Saturday, March 19, 2011

Dark Days #16: St. Patty's Day Reubens

What? You've never heard of Saint Patrick's Day Reuben Sandwiches?

It's the lastest German/Jewish/Russian/Polish way to celebrate the Irish holiday!

February 3
Actually, I'd never heard of it either. I decided however, that because corned beef and cabbage just never really did it for me, and because I've never had a Reuben I didn't like, and because the ingredients are nearly the same...
Why not make something I really like to eat on Saint Patrick's Day?

[Are you catching on yet?]

It all started back with the skunked cabbage
March 15
 It doesn't look much different after nearly six weeks, does it? But it sure tasted different - yumm! Perfectly... well... sour.

I'm not sure what I was thinking when I did that. I was sure you ate sauerkraut on St. Patty's Day. When I wrote up the post about it and actually typed out the word, it hit me. There was no way that sauerkraut is Irish. It's boiled cabbage that you eat on St Patty's Day. 

For being half German, sometimes my Polish side really shows itself.

In keeping with another great German-Polish trait however, I stubbornly refused to change my plans: we were going to eat that sauerkraut on March 17th, no matter what  the ethnic background! Reubens it was going to have to be.

So next came the corned beef. I bought a frozen brisket from the Lakeview Farm in King Ferry (who's wife also happened to be my first grade teacher - talk about small worlds!) at the Ithaca Winter Farmers Market before they closed for the season. I made up my own version of pickling spices and started curing it back on March 7th. Religiously, I even flipped it every single day.

Then I made the mayonnaise.

And the ketchup.

And used them to make the russian dressing.

Wednesday night I started the sponge for a batch of rye bread. I baked it Thursday afternoon.

By that evening, everything was in place. I even managed to bake up some potatoes for fries, and made a fresh salad to give us some crunch. 

Lest you give up all hope, we did keep attempt some tribute to the Irish by drinking their (very non-local) Guinness brew along with our pub-style sandwiches! Of course, I forgot to photograph that part of the meal!
How local was I? / What did I learn?
  • Local ingredients included: brisket and garlic in the corned beef; cabbage and whey in the sauerkraut; eggs in the mayonnaise; onion, garlic and tomato in the ketchup; rye flour, bread flour and corn meal in the bread; butter for grilling the sandwiches; potatoes; and lettuce, carrots, onion and tomatoes in the salad.
    • Of these local ingredients, only the potatoes were from farther than about 18 miles away and several were from right in our backyard.
    • The salad was dressed with my all time favorite blue cheese salad dressing, grandfathered in as local via a visit from Doug's mom last month.
  • Non-local ingredients included: salt, celery and spices in the corned beef; grapes and salt in the sauerkraut; oil salt and lemon in the mayonnaise; red pepper, celery, brown sugar, spices and cider vinegar in the ketchup; brown sugar, horseradish and Worchestershire sauce in the russian dressing; yeast, sugar salt, vegetable oil, caraway seeds and malt syrup in the rye bread; swiss cheese on the sandwiches; and of course the Guinness.
  • I opted not to buy/use saltpeter (potassium nitrate) in my brine, so the meat turned quite brown rather than the pink color you often see in corned beef. The flavor was fantastic though so I don't see that it was necessarily needed.
  • I did try to trim a bunch of fat off the brisket before I started the brine. I read however that the fat adds flavor (which of course makes sense) so I did keep a bit on there. If I do it again, I'd work to get more off. I think the brisket cut has enough fat inside the cut itself that taking off the extra from the outside will still make for a flavorful final product, without the greasiness I ended up with.
    • That said, the fat did peel off quite easily after cooking, which was probably easier than trying to cut it off before cooking. If you're willing to deal with the greasy water after the boil, maybe it really doesn't matter when the fat comes off?
  • Did I mention that I really like my fresh ketchup? That plate down there? Yes, the one with ketchup on it? Yes... that's mine!! Touching the fries!!

These really were the best Reubens I'd ever had. The fresh rye bread was well well worth the effort, and even with five sandwiches, we have enough beef leftover for some sandwiches this week from it!

If anyone's interested, recipes for the corned beef and the rye bread that I used are at the end of the post.


The Bug, wanting to go "out and 'bout" so badly that he'll
wear anyone's coat available to do so!

