A non Jewish version of a non Jewish, Jewish sandwich

"It’s an unbelievable combination of flavours and textures. And it is, without question, one of the BEST sandwiches in the world!"

Nagi - Recipe Tin Eats


This is a Reuben sandwich - a famous Jewish/American/New York sandwich. This particular version is from Recipe Tin Eats - the website created by Nagi a Japanese Australian that I talked about a month or so ago. So not American, but I have to say her recipe seemed to be the most detailed and actually the best looking one. She even made her own pastrami.


Why am I writing about this? Well it's my weekly David's special meal challenge tonight and the challenge tonight is leftover dark rye bread. Not just a slice but a biggish chunk. Reuben sandwiches are traditionally made with dark rye bread. And no we are not having a Reuben sandwich for dinner, though I guess we could have really, and since I still haven't made my final decision, maybe this should still be on the table as an option.


I think the Reuben sandwich should probably be made with fresher bread than what I have though. What I have is pretty stale.


So given this challenge I started trawling the net. Well I started with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's Love your Leftovers book, but this time he didn't really come up with any options. The net was more inspiring, although, of course, at least half of the options were for sweet things, including this absolutely delectable looking Brown butter caramel and rye bread gelato from delicious. For a moment I was tempted to just do a dessert, but it's not summer is it and what would I do with it all anyway? Come the warmer weather though this could well be on my list of dishes to try some time. After all dark rye bread is sort of savoury and sweet at the same time isn't it?

I suppose I had in my head a savoury kind of bread and butter pudding and that was another avenue that I followed. Once again I was hugely tempted by KItchen's Savoury cheese and onion bread and butter pudding, but it wasn't really meant to be made with rye bread and could I be bothered, yet again trying to make caramelised onions? It never seems to work for me.


Besides, by now I had come across several different versions that deconstructed the Reuben sandwich, reassembling it in a variety of ways. So what is the Reuben sandwich?


"Buttery, crisp, thin slices of Rye. Delicious layers of homemade corned beef; not piled so high you can’t fit the sandwich in your mouth (a pet peeve of mine with several famous NYC delis). Homemade sauerkraut and homemade Russian dressing. All the elements were perfectly proportioned so that every bite was a pleasure."

Aun - Chubby Hubby


Well not healthy I guess is perhaps the first thing one should say.


“I devour the sandwich, a mountain of corned beef between two greasy slabs of marble rye, leaking cheese and Russian dressing all down the front of my sweater. It's delicious, and I don't stop eating until I've finished the last thick fry, which I use to mop up the remains of the sandwich.” Meredith Mileti - Aftertaste: A Novel in Five Courses


There are two origin stories. The first is that it was invented by one Reuben Kulakofsky of Omaha, Nebraska at the Blackstone Hotel. Actually three people are involved, Reuben, who is said to have invented it although some say that it was a group invention by the members of a weekly poker game at the hotel. The hotel's owner, Charles Schimmer, was impressed and started serving it, naming it after his friend. And then somebody else used the recipe to win a contest - which spread it's fame. This all took place in the 1920s.


Then there's the New York version - created by Arnold Reuben, owner of Reuben's Delicatessen in 1914, for the actress Marjorie Rambeau when she wanted something to eat and there was not much in the pantry to choose from. Which just goes to show that from hardship great things can be created.

Jewish? Well yes and no. I think both supposed creators were Jewish and it is a New York delicatessen standby and most delicatessens are apparently Jewish. But traditional Jews never eat meat with cheese - so not strictly Jewish. Well not Kosher anyway. And what I am cooking is even more non-Jewish because I'm going to use ham.


The staple ingredients for a Reuben sandwich seem to be the rye bread, swiss cheese, pastrami, sauerkraut and Russian dressing. According to the Recipe Tin Eats lady, who I have to say seems to have the most comprehensive recipe, Russian dressing is made from mayonnaise, sour cream, horseradish, chilli sauce (she used sriracha - I shall be using a dash of tabasco), Worcestershire sauce and dill pickle. Oh and butter of course. I was really interested in the deconstructed versions because of the sauerkraut I have to say. David has been buying me jars of sauerkraut and if that isn't a hint I don't know what is. Besides I like sauerkraut too.


The various versions of a bread and butter pudding or casserole that I saw actually went for corned beef, not pastrami and Thousand Island dressing not Russian dressing - which is related but not the same. It's an ubiquitous American sauce that's used on everything including MacDonald's burgers apparently.


So I went to the supermarket to see what I could get in the way of pastrami, corned beef or ham. Well I could have had them all - the delicatessen had thinly sliced pastrami and corned beef, but I'm sure they would have cut me a thicker piece if I had asked. The fresh meat compartment had chunks of corned beef and ham, so I dithered. I tried to find a tin of corned beef, just in case there was one, but couldn't find it. In the end I chose ham, because my picky husband is not a real fan of corned beef I think. And one of the recipes I am considering did say it could be made with ham as well. Indeed there is a version of the Reuben sandwich called the Rachel Sandwich (no I don't know who Rachel is - maybe it's just because it's a Jewish name) which is made with turkey and coleslaw instead of pastrami and sauerkraut.


So what am I going to make? Well I am dithering between Reuben Bread Pudding (Taste of Home) and Reuben Casserole (Diana Rattray - The Spruce Eats), both from good American home cooks.


The bread pudding has a savoury custard poured over the meat and the chunks of bread. The casserole has no custard but mixes the meat, sauerkraut, cheese and dressing together and scatters rye breadcrumbs over the top. I'm leaning towards the bread pudding, but will the bread be too soggy? And I'm going to try and make right my use of ham by using Russian dressing instead of Thousand Island dressing. Seems more authentic to me. I'm also going to make it with shop bought mayonnaise which goes against the grain somewhat, but I don't need much and what else am I going to do with a lot of mayonnaise if I make my own? I did buy a whole egg version, but I do feel a bit bad about it.


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