Name a better sammy 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, NB, 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, 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 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? Here's a video starting with how to make pastrami.
Recipe for Rockin' Reuben Sandwiches
Makes. 1 sandwich
Preparation time. 20 minutes
Cooking time. 10 minutes
2 teaspoons tomato based Kansas City style barbecue sauce or ketchup
2 teaspoons mayonnaise
2 heaping tablespoons sauerkraut
2 teaspoons melted butter
2 slices pumpernickel or rye bread
1 slice Swiss cheese, Emmentaler, or Jarlsberg, about 1/8" thick
1) If you are using corned beef, follow the steps in the sidebar to get it ready. If you are using pastrami, it is better warm, so throw it in the microwave or steam it.
2) Make the dressing by combining the BBQ sauce and mayo in a bowl or coffee cup. Some folks like to add a teaspoon of sweet pickle relish. If that's what you like, go for it.
3) Squeeze the kraut in your fist to drain as much of the liquid as possible. Spread it on a paper towel until you are ready to assemble the sandwich.
4) Preheat the grill in a 2-zone setup. Place a griddle or frying pan with an oven safe handle on the hot side of the grill and close the lid.
5) On the insides of the bread spread the dressing. Slice the meat if necessary, and on one side layer the meat, then the kraut, and then the cheese. Now cover the pile with the other slice of bread.
6) Paint a thin layer of melted butter on one side of each slice of bread with a basting brush. Make sure the edges are buttered so they don't burn.
7) Put the sandwich on the hot griddle or pan. If you wish, you can grill it right on the grill grates, but you won't get all over browning. Press it down lightly with a spatula and close the lid, but don't go away. In about two minutes peek at the bottom. Get the bread golden brown or as dark as you like it, but don't burn it. Flip and repeat. Slice in half on an angle and serve with chips and a beer.