Corned Beef
(My own mix-n-match adaptation from Alton Brown and Michael Ruhlman)

2 quarts water
2 c kosher (I use Morten's) salt*
1/2 c brown sugar
2 cinnamon sticks, broken into pieces
1/2 tsp mustard powder (I didn't have seeds)
1 tsp peppercorns
1 tsp powdered cloves (I didn't have whole)
1/2 tsp allspice powder (I didn't have berries)
2 bay leaves, crumbled
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 1/2 tsp coriander seeds

I heated all the above until the salt and sugar dissovled. Then I added 2 pounds of ice, and allowed it to cool further (to about 45°F) before putting it all in a huge ziplock bag along with my 4.5 lb brisket which I had trimmed of much of its fat. I laid this in a big glass pan in the refrigerator (thank goodness for our second frige in the basement!) and turned it daily to keep it submerged and the brine well mixed.

10 days later, after rinsing it in fresh water, I simmered it in a big pot, along with one quartered onion, one chunked up chopped carrot and one chunked up celery stalk. It took about three hours to cook until fork-tender. 

* Ruhlman's site has a good explanation on the concentration of the brine solution and cooking options you have with various concentrations. I opted for slightly on the saltier side since I didn't use the potassium nitrate, and I'd read that it usually won't turn out too salty after boiling anyway.

Rye Bread
(From Rose Levey Berenbaum's The Bread Bible)
I acutally used my cookbook, but an abridged version of the recipe can be found on Smitten Kitchen, here.
I did follow Deb's suggestion and ground the caraway seeds a bit so there wouldn't be big hard pieces of them to bite into.

Russian Dressing
(From Simply Recipes)

1/3 c mayonnaise
1 1/2 Tblsp ketchup
1 1/2 tsp horseradish
1/2 tsp Worchestershire sauce
salt and pepper to taste


  1. What a fabulous St. Paddy's meal--everything made from scratch!! I don't like ketchup either but imagine I might if I made it your way.

  2. Oh man, I need to follow your lead, those Reubens look fantastic! Well done Wendy.

  3. wow - this is impressive! Also - funny enough, I had a Reuben to celebrate St Patty's day and a lot of people had it on the menu for the day!! Thanks for linking up - I was hoping for some dark days.

  4. WOW this is great. My husband LOVE Reubens. This is a great post.

  5. My husband loves Reubens as well. Myself, they are alright. But I've always wondered the origins of that sandwich.

    I was born in Poland and we love sauerkraut. And varients of boiled cabbage. And fried cabbage.

    But being born in Poland, I wasn't sure what you meant by your "Polish side really showing"? Sort od confused at that one...

    Otherwise, a great blog!

  6. WoW! I'm so glad you all came to read and enjoyed this post!

    Sophie - you'll have to let me know if you make and like ketchup - from scratch really is *nothing* at all the stuff from a bottle.

    Brit - I'm sure you're cooking up more impressive stuff than this! I look forward to meals with more vegetables in them as spring and summer come along.

    Lara - thank YOU for the linking post - what a great idea and a good way to meet others with similar interests!

    Sara - the best part so far about the whole thing has been how many meals we've gotten from it - four fed originally, then another dinner for two, and tonight I put all the fixens together on pizza to feed another four people!

    Polish Mama - About my "Polish side" I meant it in regards to being confused about the origins of sauerkraut. I remember sauerkraut at my German grandmother's house, but my Busha always had it (and other forms of cabbage too as you mention) also, yet somehow I managed to think it was Irish! I love learning more about my own heritage through food and cooking, particularly as it is my generation who is getting "diluted" by the expanding tendrils of multi-cultural society.

    As for the origins of the Reuben, I read that it's somewhat disputed. Supposedly a deli shop owner named Reuben of either Lithuanian or German heritage, some time in the 1920's or 30's in New York City (or Omaha) put the combination of foods together.

    Either way, I find them delicious!

  7. I could see a Reuben sandwich being created like that, after all, the various ingredients are very diverse in cultural origin. And yes, they can be delicious.

    Today, I decided to do some digging on the origins of sauerkraut, as I am not sure who invented it either. After all, I've had it in many different cultural dishes and have seen it on tv shows being served in remote villages throughout Asia as well. From what I see, it looks as though the origins are (believe it or not!) China. Possibly Genghis Kahn brought it to Europe 1,000 years ago.

    Anyway, I never use sugars in my sauerkraut, just cabbage and salt. But that's just how I do mine. :)


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