The classic Reuben is a grilled sandwich with layers of pastrami or corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and Russian or Thousand Island dressing. It’s a classic, and completely wonderful, deli delight.
So who was Reuben, and where did he learn to make such a great sandwich? Accounts vary. Some say it was created in the 1920’s by Reuben Kulakofsky, a Nebraska grocer, as a way of feeding his poker-buddies. Others claim it was invented by either by New York deli-owner Arnold Reuben as the “Reuben Special” in 1914, or by Alfred Scheuing, Arnold Reuben’s chef, for Reuben’s son Arnold sometime in the 1930’s. I have no idea which version, if any at all, is true, though I do have a hard time believing a great corned-beef sandwich came out of Nebraska over New York.
Over the years, a variant-Reuben has emerged made with turkey instead of corned beef or pastrami, and cole slaw in place of the sauerkraut.
Today’s recipe is based on the simple idea that almost anything normally made using packaged ingredients can be made better using fresh, home-made ingredients. (For instance, make that same tuna salad sandwich you’ve always made, but use fresh-grilled tuna instead of canned, and you’ll know immediately what I mean.) No disrespect to Sandra Lee intended. I’m just saying…
The Fresh-From-Scratch Chicken Reuben sandwich is similar to a standard Turkey Reuben, with a few exceptions:
- The meat is fresh cooked chicken breast or, at the very least, a good quality chicken breast sliced fresh at the deli-counter; and
- Both the cole slaw and the dressing are made fresh.
Once the chicken, slaw and dressing are made, the sandwich is assembled with Swiss cheese and good rye bread, finished with a bit of time on the griddle, and served up to someone very grateful! (It should be noted that there’s a great debate among Reuben lovers as to whether the sandwich should be served closed, as the original seems to have been, or open. Good Reubens can be had either way. This recipe assumes a closed sandwich.)
The slaw is best after it has marinated for a while, so let’s make that first so we can let it rest while we make the rest of the sandwich components. An important, if obvious, note about the cole slaw: even the smallest slaw recipe makes a lot more than is needed to make a few Reubens. It’s ok. Just put it in a sealed container and enjoy it as a side with other meals too. I mean, it’s cole slaw, for goodness sake! (You’ll have leftover dressing too.)
Put ½ a red onion, thinly sliced, in ice water for about 10 minutes to reduce the “bite.” While the onion is soaking, prepare the remaining cole slaw ingredients.
In a bowl, combine the dressing ingredients: 1/4 cup low-fat mayonnaise; 1/2 tablespoon brown mustard; 1/2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice; 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar; 1 tablespoon sugar; 1/2 teaspoon celery seed; and salt and pepper to taste.
In a separate bowl, combine the vegetable ingredients: 1/2 head of cabbage, thinly shredded (about 3 cups); 1/2 cups shredded carrot (about 1 large); and the sliced red onion, drained well.
Gradually add dressing to the vegetables, mixing well, until the desired slaw texture is reached. Refrigerate the slaw mixture for 2 hours for best taste. When you’re ready to use the slaw, add 1 tablespoon of chopped fresh parsley.
Next, the Thousand Island Dressing (makes about 1 cup):
Combine the dressing ingredients: 1/4 cup low-fat mayonnaise; ¼ cup low-fat sour cream; ¼ cup ketchup; ¼ cup pickle relish; and salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate until ready to use.
Now for the chicken:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Brush 1 pound of boneless chicken breast or tenders with olive oil, and season with salt, pepper, and dried thyme. (I kept the chicken seasonings simple to bring out the flavor of the chicken while not conflicting with the seasonings in the other sandwich components.) Roast for 35-40 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through. (Note: It’s not necessary to turn them over part-way.)
With the chicken cooked, and the cole slaw and dressing made, you’re now ready to assemble and finish your Reuben!
Lightly butter 2 slices of rye bread for each sandwich. Working one sandwich at a time, put two slices on a not griddle pan, butter side down. On each, put a slice of Swiss cheese, and some Russian dressing. On one of the slices, put some cole slaw, then some chicken. On the other slice, put more cole slaw. Cook until the cheese is melted and each sliced is browned on the bottom. Remove the bread slices to the counter and combine to complete the sandwich. Slice in half diagonally and serve the freshest Reuben in town!
If narrative recipes aren’t your thing and you prefer a notebook-ready, cookbook-style version of this or any other recipe published on Kissing the Cook, just let me know in a comment or an e-mail and it will be sent right out!
I look forward to seeing you here again next week. Till then, stay well, keep it about the food, and always remember to kiss the cook. ;-)