Delicatessens are like a true destination spot for me. I can get lost in them,
examining every nook and cranny for little tins, jars, cans etc of imported European goodies. And then there are the deli counters, with a cornucopia of meats, sausages, cheeses, fish, prepared salads etc. There are usually weird and unnameable items hanging from the rafters, and the aroma is like a big bear hug.
Where I grew up in southern Ontario, we had a German deli in town that we visited weekly. Each member of our family had their favourite cold cut item that would get included in the shopping excursion. Then there were all the condiments- mustards, fresh pickles, spreads, etc. And of course, the bread rolls (brötchen in German) the pumpernickel loaves, or the seeded rye bread that would round out the shopping spree.
The Reuben Sandwich is really a tribute to the delicatessen. Every component is an homage to what the deli is all about. The thick and juicy sliced corned beef, the tender and tangy Swiss cheese, the jarred sauerkraut, the rye bread. Yep, we would buy them all on a regular basis. What we never did as a family growing up though, was put them all together at the same time!! This sandwich is not a German classic. It is more of a New York deli creation. But as soon as we discovered it as young adults, we brought it home for our parents to try. They loved it.
Of course, there was one thing missing in those days. The Russian or Thousand Island dressing. This is DEFINITELY not something we grew up on! And the idea of putting something rather sweet on a sandwich like this certainly wouldn’t have come to my parents’ imagination, as an option. But mustard!! Oh yes. Hot and spicy, or pungent, or even slightly sweet, any mustard would definitely make it’s way on to the sandwich.
These days, my tastebuds have changed. So a few years back I went to my trusty Joy of Cooking cookbook to see what kind of Russian dressing recipe they supplied. I have actually grown quite attached to the sweet and crunchy (pickle) contrast of the dressing to the gooey cheese and tangy sauerkraut sensation of this sandwich. So this is the dressing that I’m including below. It’s really just so easy, and can be whipped up with condiments you already have in the fridge or pantry. It’s just a blend of mayonnaise, chilli sauce or ketchup, horseradish, Worcestershire sauce, minced pickle, and salt and pepper.
Now as for the sandwich itself. Yes, corned beef or pastrami are the meats of choice. Even Montreal smoked meat works wonderfully. If you have homemade corned beef, that would work just awesome. Thick slices of homemade corned beef, where it is so tender and juicy that is is just falling apart is amazing. But most of us don’t have that sitting around when the craving for a Reuben hits us. On the other hand, sliced or shaved deli meat is easily obtained. For the cheese, Swiss or Jarlsberg, or even an Emmental would work fine. Swiss is the traditional. I would rather have a touch thinner slices, so that I can layer several over each other- they melt more gently and thoroughly than one thicker slice. Plus, I like to have cheese on both sides of the sandwich- more on that later. As for the sauerkraut, this is what we do: I usually have a glass jar of prepared sauerkraut in the fridge. When it comes time that I want to use some, I take it out of the jar and place it into a fine mesh sieve. I drain and rinse it completely. This is what my mother taught me. The kraut straight from the jar is just too vinegar-y and flat tasting. By rinsing it off, and warming it through on the stovetop with a touch of stock or water or even white wine, some finely sliced onion if you want, and some salt and pepper will soften the kraut and round out the flavours. This will make all the difference in the final sandwich.
Some recipes suggest cooking these up like grilled cheese sandwiches. However, by the time you have all the components pressed between two slices of rye bread, trying to flip them in the skillet can be a messy endeavour. So I totally side step this method. I lay out both slices of bread on a baking sheet. Both slices get some of the dressing. Then one side is topped with the shaved meat. This gets covered with the kraut. And then the sliced cheese. Since the other slice really needs a bit more than just dressing, I add more cheese to it as well! These all get put into the oven and baked until the cheese is starting to bubble. I then turn up the broiler and finish the sandwich to a golden, bubbling brown!! Then when out of the oven, I take the cheese only slice of bread and smoosh it over the other one! Tada! A sandwich that you can hold, without the mess of trying to grill it in a skillet. Plus, this way everything gets warmed through properly. Sometimes when the sandwich is fully loaded, trying to get the middle warmed through on the stove top can be a touch more challenging.
Whenever we get together, this sandwich is often one that my sister and I make. We love making them for company as well. Just add a side of fries, potato salad, or even onion rings! And of course, lots of garlicky pickles. Or come to think of it, my German Roasted Potato Salad with Bacon Vinaigrette would be perfect! Yummm, now I want to make one! Or take a trip to New York, where they make a Reuben that will feed a family in one fell swoop!
The Mighty Reuben Sandwich
This classic deli sandwich of corned beef or pastrami, sauerkraut and melty swiss cheese is total comfort food. Just add a garlicky pickle and some onion rings!!
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- 1/4 cup chilli sauce or ketchup
- 1 tbsp grated or prepared horseradish
- 1 tbsp Worcestershire Sauce can replace with 2 tsp Coconut Aminos
- 2 tbsp minced pickle or gherkins or even pickle relish, if you have it
- kosher salt and cracked black pepper to taste
- 12 oz or about 1 1/3 cups rinsed and drained sauerkraut
- 2 tbsp chicken stock water or white wine
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 1/2 tsp cracked pepper
- 8 slices of rye bread if they are large and oblong, you can cut them in half and only use 4 slices
- 1 1/4- 1 1/2 lbs about 500 grams of shaved or sliced corned beef, pastrami, or Montreal smoked meat
- 8 thin slices of Swiss cheese or enough cheese to cover both sides of the sandwich, (count on 2 oz or 60 grams per sandwich)
Stir all the ingredients together in a small bowl. Taste and see if you like it. Re-season how you'd like. Because the pickle or relish can be so seasoned, I hesitate to tell you how much salt to use initially. Don't skimp, but start off with less.
Set aside in the fridge till needed.
First, prepare the sauerkraut. Take the rinsed and drained sauerkraut and place in a small pot, over medium low heat.
Add the stock, white wine OR water and stir. Add the seasonings. Simmer gently for a few minutes, till softened and warmed through. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 400F
On a baking sheet, spread out the 8 slices of bread.
Spread some of the dressing on each slice.
Take the meat and divide evenly amongst 4 of the slices.
Top the meat with the warmed sauerkraut.
Divide the cheese between all 8 slices. Some of the cheese go on top of the sauerkraut, the other slices go over the slices with only the dressing.
Place the baking sheet into the oven and bake until the cheese starts to soften, about 5-7 minutes.
Turn up the broiler, and broil the sandwiches until the cheese has completely melted and started to bubble. If you find that this is taking too long, move the oven rack to the top third of the oven to get the sandwiches closer to the broiler. But keep an eye on them!!
Remove from the oven, and take the cheese only slices and place them over their meat and kraut counterparts.
Serve with pickles, french fries or even onion rings.
This is more of a method, than an exact science! If you want to pile up more meat, feel free. If you like less sauerkraut, that's fine. Add as much cheese as your little heart desires. And if you really don't like Russian dressing, may I suggest a tangy mustard instead! My German Roasted Potato Salad with Bacon Vinaigrette would be an awesome side to these sandwiches!!