Reuben Sandwiches (from scratch)

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Mr. Reuben.

It could be that I'm crazy to endure so much for a sandwich. A sandwich I'd never even tasted before! But I was intrigued by the ingredients ... sauerkraut, corned beef, and Swiss cheese. Originally, these came from simple, plain foods and were manipulated with just a few ingredients and lots of time. And then like magic, they transform into something else entirely different. What would happen if you put them all together? They'd be a little support group for fermented sandwich makings. Together, they'd be even better, I decided. And I like projects. And Kurt loves Reubens.

A traditional Reuben sandwich is corned beef, melted Swiss, sauerkraut with Russian or Thousand Island dressing, on toasted rye bread. It was invented by some dude in Omaha in the 1920's. I'd wager that his name was Reuben.

I made some swirled rye bread, which for me, is just as exciting to bake than it was to eat. I enlisted Kurt to make his delicious sauerkraut. We worked on the brisket together - I prepared the brine while he prepared the meat. The sauerkraut and brisket were started on the same day, and were left to ferment and soak for about 8 days. Such a long journey, making this sandwich.

Home corned beef is a little different than the corned beef you buy at the deli counter. When you get it from the meat man, it's a bright pink, processed log, shaved into paper-thin slices. It's called "corned" because of the corn-like salt deposits left from the brine used to cure the meat. To make your own corned beef, you have to get a brisket and soak it in a spiced beer brine for 8-10 days. Then you boil it in even MORE beer for a couple of hours until it's fragrant and tender, and infused with a week's worth of flavor. It will be brown and slightly pink in the middle, like a roast, unless you add a curing salt (it only effects the color)- in that case, it will be pink as a posy. When finished, your poor, tough old brisket has Cinderella'ed itself into something quite beautiful. Just salt, beer and pickling spices, but the texture and flavor can be likened to a much more schmancy cut of meat.

Here are the recipes for the swirled rye bread and corned beef. You can find Kurt's sauerkraut recipe here. For the cheese, we used a nutty and sweet comte de gruyere. I admit, this was a lot of work, but well worth our time and effort.

Swirled pumpernickel rye bread.

Swirled Pumpernickel Rye Bread:
(Adapted from the Bread Baker’s Apprentice.)
Makes two 8" by 5" loaves.

1 1/2 cups of white rye flour
3 cups unbleached bread flour
2 teaspoons salt
1 3/4 teaspoons instant yeast
1 tablespoon molasses
2 tablespoons melted butter
1 1/4 cups water, at room temperature
2 tbsp caraway seeds

1 1/2 cups white rye flour
3 cups unbleached bread flour
2 teaspoons salt
1 3/4 teaspoons instant yeast
1 tablespoon molasses
2 tablespoons melted butter
1 1/4 cups water, at room temperature
3 tablespoons cocoa powder dissolved in 3 tablespoons of water
2 tbsp caraway seeds

1 egg
1 teaspoon water

To make the light rye, combine rye flour, the bread flour, salt, and the yeast. Add the molasses, shortening, and water. Mix until the dough forms a loose ball, adding a splash of water if necessary to bring the dough together. Knead for 4-6 minutes. The dough should feel soft and elastic but should not stick to your hands. Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling to coat it all over. Cover with a tea towel and set aside. To make the pumpernickel rye, follow the same steps, only add the cocoa mixture in with the wet ingredients.

Allow both doughs to ferment at room temperature for about 1 1/2 hours, or until they double in size.

Turn the doughs out onto a lightly floured workspace, and divide each dough into 4 equal balls. For the swirl shape, take 2 pieces of light rye and 2 pieces of pumpernickel and roll them out into rectangles, about 8″ by 5″. Layer the four rectangles, alternating the colors, making sure that the light rye is on the bottom. Starting on the longer side of the rectangle, carefully roll 1/3 of the dough towards you, pinching and tucking the seams to cover the inner layers. Place bread doughs in a lightly oiled bread pan and let rise for 1- 1 1/2 hours.

Brush bread with egg wash made from one egg and 1 tsp. water, beaten. Bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes. Cool completely on a rack before slicing.

meat meat.
Home-corned beef, fixin' to be sliced!

Corned Beef:
(From Bon Appetit via Epicurious)

6 cups water
2 cups lager beer
11/2 cups coarse kosher salt
1 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons Insta Cure no. 1* (optional! We skipped it.)
1/4 cup pickling spices (You can make your own mixture.)
1 6- to 8-pound flat-cut beef brisket, trimmed, with some fat remaining

Pour 6 cups water and beer into large, deep roasting pan or dutch oven. Add coarse salt; stir until dissolved. Add sugar; stir until dissolved. If desired, stir in Insta Cure No. 1. Mix in pickling spices. Pierce brisket all over with tip of small sharp knife. Submerge brisket in liquid, then top with a 1 gallon freezer bag filled with water and sealed to weigh the meat down. Cover and refrigerate 4 days.

Remove brisket from brine. Stir liquid to blend. Return brisket to brine; top with weighted bag. Cover; refrigerate 4 days. Remove brisket from brine. Rinse with cold running water.

Place corned beef in very large wide pot. Add stout and enough water to cover by 1 inch. Add bay leaves, coriander seeds, allspice, and chile. Bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until beef is tender, about 2 hours and 15 minutes. Allow meat to cool in the pan's liquid. Transfer meat to a cutting board and slice, against the grain into 1/4" thick pieces.

Assemble the Reubens:

These would work well in a sandwich press, but if you don't have one, you can press the sandwich between two skillets.

Spread 1 tbsp. of the Russian dressing on one slice of rye bread. Then put on the sauerkraut, spreading it evenly. Arrange the cheese in an even layer over the sauerkraut, then do the same with the corned beef. Spread another 1 tbsp. of Russian dressing on the second slice of bread and place it, dressing side down, over the corned beef. Place sandwich on a cold, lightly oiled skillet. Turn the heat to medium-low and grill the sandwich slowly, pressing down on it a few times with a wide metal spatula. Heat (med-low) another smaller skillet on a separate burner. Grill until the bread is toasted, then turn the sandwich over with the help of the spatula. Place the other warm pan over the sandwich, using its weight as a press. Cook for a couple of minutes until both sides are browned and crisp and the cheese is melted. Serve immediately.


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