When I think of the perfect sandwich the first thing that comes to mind is the Reuben. I will just go ahead and get it out of the way…I am officially certifying myself as a Reuben connoisseur. Albeit self proclaimed and a bit tongue in cheek I can say with confidence that this is by far the granddaddy of all deli sandwiches and the official litmus test for any deli worth it’s salt. I had the distinct pleasure of attending Ohio University in the great metropolis that is Athens, Ohio. Athens was home to Zachary’s Deli who is 100% responsible for my quasi addiction fanaticism for the Reuben. These guys knew what they were doing and effectively combined a wonderful rye bread, ultra thin sliced corned beef, RUSSIAN dressing (not to be confused with it’s bastard cousin Thousand Island aka Secret Sauce), Sauerkraut and of course Swiss cheese. I am sad to say that Zachary made the big jump from Athens to Columbus and has since run amuck however, I am certain it had nothing to do with his Reuben. My good buddy “the Rose” who also knew his way around a Reuben and I would feed our need on a weekly basis at a minimum and many times three or more times a week. I am careful as to when and where I order a Reuben and when I am the least bit skeptical I inquire as to the thickness of the corned beef. In my humble opinion I believe you should be able to hold a single slice up almost be able to see through it. Add another hundred slices or so and you have a sandwich.
Yet another prologue leading into my most recent whack at another recipe from the great book of Charcuterie….Corned Beef. While corned beef has absolutely nothing to do with corn it is all about the beef. The term corn actually refers to the coarse salt that is used in the brine that cures the beef. Corned beef is often associated with one of my favorite holidays, Saint Patrick’s Day, and is usually combined with the combustible vegetable that is cabbage…cheap entertainment to say the least…hehehe. The same passion I have for Reuben’s is shared by my wife and corned beef and cabbage. With that in mind I figured I could stretch this experiment into at least two meals if not a couple lunches as well.
I started off with a very nice 6.5 pound beef brisket. One thing that I have learned through my travels is that a good way to judge a brisket before purchasing it is to grab it by the thick end and hold it out. The ease and degree of bend in the middle would suggest the potential of the beef’s tenderness. With that said a brisket comes from the breast plate of a cow and as such does quite a bit of work resulting in a very tough piece of meat. There in lies the beauty of brisket, as it is the technique one employs that dictates the end result which is what separates the cream from the curd of cooks. Any knucklehead can take a beef loin and produce an amazingly tender dish of beef…the same cannot be said for brisket.
Once I had the brisket I assembled the rest of the ingredients which are remarkably simple. Below is for a 5 pound brisket…I had a 6.5 pound brisket so you will notice I used more garlic and adjusted other ingredients as appropriate.
1 gallon water
2 cups/450 grams kosher salt
½ cup/ 100 grams sugar
1 ounce/25 grams pink salt (5 teaspoons)
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons/20 grams Pickling Spice
One 5-pound beef brisket
I combined all of the ingredients (not the brisket) in a pot large enough to accommodate the brisket and set it to boil until all of the salt had dissolved and the fragrance of the pickling spice could be smelled throughout out the house…my kind of potpourri! Once the salt was dissolved, I allowed the brine to cool to room temperature before adding the brisket. A little trick that I often employ is boiling a quart of water with the spices and then diluting it with 2 additional quarts of cold water and then a final quart of water in the form of ice. This speeds things up and I am always in a hurry…bad habit and you DO NOT want to add your brisket to a hot brine…trust me some things should not be rushed and this is one of them.
After the brisket is in the pot I weighted it down with a plate and rock (washed in the dishwasher for the germ police) and put it in the fridge. The book says to let the brisket and brine rest for 5 days. I felt like I would prefer to over brine then under brine and given the 6.5 pound brisket I opted for a 7 day brine. The only adverse outcome would be a saltier than normal corned beef which I could deal with. I am happy to report that the corned beef was not salty in the slightest. In fact, a palate whom I respect offered an unsolicited comment to the effect that he enjoyed tremendously given the lack of saltiness often found in commercially produced corned beef.
After the 7 days I removed the brisket from the brine and rinsed it thoroughly under cold running water and dried it well with paper towels.
Next, I sliced it in half giving me the point piece with a thin layer of fat and the butt end which was fatter and actually had a second muscle on top. This is one of the tricky parts of slicing any form of brisket. They key is to slice against the grain and NOT with the grain however, when you have two muscles sitting on top of one another this can be quite difficult. Impossible in fact unless you slice the top muscle off and treat them as two totally separate pieces of brisket. If properly prepared it is very simple to separate the two muscles and slice appropriately.
