Name a better sandwich than the Reuben. I didn’t think you could.
Its invention is disputed. The estimable Craig Claiborne, for many years the New York Times‘ food editor and author of numerous cookbooks, tried to trace the sandwich’s origin. He came up with two plausible sources:
One story is that the sandwich was popularized by a waitress, Fern Snider of Omaha, NE, who took first prize with it in the 1956 National Sandwich Contest. She got the idea from one of her employers, the Blackstone Hotel in Omaha at the time. Seems the owner belonged to a weekly poker group from 1920 to 1935 and part of the evening’s entertainment was making sandwiches. One player, a grocer named Reuben Kay came up with the recipe of corned beef brisket, kraut, and Swiss on rye. When the Blackstone served it, Reuben’s name was attached.
Soon after Claiborne was told that story by the National Kraut Packers Association, he got as letter from Patricia Taylor of Manhattan. She made the plausible claim that the sandwich had been invented by her father, Arnold Reuben, the proprietor of a legendary, now defunct, deli on 59th Street. She wrote “The year was 1914. Late one evening a leading lady of actor Charlie Chaplin came into the restaurant and said, ‘Reuben, make me a sandwich, make it a combination, I’m so hungry I could eat a brick.’
“He took a loaf of rye bread, cut two slices on the bias and stacked one piece with sliced Virginia ham, roast turkey, and imported Swiss cheese, topped off with coleslaw and lots of Reuben’s special Russian dressing and the second slice of bread. He served it to the lady who said, ‘Gee, Reuben, this is the best sandwich I ever ate, you ought to call it an Annette Seelos Special.’ To which he replied, ‘Like hell I will, I’ll call it a Reuben’s Special.'”
Arnold Reuben’s invention may have come first, but Reuben Kay’s sounds a lot more like the classic sandwich we make today, practically unaltered. According to Claiborne, Bernard Schimmel, chef at the Blackstone and son of the poker player, considered making the Reuben an art, and insisted it be served on pumpernickel, preferably sourdough. Sometimes he served it cold, otherwise it was served warm on the outside and cold on the inside. He laid the bread slices side by side and put the beef on one side, the cheese on the other. He mixed the kraut with Russian dressing, plopped it on one side or the other, buttered the outside of the bread, and heated it on the griddle.
I have made one significant alteration to the traditional recipe. The original has Russian dressing which is ketchup and mayo mixed together. I have substituted tomato based BBQ sauce, Kansas City style, for the ketchup. You don’t have to ask why do you?
Corned beef comes in two forms:
Uncooked corned beef is usually a hunk of beef that is in a brine solution of curing salts, regular salt, and pickling spices. It is then packaged in a sturdy plastic bag with some of the brine. It is very salty and has not been cooked.
Cooked and ready to eat corned beef is cured in a brine with curing salts, regular salt, and pickling spices, then cooked, and usually packaged in slices or sliced at the deli counter.
There are three popular cuts:
Whole packer is a massive slab 10 to 18 pounds. You rarely find them corned.
Flat, which is flat, lean, evenly striated and it makes for perfect slices. But it can be tough because it has little marbling. Typically 3 to 5 pounds.
Point, which is a second muscle on top of the flat that has better marbling and therefore richer flavor, fuller mouthfeel, and is more tender. It is usually sitting on top of a layer of flat with a fatty layer in between. Typically 3 to 5 pounds.
Serve with: a Brooklyn lager.
Published On: 6/6/2014 Last Modified: 4/8/2021
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