Monday, October 20, 2014

Sauerkraut and caramelized onion sandwich.

The Wilhelm. © Ryan Schierling
I love a great Reuben. It is one of my favorite sandwiches ever, and I will eat a Reuben anywhere, anytime. The sad thing is, I'm usually disappointed by thin and flaccid, flabby and fatty, tasteless corned beef brisket that's been boiled to the point of inedibility. In my opinion, if there's no respect for the meat, you might as well do away with it altogether. 

This... this is a sauerkraut and caramelized onion sandwich. Think about that for a second. It's cabbage and onions. There’s no corned beef, pastrami or turkey, or kielbasa, or any veggie substitutes like tempeh or seitan, because they're not necessary here. 

The boldest flavors of a Reuben are the sauerkraut, the Russian dressing or mustard, the rye and, if you’re going for a non-Kosher version, the Swiss cheese. Unless you’re eating a $20 Katz’s Delicatessen-style meat-pile, the rindfleisch is usually an additional sub-par, thinly-sliced, sad lunchmeat texture at best, and what little flavor it does have gets lost in the fistfight of aggressive tastes the traditional toppings hold. 

This isn’t a Reuben. It's not a West Coast Reuben, or a Montreal Reuben, and it's definitely not a Rachel

So, really, what is this meatless punch-in-the-mouth we made? I hereby declare this sandwich The Wilhelm. It’s not the prettiest handful you’ll ever make. If fact, it's downright ugly, but it hits all the right notes for fall – toasty warm and rich, savory, tangy, with hints of sweet and spicy. 

The caramelized onions take a while but are easy enough (see Chips, Dips and Dorks) and if you'd like to try your hand at making sauerkraut, the simple recipe is below. Löwensenf Extra Hot mustard, a staple in our "mustard locker," is great with this sandwich. 

Sauerkraut and caramelized onion sandwich

2 slices dark rye bread
2 slices Swiss cheese (Julie prefers Provolone)
Sauerkraut, drained and squeezed of excess liquid
Caramelized onions
Löwensenf Extra Hot mustard, or other good, spicy German mustard
Soft butter

Spread mustard on each slice of rye. Top one half of the sandwich with a good layer of sauerkraut. Add bits and pieces of the caramelized onions on top of the sauerkraut, about a 2:1 kraut to onion ratio. Add cheese and top with the other slice of rye bread, mustard-spread-side down. Spread soft butter onto the outsides of the rye slices, and cook like you would a grilled cheese sandwich – on a skillet or griddle at medium-low heat – until the cheese is melted and the bread is nicely toasty.

Makes 1 homely sandwich.


1 medium-sized head of cabbage, outer leaves removed, cored and shredded
1/4 cup whey or liquid drained off plain yogurt
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon caraway seeds

We started making sauerkraut at home when our grocer stopped carrying the refrigerated brand of kraut we really liked. Occasionally, there was Boar’s Head® in bags and an always-available, soggy, tinned version, but neither were quite right. Once we realized how easy it was to make, and how crispy and fresh it was, there really wasn’t a reason to buy sauerkraut at the store any more. 

Mix the cabbage, whey, salt and caraway in a large mixing bowl. Using a large pestle, meat mallet or potato masher (I use a large wooden pestle from a chinois), pound the cabbage until it releases some of its juices. Pound for 10-15 minutes. Pack the cabbage into two 1-quart wide-mouth canning jars. Push the cabbage down firmly into the jars until the juices cover the top of the cabbage. The juice should be about an inch from the top of the jar. Put lids* tightly on the jars and let the cabbage ferment at room temperature, away from direct sunlight, for 3 days. Transfer to the refrigerator. 

Makes two 1-quart jars. 

*We have used fermentation locks or airlocks in flip-top jar covers, and we've made sauerkraut using just normal lids. Either way will work for small batches with about the same results. 

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