I recently spent the week with a friend. Now don’t go all COVID-Nazi on me, as we made sure that my friend did not bring contamination into the house, and we made quite sure that he did not leave our house with any. My friend Reuben is great company, and our time together never fails to satisfy. He can be a little sweet or a little salty, but then can’t we all. Of course, none of this should be surprising when I let on that my friend Reuben is actually a sandwich.
Marianne (formerly known in these parts as Mrs. JP) is adept at cooking many things that my own mother would never try. One of those things is corned beef. Marianne’s one rule – she prefers the round to the brisket. The problem is that the leaner round is a cut that does not show up in the stores very often, so when it does we tend to go all Sam’s Club and buy three or four of them, or however many we can cram in the freezer. Some of you may disagree with her choice, but just keep it to yourselves as I have no desire to open that can of – well let’s not talk about worms here.
When we had three kids at home a big fat hunk of corned beef would be wiped out after a single meal. It was a good thing there were usually plenty of cabbage and potatoes to go along with it to ensure that everyone was up-filled.
But now it is just two of us, and the woman who cooks the meal is trying to avoid those starchy old potatoes that we Irishmen yearn for. The answer: Reuben sandwiches. Lots of Reuben sandwiches.
Almost every American knows what a Reuben sandwich is (sometimes spelled Rubin). They are found on menus in all kinds of places. For those who require some remedial caloric tutoring, a Reuben sandwich is a hot sandwich traditionally made with corned beef and swiss cheese and made interesting with sauerkraut and some sweet dressing, either Russian or Thousand Island, all on toasted or grilled rye bread.
What is interesting is that there seems to be no agreement where it came from, despite the fact that it only goes back 100 years or less – certainly to a time of things like electric light bulbs and delicatessens.
The leading version of the story says that the sandwich was the brainchild of one Reuben Kulakofsky, a grocer in Omaha, Nebraska. One of his poker-playing buddies owned the Blackstone Hotel there and put it on the lunch menu one day. Leading to fame and fortune. Well, maybe not.
New York will not stay quiet, though, and insists that a Reuben of its own deserves the crown – Reuben’s Delicatessen. That story says that either Arnold Reuben invented the sandwich himself around 1914 when having to come up with something after closing time for a famous actress who was hungry. Or it was one of his cooks who created it for Reuben’s son in the 1930s. I say New York’s representatives are having trouble keeping their stories straight. Oh well, I have no horse in this race so I will let New York and Omaha step outside and settle the question like gentlemen.
Anyway the Reuben is everywhere, and usually without a lot of messing-with. Those who go with coleslaw in place of sauerkraut – please find another name for your sandwich because you don’t know nuthin’.
Anyway, back to Reuben’s visit to our house. With a few pounds of corned beef coming out of a crock pot the hard part was done. Some rye bread buttered and slapped on the griddle, swiss cheese to melt on the bread, a blop of sauerkraut on the griddle to heat while a few slices of hot corned beef go on the melty cheese. And finally a drizzle of Thousand Island (yes, we have had quite enough of things Russian after the last four years). Slice ‘er in two and add a pickle and maybe some chips, and there we are – our own little deli.
And no, the photo at the top is not from our personal visit from Reuben. Isn’t that just the way when friends visit – you’re all having such a great time nobody thinks to get pictures.
The difficulty comes when there is just too much of that corned beef. It results in a Reuben Festival that lasts two of us for days. Not that I am complaining. So it is actually not really a difficulty at all. Reuben is always such good company. Or maybe I need to pile more meat on each sandwich? I know, moderation in all things. You are such a scold, have I ever told you that?
Well Reuben finally bid us farewell and things have not been the same. I can take or leave Swiss cheese all other times of the year (leaving it is the preferred option) and the Thou is not my preferred dressing on actual salads – I prefer the Bleu. We did offer to let the sauerkraut hang around for an upcoming bratwurst celebration, though. But for now, once the corned beef leaves the party is pretty well over.
The good news is that we have two more of those corned beef rounds in the freezer and the other stuff is filling store shelves just a mile and a few dollars away. And we will be sure to welcome our old pal Reuben again. As soon as we get rid of another, less welcome guest – a few unwanted extra pounds.
Reuben sandwich – July 15, 2010 photo by Michaela den, via Wikimedia Commons with license.