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Sometimes, you find a dish that just clicks; However it works, it works for you.  This brings us, totally unsurprisingly, to what might be my favorite food of all time: The Reuben Sandwich. A few years back I wrote about my love for Reubens. But even before Cabbages & Kings was a thought in my head, I had briefly mentioned the affinity on a much shittier and somehow-less-followed blog I wrote at the time. I could literally go on and on about how much I love this sandwich, but for the sake of brevity I won’t.

What I’m really getting at is that the combination works across near-infinite formats: Pizza, Tacos, Nachos, Egg Rolls, Lasagna. If there’s a dish you can think of, I’m sure somebody has figured out a way to put corned beef, sauerkraut, swiss cheese and Russian dressing on it. Of the countless Reubens and Reuben-adjacent dishes I’ve had, I’ve never had one quite like this.

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Reuben on a stick? Sign me up. As far as food-on-a-stick goes, the classic Corn Dog is pretty run of the mill. Fixing it up into a Reuben taking a bit of extra effort, but it is well worth it.

Corned beef, surprisingly, doesn’t work quite so well on a skewer. Depending on what cut you get, I find it’s either too tender to hold shape well or too tough to get a good bite off while leaving it attached. I opted for kielbasa instead. For the batter, rye and caraway are a no-brainer. Shredded swiss in the batter could work really well, but I didn’t like the way the final product looked, so I nixed it altogether. A little kraut, a little Russian (Thousand Island, only if you insist), and you’re good to go.

Reuben Corn Dogs, adapted from ChefSteps
makes 4

  • Bread Flour, 80g
  • Rye Flour, 80g
  • Granulated Sugar, 66g
  • Cornmeal, finely ground, 25g
  • Kosher Salt, 9 g
  • Caraway Seed, ground, 8g
  • Baking Powder, 3g
  • Egg, beaten, 80g (about 1.5 eggs, beat 2 then measure by weight)
  • Whole Milk, 145g
  • Kielbasa, 4 5-inch lengths
  • Russian Dressing, as needed (recipe follows)
  • Sauerkraut, as needed

Preheat frying oil to 375F.  Combine dry ingredients. Combine wet ingredients, mixing to combine. Combine wet and dry ingredients, mixing thoroughly. Transfer batter to a tall container. Pat sausage dry with a paper towel and skewer onto stick or toothpicks. Dip sausages into batter, up to 1/4 inch onto the stick. While holding the stick, fry sausages until batter begins to set, about 10 seconds. Drop into oil and continue cooking until golden brown, about 4 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to drain. Top with Russian dressing and sauerkraut.

Russian Dressing
makes about 3/4 cup

  • Mayonnaise, 1/2 cup
  • American Chili Sauce, 1 tablespoon
  • Parsley, minced, 1 tablespoon
  • Yellow Onion, minced, 1 teaspoon
  • Horseradish, grated, 1/2 teaspoon
  • Worcestershire Sauce, 1/4 teaspoon
  • Kosher Salt and Black Pepper, to taste

Combine all ingredients. Allow to sit overnight or at least 12 hours.

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Every now and then, I like cooking. But sometimes, I really like cooking. Like, really really. The 52 Weeks of Cooking Challenge has given me some great opportunities to expand my culinary horizons and try things I’ve never had or made before. This week, however, that isn’t the case. This week, I’m not expanding any horizons or reaching any new summits. I’m not trying a new cuisine, nor am I recreating an iconic dish from film or television. Week 47 of of Reddit’s 52 Weeks of Cooking Challenge is Brining and for me, that can only mean one thing: THE REUBEN SANDWICH.

A bit of background before I start going full-on fanboy over a sandwich: Brining is the process of soaking foods in a solution of sugar and salt. Through osmosis, the salt, sugar and any other spices in the solution are drawn into the food, yielding a moist, flavorful product. The process is most commonly done with deli meats, and even the upcoming Thanksgiving bird for next week, but can also be used for making some great pickles. At work, we brine our chicken and pork loins to keep them extra moist after cooking on the wood fired grill. Brining is also the process used to make Corned Beef. Made with either brisket or eye round, you probably most recognize corned beef either boiled with cabbage (fun fact: corned beef has absolutely nothing to do with Ireland) or ground up with potatoes for breakfast. While both of these options are delicious, my favorite iteration of corned beef is piled in the classic Reuben Sandwich.

The reuben is a sandwich consisting of rye bread, corned beef, swiss cheese, sauerkraut and either Russian or Thousand Island dressing. Toasted up until crispy and melty, the reuben is a classic at delis across the country. The origins of the sandwich, are not as cut-and-dry as the ingredients. One story is that of Reuben Kulakofsky, owner of Central Market in Omaha, Nebraska. In the 1920’s, Kulakofsky and company regularly met at Omaha’s Blackstone Hotel to play poker. Throughout the day, the group would save a few cents out of each pot and order a late night snack from the hotels kitchen. The snacks generally consisted of cold cuts, bread, salads and condiments from which the gamblers would assemble their own sandwiches. Charles Schimmel, fellow gambler and owner of the Blackstone, enjoyed Kulakofsky’s favorite concoction so much that he added it to the menu of the hotel and named it after the Lituanian immigrant. A opposing  story postulates that the sandwich originated in 1914 at Reuben’s Delicatessen and Restaurant in New York City. Owner Arnold Reuben created the sandwich at the late night request of actress Annette Seelos who said “Reuben, make me a sandwich, make it a combination, I’m so hungry I could eat a brick.” The sandwich consisted of turkey, ham, coleslaw and Russian dressing. What is the true origin of the sandwich? We’ll probably never know for certain. However, I prefer the story of Kulakofsky. As a market owner and Eastern-European immigrant, the components of a reuben seem to be more in line with his sensibilities and tastes than they would of a new york deli owner. In addition, the reuben described by Arnold Reuben seems to be more akin to the Rachel sandwich, which uses turkey and coleslaw in place of corned beef and sauerkraut. The other great debate amongst sandwich aficionados is Thousand Island vs Russian dressing. From my own research, I can’t find a definitive answer one way or the other. What I did find is that Thousand Island and Russian dressing are nearly identical, the only difference being that Russian dressing contains horseradish. Many proponents of Russian as the original claim that it was made with yogurt and caviar to make it authentically Russian, but I haven’t been able to find any sources to confirm or refute this. Which ever sauce you choose, the reuben is a tasty, tasty sandwich.

