Courtesy Jeff Mauro According to sandwich legend, people have been devouring Reubens for 103 years. Savory ingredients like Irish corned beef, Jewish rye bread, German sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, and Russian dressing combine for a bite bursting with mouthwatering flavor.
But unlike your basic lunch sandwich, Reubens take a little more TLC to create the perfect balance of crunch, juiciness, and flavor. We asked Food Network’s Sandwich King host Jeff Mauro, co-host of Food Network’s The Kitchen and executive chef at Pork and Mindy’s in Chicago, Illinois, to give us a taste of how he crafts a scrumptious Reuben.
Don’t be afraid to splurge on quality ingredients
You get the best flavor when you opt for premium ingredients over the cheaper options. “Pony up for the good stuff,” says Mauro. “The premium corned beef has a different texture, a different flavor closer to the pure stuff.” A deli typically has an experienced slicer who knows how to carve your meat just right and the best selections of superior meats to choose from, usually for just a few extra bucks. Always make sure to ask your deli guy for the premium corned beef thinly sliced. Mauro also suggests skipping the canned goods aisle and heading to the refrigerated aisle for a bag of sauerkraut instead of the canned kind. “It’s a little more pure, a little more natural,” says Mauro. And don’t forget the bread and cheese! Mauro recommends aged Swiss cheese for its strong, nutty flavor and marble rye for both presentation and taste.
Slow cook your corned beef with lots of spices
For those of you who cook your own corned beef, Mauro has the perfect slow cooker recipe for tender and tasty meat. His secret is in the spices! “There’s a whole range of spices and aromatics that make corned beef [taste good],” says Mauro. “Like peppercorn, garlic, and mustard seed.” His recipe calls for two tablespoons of whole peppercorns, one tablespoon of whole coriander seed, one tablespoon of whole mustard seed, one tablespoon of dark brown sugar, three bay leaves, four cloves of smashed garlic, and two tablespoons of minced fresh chive. Place all the ingredients in cheesecloth and tie it tightly shut with butcher twine to make a sachet. Toss the sachet into the slow cooker along with one tablespoon of dark brown sugar and three- to four-pounds of corned beef and pour two to three quarts of water over the corned beef until it’s just submerged. Set the timer for eight hours on low or four hours on high. “You start it in the morning and when you come home from work, it’s ready!” he says. Before you start slicing, let the beef rest for about 10 minutes so you don’t lose all those juices, then cut into your desired thickness.
Make your own zesty Russian dressing
Traditional homemade Russian dressing recipes call for pickle relish, ketchup, mayonnaise, and a little horseradish; but Mauro’s dressing recipe, dubbed 18,000 Island, kicks it up a notch with pickled jalapeños and Sriracha hot sauce. All you need is one cup of mayonnaise, two tablespoons of diced pickled jalapeños, one teaspoon of Dijon mustard, one tablespoon of ketchup, one tablespoon of Sriracha, and one-quarter teaspoon of granulated garlic. Stir it all together and you’ve got yourself a delicious Russian dressing with a kick! If you want something quick, just buy Thousand Island dressing from the supermarket and doctor it up with pickled jalapeños and Sriracha.
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Don’t be afraid to mix up some flavors while your meat cooks
There’s no need to wait until you’re piling the meat, cheese, sauerkraut, and dressing on top of a slice of rye bread to mix the flavors together for the first time. Before Mauro builds his Reuben, he heats up the sauerkraut and half of his Russian dressing mixture together in a pan to let the flavors marinate together.
Butter your bread liberally
Spread a thin layer of butter on every inch of the the rye bread (In the words of Mauro, “spreading your butter from crust to crust is a must.”) After you butter the bread, Mauro recommends building your sandwich in this order: one slice of Swiss cheese, corned beef piled as high as you like, a layer of sauerkraut, a tablespoon or two of Russian dressing, and an additional slice of Swiss cheese on top. (Speaking of cheese, here’s how to make the best grilled cheese, according to a chef.)
Griddle it all together
Some people toast their Reubens and other cooks like Mauro go for a griddled one. “A griddled Reuben is magical,” Mauro told the New York Daily News. “It’s got that crunchy exterior and a gooey soft middle with the melted cheese.” Grab a heavy-bottomed nonstick skillet or griddle pan (a flatiron plate) and toast each side over medium-low heat for five to six minutes or until the bread is a nice shade of golden brown and the middle is gooey. While it cooks, cover the sandwich with a heatproof bowl to allow the cheese to melt before the bread burns. Voila! You’ve got yourself a beautiful Reuben cooked to perfection.