This week I ate a lot of Reuben sandwiches and wrote about how I make mine and how you can create your own Reubens at home.
This is not the first Reuben I’ve made on this blog so far (and SPOILER it won’t be the last). Back on St Patrick’s day, 2022, I wrote about the Soda Pop Reuben which was a very non-traditional Reuben, to say the least.
What is a Reuben?
A Reuben is a popular sandwich that you will find on menus in delis and sandwich shops around the world. While it was invented in the United States, at this point, the Reuben has spread all over the place and I’d be shocked if you haven’t heard about one or even eaten one.
Two Reuben origin stories
Wikipedia has a bit of history on the Reuben sandwich that you can check out. But I’ll sum up the top two theories they list for the origin of a Reuben sandwich.
At some point between 1920 and 1935 a person from Omaha, Nebraska named Reuben Kulakofsky, asked for a corned beef and sauerkraut sandwich to be made for him during his weekly poker game at the Blackstone Hotel. The staff ended up naming this sandwich combination the “Reuben” after Kulakofsky.
The other story, which seems very credible, is that Arnold Reuben, owner of Reuben’s Delicatessen in New York, NY invented a sandwich called the “Reuben Special” around 1914.
Like most of these old, classic sandwiches I’ve chosen to write about, the true origin story is cloudy. Luckily, we don’t have to know for sure where the Reuben sandwich came from, we just have to eat them. Since these sandwiches taste so good, let’s just make one.
The Sandwich Tribunal also has a long Reuben-focused post with Reuben buzzwords that send them running away when they see them on menus. Check that out too if you need more Reuben knowledge. I use some of their Reuben buzzwords in my sandwiches. Hopefully, they won’t yell at me.
There are only five components to a Reuben. I made this table below to explain the ingredients or components. You can argue with me that some of the alternate ingredients should be the main ingredients or vice versa and that will be a one-sided argument because I don’t really know for sure.
I’m sharing the table below and saying that the alternate and main options can be swapped out whenever someone wants because that’s how it seems to me from perusing a lot of menus for Reubens. Some have kraut and some have slaw. Some have pastrami and some have corned beef. It’s Reuben-chaos out there!
|Main component||Alternate component|
|bread||Rye bread||Marble rye bread|
|cheese||Swiss cheese||Gruyere cheese|
|sauce||Russian dressing||Thousand island dressing|
My Reuben sandwich components
These are the five ingredients I sourced or made for my sandwiches and for the recipe down below. Read on to learn more. Click an ingredient to jump to that section. Choose your own Reuben adventure!
As usual, let’s start with making some bread.
Marble rye sandwich loaf
The marble part of marble rye refers to the swirl that is achieved from two colored dough rolled into a loaf. You make marble rye with a base dough that is flavored with rye flour. In my recipe, most of the flour is still all-purpose, but about a third of it is medium rye flour.
Once the rye dough has gone through around an hour of bulk fermentation, you divide the dough into two equal pieces, add black cocoa powder to one half of the dough and knead that until it’s consistently dark colored. Then shape the dough pieces into two equal-sized flat rectangles about the width of your pan. Place the dark dough on top of the lighter-colored dough and roll them together with the lighter color on the bottom and you’ll get a log of spiraled, colored dough. Place this dough log into your lightly oiled loaf pan and let it rise more before baking.
You can slice or score the top of your loaf if you want. It’s mostly decorative but occasionally your loaves will burst or crack on the top and these scores into the dough give the bread more space to expand. So, if you’re going for a pretty loaf, you can use a super sharp knife and quickly and confidently slice about a half-inch deep slash across the top. You can do two diagonal slashes (like I did below) or you can do one big slash all the way from one end to the other, lengthwise.
Here’s my marble rye loaf recipe. You’re going to need a few ingredients and an 8×4-inch loaf pan to make it happen. I have faith that you’re up to the job!
I shared a corned beef recipe back in March, but that one included cherry cola. It was really good; the sweetness contributed an extra depth of flavor to an already savory preparation of beef. This is the same corned beef recipe but with full water braise instead of a cherry cola braise.
Corned beef requires a few days in a salty brine solution prior to the cooking process. One of the more important ingredients in this process is pink curing salt or Prague no. 1. This curing salt helps maintain the color of the meat and helps keep bacteria or spoilage from happening during the brining process.
Prague powder #1 is meant to be used in small quantities. For five pounds of meat, you would only use about a teaspoon. Prague powder is one of those ingredients that can sit on your shelf for a while, but if you don’t want to buy it, you could ask your favorite restaurants that prepare their own brined meat, and they might be ok selling you a few teaspoons. Otherwise, for around 11 bucks you can get enough Prague powder to last you a few years at Amazon. The best buy date is around 5 years in the future, so it’s 2 dollars per year to own some.
My brisket was almost exactly the right size to fit into a gallon-sized zip-top bag for brining. You might not be so lucky, but you can easily brine the beef in a casserole dish or a large bowl.
I added the corned beef recipe to my Reuben recipe below. If you didn’t want to make this a sandwich and instead wanted to have a meal of corn beef and cabbage, you can just follow the first part of the recipe below.
It’s Swiss cheese and I used sliced Swiss. There are other examples of Reubens with a cheese sauce, but in this instance, it’s just sliced Swiss and we’re doing our best to get the slices melted in the griddling process.
Russian dressing is a little bit less sweet and has more spice than thousand island. In the sandwich, you won’t necessarily notice this heat though, so if you are spice averse, this dressing is not going to make your taste buds sweat.
