Sunday, June 15, 2008

Reuben Sandwich

The other day, having a beer and a burger at a bar, an exchange student from MIT laughed at me and said "I've never seen anyone eat a burger with knife and fork before", to which I replied "This is Europe, we have culture".

Entirely false, of course. Not the part about Europe having culture, it has so many cultures that it's always been a favourite pastime here to attempt to wipe some culture or other out. No, I was just eating the burger with cutlery because I didn't feel like getting ketchup all over my hands. But the experience gnawed on me, I felt a need to reassure myself that I wasn't a barbarian by American standards.

So I decided to make Reuben sandwiches for Saturday dinner. I first heard of the Reuben while watching an episode of House, and googled it afterwards. The Reuben, like most popular dishes, comes in many local variants, and there's a bunch of different background histories to it. Whatever the truth may be, it is certainly a dish with Central European roots (or at least components). As a disclaimer, I want it to be noted that I've never had an authentic American Reuben, so if you feel this is oh my god all wrong, please tell me why.

Authentic or not, this is a delicious sandwich which scores a good 8 on the decadence scale, and if served with a side of fries, I think you'll be at about a 10. Since it's not something you come across in Europe, this recipe will be illustrated with more pictures than usual, so that this delicious decadence can conquer the continent.

I believe that the traditional meat to use for a Reuben is corned beef. We substituted a simple cured ham. There should be thousand island dressing, we used something called "cocktail sauce" instead. At least when it came to sauerkraut and Swiss cheese, we could get hold of the real stuff, so we used sauerkraut with Riesling wine, and a nice Appenzeller cheese from La Gruyère.

Reuben Sandwich, Central European style

Serves 2 reasonably hungry people. To go all out on the decadence, serve with fries. I'd rather have a nice green salad with a lemon dressing, but to each his own.

4 slices of good rye bread
2-4 slices of Swiss cheese
ca 100 g of cold cut meat
ca 150 g sauerkraut
thousand island dressing
butter, salt, black pepper

Put the sauerkraut in a small saucepan with a bit of water, and let simmer to heat the sauerkraut and let it absorb the water.

Gently fry the meat with a little butter to let it release some fluids and cook a bit. You don't want the finished sandwich to taste of raw cold cuts, do you?

Butter the bread slices on what will be the outside of the sandwiches. This will make a mess of your cutting board, but sacrifices must be made for the greater good. If using an assymetric bread, take care to butter the slices so that when recombined, they will form a nice sandwich. I learned that one the hard way. If you didn't understand the previous sentence, don't worry, you'll do fine.

Slather, but don't slobber, the other side of the slices with thousand island dressing. Cover two bread slices with the cheese, and the other two with the meat.

Place a generous slab of sauerkraut on top of the meat. Season with black pepper and some salt.

Place the cheese-topped slices on the other ones. This is when you might realize that your slices don't line up nicely, and cover the fact up by taking the photo from a dishonest angle.

Heat the frying pan to low to medium heat, and place the sandwiches in it.

Press down on them with a lid, and fry them under the lid for about 4-5 minutes, until nicely browned.

Use a small plate and a fork to flip the sandwiches and place them with the uncooked side down. You need the plate, because the sandwiches have a tendency to fall to pieces otherwise. Do it like this: you place the plate right next to the sandwich in the pan, and use the fork to flip the sandwich against the plate. Now level the plate so the sandwich slides back into the pan. Don't worry, It's much easier to just try it than to try to understand my explanation of it, I promise you. Fry under the lid for another 4-5 minutes.

Cut each sandwich into two slices, and serve with a cold beer.

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