Reuben Sandwiches: the good, the bad, and the UGH-ly
In my extensive exploration of Reuben sandwiches, I’ve eaten some really good ones, and some really bad ones. One of the best I’ve ever had was a very inexpensive offering at a family diner in Cheney, Washington: it struck the perfect balance between all of the components and had tender, delicious meat. On the other hand, I remember one $12 Reuben that had extra-thick slices of incredibly tough meat that required emergency dental floss immediately afterward.
Yet another memorable sandwich was made with smoked corned beef. Although I don’t object to the concept of smoking corned beef, the execution was…horrible. First, the smoky flavor was overpowering—so much so, in fact, that the meat tasted more like beef bacon. MOST horrible, though, was the fact that the fat was not trimmed off of the meat. You know how much fat is on a beef brisket? That’s right. A LOT. That horrific sandwich literally made me gag and got its own wall-of-shame-style photo on Yelp.
What makes a good Reuben sandwich?
Traditional Reuben sandwiches are served hot on rye bread, loaded with corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, and Russian dressing. Simple and absolutely fantastic.
To make my version of Reuben sandwiches, I start by warming up the meat and the sauerkraut: it’s absolutely critical to drain the sauerkraut well. Not doing so will result in a soggy sandwich—NOT good eats. I like to slice the meat fairly thin so that the slices are no more than 1/4″ thick. Before assembling the sandwiches, I put sliced swiss cheese on both the top and bottom slices of bread, then put them into the toaster briefly so that the cheese can start melting. Then I pull them out, layer on sauerkraut and a good amount of corned beef, apply the lid, and butter the top slice of bread. Then I put the sandwich—buttered side down—into a non-stick skillet over medium heat and butter the other side. I like to lid the skillet to ensure maximum meltiness.
“But WAIT! You forgot the dressing!!” Or DID I?
Let’s back up for a second. If you’re a Reuben sandwich purist, you no doubt noticed some heresy in the photo above: first, the dressing is on the side. Furthermore, it’s 1000 island dressing rather than Russian. I know, I know. Not traditional. But Phil and I prefer the flavor and texture of 1000 island—by all means, use Russian if you must. The dressing is on the side because the hubster can NEVER get enough of it into the sandwich, so he prefers to just dip his Reuben sandwiches into a liberal amount of dressing served in a ramekin.
About that dressing. 1000 island dressing is really easy to make and the fresh stuff is SO much better than store-bought. Plus, I’ve taken to using fat-free Greek yogurt rather than mayonnaise, so it’s a lot healthier too—but without the ton of added sugar of low-fat, store-bought dressings. BONUS! There’s so much flavor in the dressing that I don’t even notice the substitution. I add in a bit of chili garlic sauce for a tiny kick.
Back to that sandwich, which has been toasting up nicely in the skillet. I flip it when the bread develops a nice, golden color (about 2 minutes) and then do the same on the other side. Finally, I set the sandwich on a cutting board and halve it, and then serve it with that ramekin of dressing. It’s nosh time, baby.
Phil adds Reuben sandwiches to the list of foods I’ve “ruined”: dishes that he no longer enjoys eating out because we make them so much better at home. I hope that your family will love these Reuben sandwiches as much as ours does!
- 1/2 cup fat-free Greek yogurt
- 2 tbsp. ketchup
- 3 tsp. finely minced Vidalia onion or sweet onion
- 2 tbsp. sweet pickle relish
- 1 tsp. rice vinegar
- 1/8 tsp. coarse salt more, if needed, to taste
- 1/2 tsp. chili garlic sauce Sambal, or use Sriracha; optional
- 4 slices of marble rye
- 4 slices of swiss cheese
- 1/2 cup of your favorite sauerkraut, warmed and drained well
- 1/2 lb. corned beef, warmed and sliced no more than 1/4" thick
- 3 tbsp. butter
Mix all ingredients and store in an airtight container for up to a week.
Cover 1 side of each bread slice with Swiss cheese. Place in a toaster oven (or under a broiler) until cheese is slightly melted.
Remove bread slices. Layer 1/8 cup of sauerkraut*, sufficient corned beef to cover the bread slice, and another 1/8 cup of sauerkraut. Top with the other bread slice, melted cheese facing in. Butter the top bread slice of each sandwich. Place a nonstick skillet over medium-low heat. When the skillet is warm, add the sandwiches buttered-side-down. Butter the side that is now facing up. Lid the skillet, checking after 1 minute. Turn the sandwiches when the bread has developed a toasty, golden-brown color (1-2 minutes). Repeat on the other side.
Remove the sandwiches to a cutting board. Cut in half and serve with a ramekin of 1000 island dressing.
*If you prefer to put your 1000 island dressing on the sandwich rather than serving it on the side, a great idea is to mix it with the sauerkraut (about 2 tbsp. of dressing per sandwich).
This corned beef and cabbage is made the day before in the crockpot to ensure that the meat is tender.
Techniques for delivering the perfect grilled cheese—that most perfect and comforting of comfort foods.