This attitude of transformation is a little bit at odds with many people who cook nowadays who want to preserve and enhance the essence of what something already is. Most of the time that is exactly how I cook, with quality ingredients so the ingredient tastes like, well, the ingredient. How do you prepare a carrot so it really, really tastes like a carrot? How do you prepare a steak so it has a big beefy flavor that doesn't need to be hidden by sauces? Those are the kinds of questions I usually ask myself.
But the flip side is just as intriguing, flavorful, and valid. And it's also really, really hard. Many of the techniques that transform food were originally not done because people wanted to, they were done out of necessity. Produce was pickled so it would last. Meat was cured so it would last. Cheese was made so it would last. It just so happens that many of these techniques also delicious.
The reason this particular sandwich, the Reuben, has captured my attention is that it is the penultimate expression of transformation. It is much more than flour, egg, oil, cabbage, curd, and cow. Every single ingredient without exception is transformed radically from what it once was. The flour is fermented and transformed into bread. Egg yolks, oil, and chiles are emulsified into Russian dressing. Cabbage is salted and soured by naturally occurring bacteria turning into sauerkraut. Milk is curdled, innoculated with bacteria, pressed, aged, and finally emerges as cheese. Beef is cured with nitrates, spices, and smoke.
All these ingredients are then assembled into a humble sandwich. A sandwich that I have been training to make for two years, and that has used every skill I have learned while cooking for fun. To put things in perspective, here is a list of 26 of the ingredients that go into this sandwich:
- Beef brisket
- Black pepper
- Caraway seeds
- Chile sauce
- Dark rye flour
- Egg yolk
- Grapeseed oil
- Lemon juice
- Raw milk
- Sodium Nitrite
- Sour cream
- Thermophillic bacteria
- White flour
- White sugar
- Worcestershire sauce
The original inspiration for this blog was to document how to make a good swiss style cheese for sandwiches. It has taken 30+ tries, a couple books, and lots of failures, but the swiss going into this sandwich is superb. Home cheese makers really are hamstrung right at the beginning by not having easy access to quality milk that hasn't been over processed, tinkered with, and basically ruined for most kinds of cheese making. One of the central reasons this loaf turned out so amazingly good is it started with fantastic raw milk. That, combined with careful sanitation and aging produced a world class cheese.
There are still flaws though. The cracks and checks in the interior are not swiss eyes, they are structural problems related to not getting all the whey out during the press. This bothers me less and less nowadays. As long as there is a good rind, good texture, and good flavor, I'm not going to sweat the small stuff.
The last two techniques that had a huge difference and made this taste like swiss was adding salt via the brine not to the curd, and gently washing the curd with hot water to remove lactose. I would guess this allows the inoculation to thrive quickly, but not produce so much acid/sharpness that it no longer tastes like the style.
Swiss Cheese Recipe
- 2 gallons raw milk
- Thermophillic starter
- Salt for brine
After it has been pressed over night, it needs to be brined for 12-24 hours. Add 1 cup pickling salt to 1 gallon of cool water, stir thoroughly, then let the cheese sit in it overnight. Remove the next day, let it dry and form a rind at room temperature for 5-7 days, then cellar at 52F for one to two months.
Kraut has long vexxed me :) I have had many batches of sauerkraut that, well, just weren't sour. They tasted like salted cabbage, and I am still perplexed why the fermentation didn't start. Thankfully, this time with possibly a little luck from The Joy of Pickling I managed to turn a head of cabbage into a wonderfully sour, complex caraway kraut.
The recipe I used for this kraut is almost exactly like the Sauerkraut with Juniper Berries recipe from Joy of Pickling, but instead of juniper I used caraway.
- 5 lbs trimmed fresh cabbage, sliced very thin
- 3 tablespoons pickling salt
- One heaping tablespoon caraway seeds
After a few days you will see bubbles starting to form. This means the fermentation is underway, and depending on how warm your home is will finish in 2 two 6 weeks. You can hot can the kraut afterward for 25 minutes for storage.
Basic Mayo Recipe
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 cup grapeseed oil
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- 1/2 teaspoon mustard
- 2 teaspoons salt
Once you have your basic mayo set, then we add the ingredients to transform this into Russian dressing.
- Basic mayonnaise
- 1/4 cup of chile sauce, such as Franks Hot Sauce
- 2 tablespoons sour cream
- 2 teaspoons minced parsley
- 1 tablespoon minced onion
- 1 tablespoon minced cornichons or dill pickle
- 1 teaspoon grated horseradish
- 1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
The book that really ignited my passion for baking was actually Jacques Pepin's Complete Technique. While it is mostly a book on cooking technique, the section on baking bread was so simple, straightforward and honest. It was an inspiration that something so simple--four, water, yeast, salt--really is all it takes to bake world class bread. After that book, the next eye opener was Peter Reinhardt's Bread Bakers Apprentice. That book completely changed how I though about baking bread, and if nothing else understanding baker's percentages has become a tool that has set me free.
Rye Bread Recipe
- 400 grams white flour
- 100 grams dark rye flour
- 300 grams cold water
- 12 grams salt
- 5 grams instant yeast
- Caraway seeds for topping
The next morning, remove the dough from the fridge and ferment/proof like normal. The dough may be a little sluggish to start off with, but a two hour rise and an hour and a half proof should be sufficient. Bake at 450F for 50 minutes on a pizza or bread stone in an oven that has been preheated for at least a half an hour.
Initially I was going to make a pastrami similar to the one in the book Charcuterie by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn, but in the end the recipe was changed around due to constraints I had at the time.
- 1 1/2 cups kosher salt
- 1 1/2 ounces pink salt
- 2 tablespoons pickling spice
- 1 tablespoon white sugar
- 2 tablespoons liquid smoke (yes it is cheating, but my smoker burned down :D)
- One 5-pound beef brisket, fat cap removed
- 4 tablespoons black pepper
Combine all the spices, salt, sugar and liquid smoke. Using your hand, coat the mixture over the entire brisket making sure to get a thin, even coating. If there is left over rub that is generally okay. Place the brisket in a ziplock bag large enough to hold it (you can usually find several gallon bags what work perfect for this), and refrigerate for four days.
On the fourth or fifth day, fire up a charcoal grill or smoker. If you are using a grill, you want to sear both sides quickly then finish it off in the oven at 220F for three hours. If you have a smoker then you probably know how to smoke brisket. Low and slow for five+ hours at 220F.
After it has finished cooking, refrigerate over night. The next day after it has firmed up a bit, using a very sharp knight slice thinly either against the grain or on a bias. For the best sandwiches you need a bit of fat to balance the other flavors, so do not trim this off.
Take two slices of rye bread and butter one side of each with home made butter, which I'm sure you have if you've gone to this much trouble already. Place the buttered sides on a griddle on medium low heat. Coat one side with an even layer of Russian dressing, lay two slices of swiss cheese on the dressed side, then place a healthy dose of drained sauerkraut on the cheese.
Place your desired amount of pastrami (1/4 pound or so) in a microwavable bowl with one tablespoon of water, place a lid on it, and microwave for 20 seconds. We want the pastrami steamed and fairly hot, and ready to fall apart. Drain the pastrami if needed and place on the second piece of bread. When the cheese has started to melt and bind to the kraut, assemble the sandwich on the griddle with the kraut side on top. Keep cooking till desired doneness and color.
So, anyone want to come on over and try one of these monsters?