Russian dressing is traditional on a Reuben. Often you will see thousand island dressing, but I wanted to go with Russian dressing this time and I chose to make my own.
When I was telling two different friends about this sandwich, in two different conversations they both said, “what IS Russian dressing anyway?” I gave both the answer: “horseradish and chili sauce are the main flavors.” There are other ingredients like mayonnaise, Worcestershire sauce, and paprika, but the two that are contributing the most are the chili sauce and prepared horseradish.
You can skip making Russian dressing if you’re in a rush. I have made Reubens with thousand island dressing and I enjoy that as a sauce as well. It’s up to you.
This quick sauerkraut recipe came from a chef named Michael Voltaggio courtesy of Allrecipes.com. I was skeptical when I found this recipe because it takes place in a microwave, but Voltaggio is a well-renowned chef, so I figured I’d give it a shot.
Turns out, it’s good!
The texture isn’t quite the same as some store-bought krauts, but by the time it gets in the sandwich, you’d never know that there was a difference. The flavor is spot on and that is what contributes a lot to the Reuben experience.
This quick sauerkraut recipe is full of flavor. It has a bit of thinly sliced onion in it along with apple cider vinegar and caraway seeds. The tastes you’ll experience are a lot like store-bought krauts.
I have made other kraut recipes and I will be using full fermentation sauerkraut recipes again in the future, but this is a good option if you don’t have 4 or 5 days for the fermentation process.
Corned beef Reuben recipe
Here’s my recipe for my corned beef Reuben sandwich.
A Reuben sandwich is savory, meaty, tender, crunchy, and sour. All the flavors and textures combine to create a great sandwich experience.
- 4 cups water
- 1 cup kosher salt
- 1⁄2 cup granulated sugar
- 5 whole cloves
- 1 tablespoon allspice berries
- 1 tablespoon pink curing salt (Prague #1) - this is not pink Himalayan salt
- 2 teaspoons whole coriander seeds
- 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
- 1 teaspoon black peppercorns (whole)
- 2 bay leaves
- 3 to 5 pounds beef brisket flat
- water for braising
- 1 head cabbage, sliced thin
- 1⁄2 onion, sliced thin
- 1 1⁄4 cups apple cider vinegar
- 1⁄3 cup apple juice
- 2 tablespoons salt
- 1 tablespoon caraway seeds
- 2 tablespoons butter (split into two)
- 2 slices of rye bread
- 3 to 5 tablespoons Russian dressing or Thousand island dressing
- 1 or 2 slices of Swiss cheese
- slices of corned beef (from above)
- Sauerkraut (from above)
Corned beef: add 2 of your 4 cups of water to a medium-sized pot. Add kosher salt, granulated sugar, cloves, allspice berries, pink curing salt, coriander seeds, mustard seeds, black peppercorns and bay leaves to the water and bring to a boil. This is your brine.
Allow the brine to cool slightly and add the last 2 cups of water.
Add your 3 to 4-pound brisket to a container that you can store in the refrigerator for the next five days. Cover the brisket with your brine. Add more water if needed to keep the brisket fully submerged in the brine.
Store the container with the brisket for the next five days. At least once a day, flip the brisket and stir up the brine.
After five days remove the brisket and discard the brine. Rinse off the brisket in cold water until it is clean of all brine, seeds and peppercorns.
Preheat oven to 300 F (148 C).
Add the brisket to an oven-safe pot or dutch oven that will hold it. Add as much water as needed to fully cover the brisket.
Over medium-high heat, bring the pot containing the brisket and water to a boil. Once it has come to a boil, remove from the heat, cover the pot and add it to the preheated oven. If you do not have an oven-safe lid for this pot, you can wrap the top in two layers of aluminum foil.
Cook for 3 to 4 hours until the corned beef is very tender when pierced with a knife.
Allow corned beef to cool for at least an hour before slicing. Slicing is best if the meat is cool, so resting overnight in the refrigerator would be best. Meat slices best when it is firmer and cooler.
Slice as thin as possible against the grain so that the resulting slices are very tender.
Quick sauerkraut: (recipe adapted from Michael Voltaggio) slice your cabbage and onion very thin and add to a microwave-safe bowl. Add the other sauerkraut ingredients and toss everything together to combine well.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and microwave for 5 minutes. Allow the bowl to cool; with the plastic wrap still covering it for 15 minutes.
Store the sauerkraut in a jar or sealed container in the refrigerator.
Sandwich assembly: heat a large pan or griddle over medium-low heat. Wait five minutes for the pan to be hot.
Spread butter on one side of one piece of rye bread and then place that butter side down on the hot pan/griddle. Add Russian dressing on top of the bread and then add a slice of Swiss cheese.
Add several slices of corned beef on top of the cheese.
On top of the corned beef, add a generous amount of sauerkraut, and top the kraut with the second slice of Swiss cheese (if using). Spread Russian dressing on the second slice of bread and lay the bread on top of the Swiss cheese with the Russian dressing facing down on top of the cheese.
Spread a little more butter on top of the Top slice of bread and cook the whole thing for 2 or 3 minutes and then flip. Cook for another 2 or 3 minutes and then flip again. At this point, you want to cook the sandwich, flipping back and forth until the bread looks nice and brown but not burned, so you might have to flip it another 2 or 3 times.
Once the bread is browned to your liking, remove it from heat and serve the Reuben sandwich.
Reubens are fantastic sandwiches and they’re easy to make. I think you should make one!
Check back next week when we shoot for a grand slam!