You know who I don’t understand? People who hate mayonnaise. I’m not talking about those who just have a preference for a different condiment; diversity is encouraged. It’s those that turn a snooty nose up at it, like it’s so gauche or pedestrian an ingredient, like one should be ashamed to cook with it. As I’m oft to do, I blame Paula Deen for this mayonnaise snobbery. Her love of it, while unabashed early in her career (along with butter), soon became an example of her gluttony, or excess, and an opportunity to ridicule her. Instead of waving her fat flag high and owning her love for delicious things (Julia Child did say that fat gives things flavor and no one should question Julia’s handle on flavors), Paula succumbed to a cruel public, and though she continued to cook with these “shameful” ingredients, she began acting embarrassed when pressed to reveal that a recipe contained mayonnaise or butter. Noting a specific amount, she’d lower her eyes from the camera and wince as she called for a cup of mayonnaise, an entire stick of butter; like an admonished child. Paula has a lot to apologize for and, really, this is low on the list, but it still makes me pretty salty.
We’re not here to talk about Paula, though, we’re here to discuss Reuben sandwiches – and mayonnaise. Chances are, you’ve had a Reuben before; thinly sliced corned beef, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, and Russian dressing toasted all together on rye or pumpernickel bread? A delicious classic. Reubens were popular in my house growing up, most likely as a result of my half-Swiss heritage and my family’s love of all things sauerkraut. Even as a tiny wee, I liked them and as I grew up and tasted other varieties, I formed a solid love for the sandwich.
But, like most things, nothing is as good as my mother’s version. She makes one, seemingly small, change to the original recipe and yet, I swear, it takes the Reuben to a totally different level of savory that just can’t be beat. The difference? She swaps mayonnaise in for the Russian dressing! If your nose just went up in the air at that idea, we’re not friends anymore.
I know what you’re thinking – “Come on! It’s just mayo! It’s not that different!” WRONG. It is so different! Here’s the thing: she mixes the mayonnaise into the sauerkraut and what happens is the sauerkraut, though drained, releases a bit of moisture and forms this creamy sauerkraut concoction that, sandwiched between melty cheese and corned beef is…my mouth is seriously watering as I try to think of the perfect adjective…which, I think, is adjective enough.
Try these. I promise that you will not be disappointed. My mother promises too and she never fibs.
My Mother’s Reuben Sandwiches
Yields 4 sandwiches
8 slices of rye or pumpernickel bread
1lb of thinly sliced corned beef
1/2lb of Swiss cheese
1-14oz. can of sauerkraut, drained well
2/3 cup of mayonnaise
In a medium-sized bowl, add the drained sauerkraut and the mayonnaise and blend well; set aside. Prepare sandwiches by layering one slice of bread, corned beef, 1/4th of the sauerkraut mixture, Swiss cheese, and the other slice of bread; repeat for 4 sandwiches. Over medium heat, melt 2 Tablespoons of butter in a skillet and allow to melt completely. Add sandwiches and cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Check for a golden brownness – or any brownness if you’re using a dark pumpernickel – and flip, cooking for another 5 minutes or until the cheese is melted and everything is warmed through. When finished, remove sandwiches from pan and allow to cool slightly for 2-3 minutes; this allows the sandwich to firm back up a bit so that everything doesn’t spill out the sides when you go to cut it. When ready to eat, gather lots of napkins and dive in!