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Reubens - Sauerkraut or Coleslaw? [Split from Pacific Northwest board]

[Split from this thread: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/486423


I have a question for Reuben afficionados. I've always had a Reuben with sauerkraut, but my girlfriend, who grew up in Jewish delis in New Jersey has never even heard of such a thing. She says that a Reuben has coleslaw, not kraut. I recall, also, reading in a James Beard book, his lament about how nowadays (the 40s, I believe) people are making pastrami sandwiches with sauerkraut instead of coleslaw and calling them Reubens. What's the story here?

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  1. How I was taught:

    Reuben = sauerkraut
    Rachel = coleslaw

    7 Replies
    1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

      I was taught

      Reuben = pastrami, kraut, swiss, dressing, rye
      Rachel = turkey, kraut, swiss, dressing, rye

      I had a Reuben with coleslaw on it recently, really depressed me.

      1. re: tzurriz

        100% agreement here. Reuben is pastrami and Rachel is turkey (or smoked turkey). But sauerkraut is a must on both.

        I've always loved turkey, cole slaw, swiss cheese and Russian dressing on rye but this is not grilled. Does it have a specific name?

        1. re: Chefpaulo

          Roast beef cole slaw, swiss cheese and Russian dressing on rye is called a Sloppy Joe where I grew up in NJ - not too be confused with the nasty manwhich/hamburing thing sharing the same name in some parts of the country.

        2. re: tzurriz

          Basically correct, though I'd argue that ordering a "Reuben" gets you corned beef, not pastrami. You have to order a "pastrami Ruben" if that's what you want. It's like a the difference between a "martini" and a "vodka martini"---if it isn't don't specified, gin should be assumed...

          1. re: tzurriz

            There's a deli in near me that has what they call a rebecca. It's got three pieces of bread, a la club sandwich. The bottom is filled with pastrami, swiss and the russian and the top layer has cream cheese. I'm pretty certain this is their creation. It's quite good, if you like cream cheese on sandwiches.

          2. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

            This is the terminology where I grew up in Philadelphia. And....
            Rachel also ="special" -as in a turkey/corned beef/roast beef special where the special in partiular refers to a cold sandwich with coleslaw.


            1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

              i was taught the same way barmyfotheringayphipps
              also it is corned beef
              the other thing about using pastrami (in new england anyway) is we don't have the real new york type of pastrami ours is thin(shaved) meat that is thrown in water with some mustard in it andthey take it out of the water throw it on a roll or rye and within 30 sec you have your roll /bread more like a sponge that full of water soggy
              i guess what i am getting at is with our style of meat you really can't use it for a reuben

              1. re: swsidejim

                swsidejim, your answer is not only succinct but absolutely correct.

                1. re: feelinpeckish

                  I'm with jim...Reuben, sauerkraut, period.

              2. I have quite a few relatives rolling over in their graves at the thought of a Reuben with coleslaw!

                1. Sauerkraut all the way. Coleslaw on a sandwich? only on a pulled bbq pork sandwich for me.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: babaoriley7

                    yes, coleslaw on a pulled pork sandwich is a must for me as well.

                    the only place I was served slaw on a reuben instead of kraut was in Northern Wisconsin, I dont know that they were thinking.

                    1. re: babaoriley7

                      Cole slaw is good on lots of sandwiches but a Reuben needs kraut!

                    2. Sauerkraut. The coleslaw is saved for turkey or brisket on rye.

                      1. I LOVE having this sandwich made with slaw instead of kraut, but I would never, ever call it a Reuben.

                        I don’t think I’ve ever heard a name for the slaw version.

                        Maybe we could call it an Ira...???

                        Uncle Ira

                        1. I also grew up in Jewish delis in NJ and Brooklyn and never, ever saw a sandwich referred to as a Rueben with anything but kraut. The Rachel thing sounds vaguely familiar. Also, Ruebens are served hot or warm and the idea of warm coleslaw is a little off-putting.

                          1. A proper Reuben has sauerkraut, swiss, corned beef and Russian dressing on grilled rye w/ caraway. I will occasional substitute pastrami, but I have never heard of using coleslaw.

                            I'm in my 40's and I have never seen a Reuben w/ coleslaw.

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: Kelli2006

                              Agree 100%. Grew up going to the Jewish delis in Jersey and NY and have never heard of a Reuben with cole slaw. True Reubens are made with sauerkraut, swiss and corned beef.

                              1. re: Kelli2006

                                Kelli2006.That is exactly my Jack Reuben as well.I sub pastrami at times also. Although I have to admit I put kraut on a lot of sandwiches depending on my taste buds that day.

                                1. re: Kelli2006

                                  yum yum. that is the Reuben that I love. I do eat a sandwich at Mimi's Cafe that is called a Reuben but has turkey, ham, swiss cheese and cole slaw. In that case, I do enjoy the cole slaw, but I ask them to hold the turkey.

                                2. Oi Vay, sauerkraut all the way.

                                  1. One other point. If you want to combine pastrami and cole slaw you need to try a version of the NJ Sloppy Joe.

                                    By far the greatest contributon to the sandwich by jfood's home state (yes he knows it comes from Cuba).

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: jfood

                                      Vey is mir. Oy.
                                      I've not even heard of the use of cole slaw until now.

