The Impatient Cook’s Corned Beef Reuben Sandwich

by Forager on July 30, 2011

Having a Reuben on rye in New York, the city where the delicious sandwich of layered meat heaped with tangy sauerkraut, creamy sauce and molten Swiss cheese was first concocted is special; having it at Katz’s Deli was just inspirational.

Katz's Deli, Pastrami Reuben, sauerkraut, swiss cheese, dressing

Katz's Deli's Pastrami Reuben on rye - layered hot smoked Pastrami with sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and a creamy dressing

That Reuben was so hypnotically good and left a lasting impression on us. I think the satisfaction formula was part achieved by the local New Yorker history, expertise and familiarity with the Reuben; part because of the phenomenon of increased satisfaction from holiday consumption; and the final part is that it inexplicably just tasted so good.

It was a taste epiphany with a long lingering craving side effect and we felt compelled to re-create this sandwich when we got home.

The exact origins of the Reuben are mired in mystery: some stories suggest it might have been the brainchild of a Lithuanian born Nebraskan Chef named Reuben Kulakofsky, or perhaps the baby of the now defunct Reuben’s Delicatessan in New York. But it’s been around for a long time – estimates put its creation anywhere between 1914 to the 1930s. And the basic formula consists of hot sandwich, layered meat, creamy dressing, sauerkraut and Swiss cheese. The layered meat can be corned beef or Pastrami, both made using beef brisket.

Unlike the States where brisket seems king, brisket isn’t a commonly available cut in Australia, but you can get it from your butcher with a little notice. The brisket cut is a tough but flavourful cut of the breast or lower chest region, below the chuck of the shoulder and above the shank. The toughness lends to slow cooking and it’ll often come encased in a cloak of fat – perfect for dry rub roasts, barbecue, stewing and smoking.

We bought a 2kg piece, already pre-trimmed of fats, and as we weren’t confident on getting the Pastrami spices correct, we settled on making corned beef, so a pot-roast was in order. Corned beef has nothing to do with the vegetable maize type corn, but refers to the English term “corn” used for grains or small hard particles – in this case the salt used in brining. A proper corned beef should be made in two stages – first the beef should be brined, left to rest then stewed till tender. Some recipes ask for the beef to be rested in the refrigerator for 10 days. 10 days! My indignant stomach refused to wait that long! I needed a “cheat’s version”, and needed to find the middle ground between resorting to ready made corned beef from a deli and the recipe that would require a patient 10 days of preparation. So this is the impatient’s cooks’ corned beef Reuben, or the impatient cook’s pot-roasted beef Reuben if you’re pedantic.

The Impatient Cook’s Corned Beef Reuben Sandwich

Ingredients (serves 6 – 8):

Corned beef (adapted from Alton Brown’s and Erik Rubin’s recipes):

  • 2kg beef brisket
  • 2 stalks of celery, roughly chopped
  • 2 large carrots, halved or roughly chopped
  • 2 large onions, halved
  • 4 tbsp white pepper corns
  • 4 tsp black pepper corns
  • 2 tbsp mustard seeds
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tbsp sweet paprika
  • 1 piece of cassia bark or cinnamon scroll
  • salt to taste

Reuben sandwich (per sandwich):

  • 2 slices rye bread (traditionally Jewish white rye bread is used, but I substituted black rye)
  • 2 tbsp sauerkraut
  • 4 slices Swiss cheese
  • 2-3 tbsp Russian dressing
  • gherkin pickles to garnish

Russian dressing (per sandwich):

  • 2 tbsp mayonnaise
  • 1 dash of Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tsp pickle relish
  • 1 tbsp tomato sauce
  • 1 squeeze of lemon juice
  • salt and pepper


  1. Place brisket into a large heavy based saucepan and cover with cold water. Add in aromatic vegetables and spices and bring to the boil
  2. Simmer for 2.5 – 3 hours until meat is tender, tasting periodically and adding more seasoning as required
  3. Remove from stock and rest before slicing thinly (it will be easier to slice when cool or even post refrigeration)
  4. Spread Russian dressing on the rye bread, top with the sliced beef, sauerkraut and lastly the slices of cheese
  5. Grill until the cheese is just melted and turning brown, top with extra Russian dressing and remaining slice of bread and serve with a pickle garnish
Preparing the brisket pot roast

Preparing the brisket pot roast

If I could capture and distill the aroma permeating every corner of our apartment and filling our orifices with sweet, spicy insanely delicious flavours, I would and I’d wear it as a perfume. Eau de awesome. Purists would probably tear me limb from limb for saying this – but the addition of cassia bark was instrumental in making the stock smell disconcertingly like Vietnamese beef pho stock. Sweet, meaty and pungent.

Three hours simmering later, we have a tenderised brisket, resting away

Three hours simmering later, we have a tenderised brisket, resting away

Carving hot corned beef

Carving hot corned beef is a difficult task and should only be attempted by the hungry and impatient

We rewarded our patient 3 hour wait with a vigorous sampling of the beef. It was so incredibly tender and flavourful! Despite not having added any sugar to the stock as requested by many recipes we consulted, the flavour of the stock was liberally sweetened by the aromatics – particularly the carrots and infused the beef with their flavour. And it was so tender that it flaked and collapsed at the gentlest of nudges like a trembling meat sandcastle. The following day, the leftovers that had chilled and firmed in the fridge were much more forgiving to the amateur carver and yielded thin, marbled slices just as they looked in professional Reubens. When using chilled corned beef,  the consensus seems to be to place it in a parcel of aluminium foil sprinkled with water and steamed in the oven.

