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Eric Akis: Sauerkraut key to classic diner sandwich

This Reuben sandwich offers a hearty, umami-rich combination that tastes great right down to the last bite.
A hearty Reuben sandwich, filled with corned beef, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and tangy dressing. Credit Eric Akis

When you’re shopping for sandwich ingredients, sauerkraut is not likely to end up on your shopping list — unless, of course, you have a craving for a Reuben.

The classic diner/deli sandwich is made by filling slices of rye bread with corned beef, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and a tangy dressing, then grilling the sandwich.

If you were wondering who to thank for coming up with that combination, you’d have to decide whose story to believe.

One suggests that Omaha, Nebraska, grocer Reuben Kulakofsky invented the Reuben in the 1920s. Apparently, when Kulakofsky would play poker with his friends at Omaha’s Blackstone Hotel, they would order a late-night meal of sandwich fixings.

Lore suggests that Kulakofsky decided to combine rye bread, corned beef, Swiss cheese and sauerkraut. The sandwich he made was a hit with his friends, including the hotel’s owner, Charles Schimmel, who put it on the hotel menu and called it a Reuben.

Another story says the sandwich was first prepared in New York in the 1920s, or at a Manhattan deli called Reuben’s, owned by Arnold Reuben.

At this point though, 100 or so years later, it doesn’t really matter who made the first Reuben sandwich — fans are just happy someone did. It’s a hearty, umami-rich combination that tastes great right down to the last bite. And if you now have a craving for one, here’s a recipe.

Reuben Sandwiches

Filling and satisfying Reuben sandwiches loaded with corned beef, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and a tangy dressing.

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 10 minutes

Makes: two sandwiches

3 Tbsp mayonnaise

1 Tbsp green relish

1 1/2 tsp ketchup

1/2 tsp lemon juice

1/2 tsp horseradish

• pinch paprika

• small splash Worcestershire sauce

• soft butter

4 (about 6-inch long, 3-inch wide) slices rye bread

125 grams Swiss cheese, thinly sliced (divided)

150 to 175 grams thinly sliced corned beef

2/3 to 3/4 cup well-drained sauerkraut

Make dressing for the sandwiches by combing the mayonnaise, relish, ketchup, lemon juice, horseradish, paprika and Worcestershire sauce in a small bowl.

Butter one side of each slice of bread and set on a work surface, buttered side down. Spread some of the dressing on the unbuttered sides of each bread slice. Top two of the slices of bread with half the sliced cheese, then set on some corned beef and sauerkraut. Top the sauerkraut on each sandwich with the remaining slices of cheese. Now set on the other two slices of bread, buttered side up.

Gently press down on each sandwich to compact them and help them hold together better when cooked. Heat a cast iron or nonstick skillet over medium-low to medium heat. Add the sandwiches, cover with a lid, and slowly grill for about five minutes per side, or until cheese is melted and the corned beef and sauerkraut are heated through. Cut each sandwich in half, plate and serve.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.