I think my love for the reuben first started in a class at CIA. In the Quantity Foods Production class, students prepare vast amounts of food (in technical terms, a shitload) to practice high-volume production and service. The class isn’t necessarily focused on new techniques or classical preparations, we made sandwiches, soups, burgers, tacos, things that were easy  pickups and would sell easily.  One day, I was on a station that was picking up… it. The reuben. At the time, I had never even heard of it, much less ever having tried it before. Our chef instructor, one of the best chefs and better teachers of my time at the CIA, was very insistent on people trying everything that was on the menu, especially if it was something they hadn’t had before. So I had the sandwich for our family meal. It was like nothing I had ever had before. As I’ve mentioned multiple (multiple) times, I love all things sandwich. Since I was a kid, it was always been my dream to open up a high-end sandwich shop. The reuben, beyond all else, became the sandwich to end all sandwiches. In a blog I wrote last year, I had to decide what I would request as my final meal if I were ever on death row. Accompanied by some childhood favorites,  the reuben was the star of the show. When I go to a restaurant, I almost can’t help myself if they have one on the menu, which has also led to many, many disappointing experiences. Since that first sandwich at school, I’ve always wanted to do the whole thing myself: bake bread, brine my own corned beef, the works. This week, I finally had my chance.

reuben

To start off my sandwich, and to count for this weeks theme, I had to make the corned beef. I made my brine using a homemade blend of pickling spices, sugar, kosher salt, and a bit of curing salt.Brisket is the traditional cut for corned beef, but with a lack of brisket at the store, Eye Round was the next best cut. After brining for five days, I vacuumed sealed the beef with carrots, celery, onion, and more of the pickling spice and sous vide it at 140F for about 30 hours. Various sources said the cooking time should be anywhere from 24 to 72 hours for that particular cut, with 30 hours seeming to be the most common. After taking it out of the water bath, I kind of wish that I had gone for just 24 hours. The beef was very tender and sliced well, but was a little bit dry. While the corned beef is all well and good, you have to have a base for the sandwich. I considered going out to a bakery and picking up a nice loaf of rye bread, but decided that if I was going all out with the beef, I had to bake my own bread too. After many unsuccessful attempts at bread recently, I was glad to see that this one came out perfectly. Dark rye loaf with caraway seeds and coarse salt. Awesome. I looked into a few different recipes for Thousand Island dressing, and found that the bottled stuff isn’t actually too far off from what you would make yourself. To keep in the deli spirit and also save myself a bit of time and hassle, I picked up a bottle of dressing, as well as some sauerkraut (I really don’t have a month or two to ferment my own). All that’s left was the making. I piled everything up high, as is customary in NYC, and griddled it to golden perfection. It was everything I could have hoped for. All the flavors I remember from that first sandwich back in school were there, but it was just… better. The caraway seeds made the bread spicy and herbaceous. The brining and slow cooking of the beef made the flavor unparalleled to the deli counter. The sauerkraut, swiss, and dressing were just the icing of the cake that is the Reuben. If you’ll excuse me, I’ll now be off to eat this sandwich until it kills me.

Corned Beef Eye Round

  • Beef Eye Round, trimmed, 4lbs
  • Pickling Spice, 1/2 cup
  • Sugar, 1/2 cup
  • Kosher Salt, 1 1/2 cups
  • Instacure #2, 1 teaspoon
  • Cold Water, 1 gallon
  • Carrot, chopped, 1 each
  • Onion, sliced, 1/2 each
  • Celery Stalks, chopped, 2 each

Combine 1/4 cup pickling spice, sugar, salt, Instacure, and 1/2 gallon of water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes. Add remaining cold water and chill to room temperature. Submerge beef in brine and allow to sit for 5 days, refrigerated. Remove beef from brine and *vacuum seal with remaining pickling spice and vegetables. Cook in a 140F water bath for 24 hours. Shock in an ice bath until completely cooled.

*Alternatively, simmer beef in water with carrot, celery, onion and pickling spice until tender, about 2 hours.

Reuben Assembly

  • Seeded Rye Bread, 2 slices
  • Thousand Island Dressing
  • Corned Beef, thinly sliced
  • Sauerkraut
  • Swiss or Emmentaler Cheese

Spread one side of each slice of bread with butter and invert. Spread inside of bread with Thousand Island dressing. Top with 2-3 ounces corned beef, sauerkraut, and swiss cheese. Top with bread. Griddle in a hot pan, under weight, or in a sandwich press until bread is toasted and cheese is melted.

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