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I’m not sure what it says about my family that the majority of our traditions revolve around food. An aunt once said that we are the only family in the world that begins discussing what we will be eating for the next meal [or even the one after that] before we start eating the one in front of us.
My Mom began making Reuben Sandwiches on New Years Day when I still lived at home. She had the corned beef simmering away in the crock pot all day on New Years Eve so that our thoughts of the year to come were perfumed by that rich aroma. Not a bad way to end the old year if you ask me.
I’m a little less ambitious and I usually have fewer mouths to feed, so we pick up our supplies at the deli. We don’t always use corned beef, sometimes opting for pastrami instead. That is the nice thing about Reubens – though there is a traditional way to do them, you can modify this recipe to suit your own tastes, and those of the people with whom you are sharing them.
I don’t know exactly where this tradition has it’s roots for us. Some nod to the notion that eating cabbage on New Year’s Day will bring good luck I suppose. A little odd when you think of it, because my Mom’s roots are in the south on her Mother’s side so you would think we would hold to the idea that one must eat black eyed peas to ensure a year of good fortune, but no. It is cabbage for us!
I can’t say I’m sorry. I don’t mind a little Hoppin’ John, but I doubt I would feel luckier eating that than I do when someone plunks a fat juicy Reuben Sandwich in front of me. Throw in a nice dill pickle, a few chips and open that leftover bottle of bubbly from the night before – your year will be off to a very fine start indeed.
You will notice another break with tradition in this photo, assuming you are an expert in these matters. The cheese. Neither of us are fans of Swiss cheese, so I usually go for a buttery melty Muenster. Havarti is good, and I have even used Cooper Sharp in a pinch. You can use whatever kind you like best. I also like to spice up the Thousand Island Dressing that adorns every bite of a Rueben, which is why there is a bottle of hot sauce in the photo. That too is optional, as you will see below.
You also have plenty of choices in how to actually toast your Reuben Sandwiches. They can be somewhat tricky to flip the way that you would a toasted cheese sandwich, though that is the way I do it. Between learning from my Mom and working in restaurants, I can flip a sandwich pretty successfully, though I have been know to botch it every so often. The trick is speed, plus a firm grip, kind of holding everything together and maybe just getting a bit of a singe on your fingers in the process.
You can also just griddle the bread separately, buttered side down, next to the sandwich or toast the bread in a toaster and then use the oven and broiler to cook the sandwich or use a panini press. I have a panini press and I think I will dig that out and give it a try that this year, because I’ve heard that it’s the easiest way.For this batch though, I used my trusty iron skillet, which is a great way to ensure a nice crispy grilled sandwich.
Thousand Island Dressing
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
- 1/4 cup chili sauce or ketchup
- 1 teaspoon cider vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon honey
- 1 tablespoon hot sauce
- 2 tablespoon prepared horseradish
- 1 teaspoon finely grated onion [use a microplane]
- soft butter
- 8 slices pumpernickel bread
- 1 pound thinly sliced corned beef
- 1/2 pound Swiss or Muenster cheese
- 1 15 ounce can sauerkraut drained and all liquid squeezed out
- Mix all of the dressing ingredients together in a small bowl. It will have the best flavor if you make it a few hours before you need it. If refrigerated, take out about an hour before making the sandwiches.
Assembling the sandwiches
- It is best to have all of the ingredients close to room temperature, so take everything out of the fridge about an hour before.
- Lay all of the bread slices out on the counter, and lightly butter the side facing up.
- Lay up to half of the slices butter side down in a cold iron skillet, saute pan or griddle. [you may have to do your sandwiches in batches, depending on how large a pan you have]
- Place a single layer of cheese on the bread, followed by 1/4 pound of corned beef.
- Top the corned beef with a handful of sauerkraut, spread evenly.
- Drizzle on a couple tablespoons of the dressing you prepared earlier.
- Top everything with another single layer of cheese.
- Cover the pan, and turn the heat to medium.
- Cook the sandwiches for about 5 minutes, shifting their position around the pan a bit, so that they cook evenly. Take a peek at the underside of the bread - if it is not browned, and the cheese starting to get melted, leave it another 3 minutes and then check again. The exact amount of time it take depends on the pan you use, your stove, etc, so just keep checking.
- When the sandwich is ready to turn, top with another slice of bread, with the butter facing out.
- Quickly turn each sandwich, holding the layers together. If things get a little crooked, no worries - just smoosh it all back neatly together with your turner.
- Grill the second side about 5 minutes, and then check the bottom to see if it is getting browned, cooking a few minutes more if it is not.
- When the sandwich is done, carefully remove to a cutting board and slice in half with a bread knife, holding it firmly as you slice through.
- Serve immediately with extra sauce for dipping. A nice crunchy dill pickle is optional, but highly recommended.
Make sure you use a nice sharp bread knife to slice each sandwich in half – press down a little while slicing to get a nice clean cut.Honestly – can you imagine a better way to get the New Year off to a good start?Happy New Year everyone!