Perhaps instead, whilst you’re waiting for the meat to cool or chill in the fridge, turn your attention to the dressing. We used a very simple set of ingredients for the Russian dressing – mayonnaise, tomato sauce (ketchup), Worcestershire sauce and pickle relish. But Russian dressing recipes are incredibly varied, and the only consistent themes seemed to be mayonnaise and something to tint the sauce a faint shade of red – additional flavour variations included chilli or sweet chilli sauce; anchovies; onions; capers; Tabasco sauce; mustard; caraway; parsley; and chives. Any number of those additions could dramatically change the flavour profile, so all I could conclude was that Russian dressing needed mayonnaise, a tint of red colour and a bit of tang.

Russian dressing mayonnaise, Worcestershire, tomato sauce and pickle relish from Brooklyn, New York

Russian dressing - mayonnaise, Worcestershire sauce, tomato sauce and a pickle relish souvenir from our travels to Brooklyn, New York

Reuben assembly is decidely simple and necessarily so. After waiting 3 hours, we weren’t keen on waiting any longer for this sandwich.

The Reuben Russian dressing, hot corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese

Compiling the Reuben: slather on Russian dressing, pile on the hot corned beef, heap on the sauerkraut and top with slices of Swiss cheese

And after a few minutes under the grill, we had our open faced corned beef Reuben, accompanied with a fresh salad of tomato, lemon and shaved fennel to provide a bright palette lifting contrast to the very heavy, rich and solid belly filling quantity of meat we were about to ingest. And of course, no corned beef Reuben can be served without pickles – and plenty of them! I could only find some gherkin pickles, which though good for the standard supermarket jar variety, with one bite showed they were far inferior to the pickles we got from the New York. They just lacked that fresh, almost brittle, but oh so satisfying crunch those homemade pickles have.

Grilled cheese, Russian dressing corned beef Reuben

Grill and melt the cheese, slather on more Russian dressing et voila! An open faced corned beef Reuben!

The cheat's corned beef Reuben sandwich

The impatient cook's corned beef Reuben sandwich

Pickle gherkin corned beef Reuben

One pickle is never enough, you need at least 5 - and that's just my portion

And it was definitely well worth the 3 hour wait! Though small, it was incredibly filling but at once so tasty, meaty, sloppy, tangy and savoury we’d hoovered our first Reubens down in record time and went back for seconds.

Corned beef Reuben cutaway

Ah.. How oozy and hypnotic is that Reuben?

And all that leftover braising stock? We weren’t going to waste that sinfully good brown liquid gold. We strained the stock, reduced it and made a minestrone vegetable soup for lunch the next day – a feeble attempt to offset the ridiculous quantity of red meat we’d just consumed. And you might not believe it, but it worked a treat! So despite still having meat, sauerkraut and cheese still running thick through our veins, we were satisfied that our meat and veg balances were in tact again and we found ourselves well justified in indulging in yet another round of Reubens.

It’s astoundingly simple and so hedonistic in its addiction, it should be illegal.

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Peter G @ Souvlaki For The Soul July 30, 2011 at 6:54 am

Trina that looks amazing! I admire the (quick) lengths you went to to recreate that amazing sandwich! Bravo!
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2 Richard Elliot July 30, 2011 at 10:55 pm

I love your dedication! A friend and I have been trying to re-create the Shake Shack burger, but I hadn’t dreamt of giving Katz’s Reuben a go. Pleased to hear the efforts were worth it.

Being from the UK where brisket is a commonly available cut it still surprises me that it has to be pre-ordered here. Speaking to one butcher I think the brisket goes into sausages? We don’t have beef snags in the UK which would explain why it is available.
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3 Jenny @ Musings and Morsels July 31, 2011 at 12:52 am

Tricia, you’re a genius! Could. Not. Get. This. Out. Of. My. Head since I returned from NYC and with my lack of patience, this is exactly what I’ve been looking for. I’d probably squirt in a little mustard in there just because I have it with just about any sandwich. Anyhow, thanks! xx

4 Reemski August 1, 2011 at 4:35 pm

I loved Katz’s Deli..they were so welcoming, and plied me with food when I went to visit (must have been very quiet and they were bored)…nice work on the homemade version! Looks delicious!
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5 chopinandmysaucepan August 2, 2011 at 2:42 pm

I love corned beef and that melting cheese is just irresistable!
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6 penny aka jeroxie August 2, 2011 at 3:58 pm

I was at Katz too… I did not want to leave. Everything was awesome…. now I need to have this sandwich.

7 Adrian (Food Rehab) August 3, 2011 at 1:59 pm

Hello! What a great way to bring back a piece of NYC into your home…and being Katz, I’m sure it was one of the most memorable eating experiences. Still can’t believe you had a lobster picnic- love it!
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8 Tori @eat-tori August 5, 2011 at 7:09 pm

Brilliant. Nothing better than letting feasts from away come back home with you.
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9 Sara (Belly Rumbles) August 6, 2011 at 5:07 pm

Loved Katz when I visited, you have done them proud.
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10 Suzanne Grey January 28, 2012 at 1:41 pm

Splendid dish! I’m even hungrier than ever.
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12 Clara March 21, 2012 at 12:44 am

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