There are many stories as to the creation of the definitive Reuben sandwich. Here’s one I like. It’s taken from an interview with Arnold Reuben (Reuben’s Restaurant and Delicatessen) in 1938:
I’ll tell you about how I got the sandwich idea. I owned a delicatessen on Broadway and one day a dame walks in, one of the theatrical dames, and she’s down and out I suppose, and she asks me for something to eat. Her name was Anna Selos. Well, I’m feeling sort of good, so I figure I’ll clown around for the dame. That’s how it all came about. I’m clowning for the dame. Well, what do I do? I take a holy bread that I used to keep and grab up the knife and, you know, clowning like, I cut it right through on the bias. Then I take some roast beef, I don’t remember exactly what. But, anyway, I figure I’ll put anything on. So I take some meat and cheese and I slap it on, and I put on some spice and stuff and I make her up a sandwich; it was a foot high. Well the dame just eats it, that’s all. She must have been plenty hungry. And when she gets through she says, “Mr. Reuben, that’s the best sandwich I ever tasted in my life.”
The main ingredients of the modern Reuben sandwich are corned beef or pastrami, rye bread, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and Russian dressing. Here is my vegetarian version. Not sure if Arnold Reuben would have liked it but I know you will.
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion (sliced thin)
1 clove garlic (sliced thin)
16 ounces Bubbies Old Fashion Sauerkraut (this is the best)
1 sweet apple (cored and grated)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 small bottle Russian Dressing (Thousand Island works well too)
12 slices Morningstar bacon (cooked)
8 slices rye bread
8 long slices dill pickle (Bubbies makes good pickles too)
8 slices Swiss cheese
Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook until golden brown, about 12 – 15 minutes. Add the sauerkraut, apple, and allspice. Season with salt and a generous grinding of pepper. Cook until sauerkraut is tender, lightly browned and all the liquid has evaporated, about 12 minutes more. Remove from heat and set aside.
Spray a large frying pan with cooking spray and heat on medium-high.
Spread Russian dressing on the face-up side of all eight slices of bread. Lay one slice of cheese on four of the bread slices. Add 2 slices pickle, 3 slices bacon, a good amount of sauerkraut and another slice of cheese on top. Place the remaining four slices on top of these and place sandwiches on heated grill.
Press sandwiches with heavy skillet weighted down with cans (or use a Panini grill). Grill for 2-3 minutes on each side. When sufficiently grilled, remove the sandwiches and cut in half. Serve hot off the grill with a large dill pickle on the side.