary. Just mash it down with a spatula and cover the skillet again. As the sauerkraut (which is now on the bottom) heats up it will steam the corned beef and finish melting the cheese. I TOLD you the order was important!

(You can see that J. takes his Reuben making srsly.  Really!)

When the bottom slice of bread is fully browned, remove the sandwich from the skillet and place it on a cutting board. Slice it on the diagonal (it just tastes better that way, I don’t know why) and serve it up with a big slice of kosher dill pickle.

I'm surprised we could wait long enough to take a photo...YUM.

Want to read more about Reubens? Wikipedia has an entry, naturally! It’s here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reuben_sandwich, and good old Craig Claiborne delved into its history in the New York Times, May 17, 1976. He’s always a good read!

Clearly Organic brands has a 100% customer satisfaction guarantee, and more info on what that all means here: www.awgbrands.com/organic.php

Interested in making your own sauerkraut? I found this recipe and it looks pretty close to what I used to do, when I lived on a farm in the 70s: http://www.chetday.com/sauerkrautrecipe.htm This one reminds me of my old hippie farmer days: http://www.wildfermentation.com/resources.php?page=sauerkraut

What a fun web page! Too bad I wasn’t on the ‘net in the old days...

I would have been too busy with my goats, anyway...

If you love gadgets, you might want to explore one of these options for sandwich makers...hmmmmm, Reuben Panini! (OK, Joseph’s a Reuben purist and has taught me to appreciate his method too, but some folks like to play with the gadgets!)


The illustration of the sandwich had to be done from a photo, this time–it was TOO GOOD to allow it to get cold! It’s pen and ink with watercolor wash, on hot press paper. Sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do!


I have NO idea what that expression on my face was about! SRSLY!
You were paying close attention to the whole exacting process! Rather like cutting diamonds, ya know?
Thank you, Miss Vicky! I still miss them, after 30 years! That one was Secret, and she could get out of ANY enclosure.

I love Joseph's reubens, anyway, it's not something I normally order out! I'm spoiled, I guess...
Corned beef to me is what you think we call bully beef (well, that was in the 60s or before - it is now called Corned Beef over here and comes in tins). Your Corned beef looks like what we would call thinly sliced roast beef. I think I need to google for a while.
I remember hearing about bully beef, yep. We also have corned beef in cans, but it's definitely NOT what we like on a reuben.

Actually, corning beef is a process--you rub the beef brisket with salt, cover with hot water with salt and sugar dissolved in it. It takes about 48 hours for the meat to be corned. (They call it corned, but has nothing to do with corn, it was the size of the salt in Anglo-Saxon times!)
Ah hah!

Maybe you can explain/translate another thing I keep seeing - "brine the turkey" - why would anyone want a salty roast turkey (brine = salt water)?!
Oh my, I never heard of brining the turkey! We'll have to dig
Wonderful post, and I love seeing J in seriuos action at the stove. A True Connoisseur in the Art of Reubens.:)
There is a corned beef in the fridge at the moment that will be in the oven in short time - Reubens for dinner tonight and I am already drooling.
Reubens are one of our faves too. And you and J are correct, the order of ingredients during assembly is important. And real butter, yes! We'd much rather have less of the real stuff than more of the ersatz.
And I agree w/ slicing on the diagonal, there just seems to be a 'difference' if it's not cut that way.