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Reuben sandwich not a daunting task

There are plenty of foods on restaurant menus I’d never try at home. Chicken cacciatore is one of them. Beef burgundy is another. Baked Alaska makes three.

Reuben sandwiches are now on the schedule at my Albany stronghold. After ordering an excellent Reuben at the Western Diner in Guilderland recently, I said to myself, “Why am I not making these myself?”

For the uninitiated, a Reuben is a grilled sandwich made with corned beef, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and Russian dressing. And it’s got to be on rye bread.

There are variations, the most famous is the Rachel — which substitutes pastrami for the corned beef and coleslaw for the sauerkraut. Some people go with turkey as the main attraction, and serve the finished sandwich as a “Georgia Reuben.”

Culinary encyclopedias offer different origins of the Reuben, so I won’t get into the arguments. But I won’t dispute the taste of this hearty, hot sandwich, which is easy to make. If you can succeed with a toasted cheese sandwich, you will be able to put a Reuben on your plate.

I’ve covered toasted cheese territory before. I like to slip a few thin slices of tomato between the cheese, and let the cheese meld with the red. Tomatoes would be out of bounds for a Reuben — so I can offer another wrinkle.

I add some shaved red onions — or thin onion slices — to the sauerkraut. It means you have to cut down the amount of the sauerkraut used, because bulky sandwiches are hard to properly grill. That’s why I also use thin, deli-style corned beef. I want my sandwiches slim and kind of trim . . . while they are making my 58-year-old figure just the opposite.

I’ve found that large slices of bread work best for these sandwiches. I’m using olive oil in my frying pan these days, and when toasted cheese or grilled Reubens are the call, I’m standing right by the stove.

I’ll give the sandwiches a minute on each side, and then begin more frequent flips. I can’t let those pieces of rye burn, and burn quickly they will. Many a sassy crow in my neighborhood has enjoyed blackened rejects from my toasted cheese specials.

I don’t want to fool around too much with the original recipe, and almost always use Russian dressing. I’ve thought about barbecue sauce and jiggers of blue cheese dressing, but always go back to the basics.

You might consider serving a homemade Reuben with french fries or that teenager fave, tater tots. For me, they provide excellent places to pour on the ketchup. While I can put Heinz or Hunt’s on just about anything, the Reuben is so classy a sandwich with such a variety of tastes, you don’t really need the red sauce.

“In & Out of the Kitchen,” a wide-ranging column about cooking, eating and buying food, is written by Gazette staffers. You can reach us at

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