Hello everyone! James here, Lydia’s boyfriend. I have had the fortune of sampling a lot of the recipes and ideas Lydia and Hayley have worked on over the last few years and now they have asked if I would like to contribute a guest blog. Seems only fair I suppose. Now I must sing (or type) for my supper…
I thought for a while about what to write about. Given the breadth of dishes and cuisines the two girls have written about it seemed difficult to find something interesting or new to cover. However, I think I’ve got it. I want to write about one of my favourite sandwiches – the Reuben.
The Reuben sandwich is more closely associated with the American Jewish deli but seems to have become increasingly popular in the UK. Over the last few years it is easy to notice pastrami based sandwiches appearing more often in supermarkets and in cafes. There is also lots of debate about the origin of the sandwich and even the content (e.g. corned beef, salt beef, pastrami) but having sampled a few varieties I can safely say they are all delicious.
I’ve had the fortune of having two excellent Reuben sandwiches in my life. Both quite revelatory and they inspired me to make my own.
The first was in the Carnegie delicatessen in New York, just around the corner from Broadway. I was over there with work and due to some jet lag I was up at 5 am on a Sunday. I managed a run around (some of) Central Park in the misty rain and after showering in my hotel I wandered over to the Carnegie deli. It’s a very evocative place. Signed pictures on the wall of every possible celebrity you’ve ever heard or (and loads you haven’t), big pickles and meats at the front for takeaway and the surliest staff outside of France. I was the only person in there as it was so early and when I left that was still the case. I ordered a Reuben. Not the most traditional breakfast but I knew it was what I wanted before I even left the UK. It came out as a tower. 90% meat it seemed and I couldn’t get anywhere near finishing it. I checked and it looks like the Carnegie deli is about to close which is a real shame given its traditions and history.
The other great Reuben I had was in London at The Brass Rail, a café that specialises in salt beef in the huge Selfridges in London. Apparently it was recently refurbished from a much more traditional style of deli so has lost a bit of its charm. I sat at the window, on my own, and devoured a great salt beef (not pastrami) Reuben on marbled rye with sauerkraut and swiss cheese. Apparently, there was some Russian dressing in it but I barely noticed it. Lovely.
Now to making your own Reuben. For those of us not inclined to be smoking or brining our cold cuts, and I do not class myself as quite there yet, I recommend getting the pastrami or salt beef first. Quality matters here so the closer to a proper deli style you can get the better. The supermarket packets are usually disappointing but I have used them myself from time to time. The meat tends to be too thin, too peppery and without enough fat. Nice thick slices are the best.
Next is your bread. Traditional Reuben sandwiches are on rye bread. I have used a few variations before but they never felt right. Remember the bigger the slices, the bigger the sandwich!
Here is where we deviate slightly. I believe a Reuben can be made with sauerkraut and/or Russian dressing and still be considered authentic. I’m definitely in favour of Russian dressing on its own. I’ll keep sauerkraut for my roasted pork knuckle and Pilsner thank you very much. Russian dressing is much sharper and vibrant so I think it helps with the meat and cheese. Sauerkraut has the same effect but less so and is more one note.
Finally pick your cheese. Emmental is my pick. I defer to Lydia on most cheese matters (being a heathen Cheddar man without much taste for the sheer variety out there) but I wouldn’t ever go with much else here.
When making a Reuben, I’d recommend warming the pastrami or salt beef in some foil in the oven and a little water which livens it up a bit and adds some moistness that helps when grilling the sandwich. Butter two sides of rye from corner to corner. Assemble your meat, cheese and dressing on the unbuttered sides. Go as heavy with the meat as you wish but bear in mind when grilling in a pan you may want to flatten it down with something heavy to achieve a good crisp. Go full Carnegie and it will be a struggle to do this!
When grilling, you have a variety of options. I prefer a flat frying pan to allow you to press down on it but you can do the case with a griddle or cast iron pan. A panini press would achieve the same effect. You can grill it in the oven but it never seems to toast the bread and melt the cheese quite how I like it.
Cut in half when done to your liking. Get yourself a massive pickle to go with it. Enjoy.
1 tablespoon chopped onion
1 cup mayonnaise
¼ cup of ketchup
2 tablespoons of horseradish
1 tablespoon pickle juice/brine
1 teaspoon hot sauce
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
¼ teaspoon paprika
Mash the onion into a paste and whisk in the other ingredients. Add salt to taste.