I decided to use the leaner point for my Reuben corned beef and the fatter portion for my corned beef and cabbage given the fact that the fat would liquefy and ultimately flavor the liquor that they all cook in…fat equals flavor.
After a tremendous amount of research I opted to get my Chinese style steamer out and steam cook my Reuben corned beef. I tossed a tablespoon of pickling brine into the water that would be used to create the steam (more flavor) and placed the corned beef on the second level of the steamer.
Next I inserted my thermometer and began steaming the corned beef. After about 2 hours I had the internal temperature of the corned beef up to 210 degrees and I held it there an additional 30 to 40 minutes to allow the beef to become tender. This was not science as I could not find specific instruction as to time or temps for this process however; report that it was as near perfect as I could ask for.
Once satisfied, I removed the corned beef and sliced a couple slivers to taste and test for tenderness. All was excellent so I began the process of cooling the corned beef under cold running water for about 5 minutes or more.
My research suggested that this minimizes shrinkage which we all have to agree sucks…right? Once I felt that the corned beef was sufficiently cooled I decided to vacuum seal it with a ¼ cup of the pickling spiced fat infused water in the bottom of the steamer…zero down side and tremendous upside.
I can’t say what it did as I didn’t vac seal one without the juice however, again report near perfection. Last but certainly not least I refrigerated until the next day and then proceeded to slice the entire thing into razor thin slices that when held up to light resembled meaty stained glass slices of love….YUM!
Reuben time! I stopped by my favorite local beef butcher shop, Midwestern Meats which just so happens to be a bakery as well. They sell an excellent rye bread that they refer to ask Milwaukee Rye which I thought would fit the bill perfectly. I had already made a batch of homemade sauerkraut that I have yet to post however, will do so shortly hereafter. It is from the Salt chapter of Charcuterie as well and certainly exemplifies the power of salt and its transformative impact it has on whatever it comes into contact with. I purchased some Tillamook Swiss cheese and had everything I needed to make the perfect Reuben with one exception.
Russian dressing as previously mentioned is not to be confused with its hillbilly cousin Thousand Island. Don’t get me wrong Thousand Island has its place in the culinary world and being a full blooded redneck I cannot deny enjoying it however, upon the Holy Grail that is the Reuben I do not. The first step was making a homemade mayonnaise, again another recipe from Charcuterie and then adding some prepared horseradish, Heinz chili sauce, minced onion, Worcestershire sauce, salt and black pepper and voila…Russian dressing. I will put this up in a separate post at a later date and until then there are plenty Russian dressing recipes on Google should you get a hankering for the real deal.
I slathered both sides of rye with the Russian dressing, piled the corned beef on, added a couple slices of Swiss and topped with Kraut and placed upon my trust George Forman grill and dropped the lid for a brief toasting. Accompanying the Reuben are some fresh cut russets fried in duck fat (recipe from Saveur) sprinkled with some smoked Maldon sea salt and garnished with a dill spear that I made from another Charcuterie recipe that I haven’t posted…I know I know…and let me tell you these pickles rock! I slightly deviated from the recipe adding a few Serrano chilies and the result was astounding.
Last but certainly not least was the corned beef and cabbage with some roasted baby red potatoes. I used my old standby cookbook, The Joy of Cooking, for this recipe and stumbled upon a third alternative that I used that small piece of muscle attached to the butt end of my corned beef, candied corn beef!
For the corned beef and cabbage I took a handful of black peppercorns a few bay leafs and added them to a pot of water (just enough to cover the corned beef by an inch or two). I set the pot to boil and allowed it to do so for about 3 hours or until fork tender.
Next I halved a head of cabbage and then halved the halves while removing the core from each. I removed the corn beef to rest while adding the cabbage to the pot that I boiled the corn beef in. After the cabbage softened I returned the corned beef and set the pot to low. I also added a link of smoked bratwurst for some nice smoke flavor which worked well.
I boiled some baby red potatoes and then quartered and placed them into a dish where I added some minced garlic, olive oil, butter, rosemary, salt and black pepper and baked in the oven at 350 until nice and golden brown.
As mentioned I took the small piece of muscle and went with a candied corned beef which was on the same page as the CB &C in the Joy of Cooking.
A quick and easy recipe using soy sauce, brown sugar, powdered mustard and ground ginger. I made a glaze and placed it in the oven with the potatoes for 30 minutes.
This was a fun little treat for everyone to get a couple slices of and was great. I am not sure I would want an entire slab of it but a perfect use for the lonely little piece of corned beef.
What a simple yet exquisite dinner! This is a guaranteed repeat given the simplicity, diversity and economicity…I may have made that last one up. Give this a shot and you will not be disappointed.