Omaha, Nebraska or New York? The legends point to both cities, and after almost a century, no one has been able to agree on the origin of the hearty Reuben sandwich with certainty. However, the sandwich layers remain the same no matter where you are: rye bread, sauerkraut, melty swiss cheese, Thousand Island or Russian dressing, and of course, corned beef.
I’m always curious about how things work, mostly with food—not so long ago, I worked on a 50-pie project. So over the course of two weeks, I worked on building a Reuben from scratch, from fermenting the sauerkraut to brining the corned beef and kneading the rye bread. I started my Reuben journey with the sauerkraut, since that takes the longest. The key to delicious sauerkraut is massaging the cabbage like your life depends on it, which will release all of the necessary juices for fermenting. At first, the sauerkraut proved stubborn, but after about 12 days, it finally reached that pungent flavor I was looking for. On day six of the sauerkraut, I began brining the brisket in a large Ziploc bag (taped up with masking tape for maximum effectiveness, of course).
The secret to the corned beef being so flavorful? Adding veggies to the broth while you simmer it. At this point, I was already dreaming of eating Reuben after Reuben. The last steps were making the Thousand Island dressing and the rye bread. I learned that the dark swirl in marble rye bread is actually from cocoa powder, and not pumpernickel dough. I just made two bread doughs, added cocoa powder to one of them, and quickly rolled them up like a sushi roll for that iconic swirl. Swiss cheese, on the other hand? I have yet to master. This slice of cheese is from my neighborhood grocery store.
While it might look complicated, most of the process was waiting rather than complex hands-on steps. I enjoyed a toasty Reuben on a cold Sunday evening, and I’ve never had a more satisfying meal. Here’s a visual guide into the process. Look here for the recipes, and then you can build your own Reuben from scratch, too.
Muriel Vega is a freelance writer based in Atlanta, GA. You can follow her cooking adventures on her Instagram:@kickmuri.
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The components: marble rye, sauerkraut, Thousand Island dressing, and corned beef. Only the Swiss cheese is not homemade.
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Well-massaged kraut with caraway seeds.
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The dough for the dark half of marble rye.
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Aromatics to simmer with the corned beef.
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Home-cured corned beef brisket, after simmering.
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The finished masterpiece.