                                    2. Rubens have kraut, even here in the South but here's a yummy sandwich that uses slaw

                                      the Reece

                                      Grilled sourdough or buttermilk bread filled with ham, gouda, slaw and dill mayo. Heat your ham, put to the side, put butter in your pan to grill the bread and add cheese on top of the bread, top cheese with the ham and once grilled add the slaw. YUM!

                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: alkapal

                                        Sorry, it's named after me. though I loved Designing Women and will gladly cede the name in the other Reece's honor. I'm not a pastrami fan but loved the idea of a Reuben and that's what I came up with. It's also very good with brie.

                                        1. re: hipquest

                                          and it is not called the "hip"? hmmmmm.... ;-)

                                          is the reece an open-faced sandwich?

                                          1. re: alkapal

                                            The Reece was invented long before hipquest. And who would eat something called the Hip? :)

                                            It's not open-faced when I prepare it but I see no reason it could not be.

                                      2. I had a Reuben in Miami recently that was topped with vinegar slaw. It was as close to kraut as slaw can get, but not the same.

                                        1. i've always known a reuben with kraut. if cole slaw comes on the side, i pile that on, too! maybe add some dijon mustard. and the pickle on the side, slice it and add it on. now, it must be eaten with a knife and fork, but i don't care. it is wonderful, and worth the heartburn for every savory, sharp, cheesy bite!

                                          oh, btw, here are some neat old recipes for russian dressing.

                                          why is a reuben kosher if it combines meat and dairy?

                                          3 Replies
                                          1. re: alkapal

                                            It's not. You can't get a reuben in a kosher deli. But not all Jewish-style delis are kosher.

                                            1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

                                              thanks for that clarification, barmyfotheringayphipps (your screen name always makes me smile!)

                                            2. re: alkapal

                                              Oy vey is mir again. There's nothing kosher about a dish that includes patrami and swiss. It's a reformed sandwich.

                                            3. A lot of interesting replies here. It just occurs to me--my girlfriend has been a vegetarian for over 20 years. Perhaps she's just misremembering a Reuben as having slaw. She _has_ mentioned the NJ "sloppy joe" to me. That could be the confusion.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: antrobin

                                                And on your james beard recollection - This quote is from the JB website:

                                                In American Cookery, James Beard does not resolve the food fight [of who invented the reuben], but makes clear his own prodigious appetite, even in the dog days of summer: "The old Reuben sandwiches I remember were made of thickish slices of pumpernickel, corned beef, sauerkraut, chicken breast or turkey breast, Swiss cheese, and Russian dressing," he wrote. "They were rather stupendous, but made a perfect summer meal."

                                                no mention of slaw.....

                                              2. reuben = kraut for me. growing up I often ate corned beef, slaw and russian (no cheese) and this was referred to as a "corned beef special" or a "new yorker". i have had turkey and roast beef "rachel's" though which to my knowledge were with slaw, swiss and russian.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: taryn

                                                  It's kraut, and there's a reason why that in turn explains why the sandwich has become so popular. The sourness of the kraut balances the rich oil of the corned beef and cheese. The kraut also provides salt, while the Russian dressing provides sweetness and a bit of tartness. So the Reuben embodies, and properly made perfectly balances, all four basic primary flavors, sour, salt, sweet, and bitter. It may even be that the cheese (if well aged) and corned beef (depending on the curing agents used) bring in L-glutamate and thus umami, the fifth primary flavor, making it a home run.

                                                  In the end it's all science.

                                                2. kraut all the way. time to find a new girlfriend!

                                                  1. Surreptitiously have your girlfriend tested for alien DNA (maybe catch some drool from the rye). I never, ever, saw coleslaw on a Reuben in NYC. I suspect, on her planet, the 'slaw was substituting for dressing in absence of 'kraut and Russian dressing. Watch out...Invasion of the Body Snatchers!

                                                    Strangely...one of the best Reuben's I've had was in Ann Arbor, MI - Zingerman's.

                                                    1. Hey antrobin,

                                                      I agree with the masses...kraut on the Reuben. But, slaw is a more than acceptible side dish.


                                                      1. Here in Maryland there is another switch...it's pastrami, swiss, russian dressing, on rye...with coleslaw...and it's called....
                                                        Cloak and Dagger! go figure...

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: crosby_p

                                                          All my Cloak and Daggers have been, corned beef, russian/1000 isles dressing, cole slaw on Rye (no swiss), first ones at the Homewood Deli near Hopkins

                                                        2. Kraut, for sure. Btw, in my experience, a Reuben is made with corned beef; a Rachel uses pastrami. I'll take slaw (on the side) with either.

                                                          1. While I'll never turn down a good slaw as a side dish (and I don't care: sweet, vinegary, or creamy - good slaws rock!), a Reuben has kraut, no question. I'm ticked that so many places in Toronto serve it with 1,000 Islands instead of Russian dressing (and if you ask for Russian dressing, in most places you get a blank look from your server).

                                                            Now, I'm trying to imagine the response of a waiter at Carnegie Deli when you ask for a Reuben with slaw instead of kraut... I'd love to be at the next table!

                                                            9 Replies
                                                            1. re: KevinB

                                                              Interesting you bring up Carnegie Deli. They serve their "Ah There's the Reuben" sandwich with the customer's choice of corn beef, pastrami or turkey, plus it is open faced. And yes it is sauerkraut.

                                                              Jfood's a Woody Allen customer.

                                                              1. re: jfood

                                                                Kevin, I am slightly embarrased, but what is the real difference between russian and 100 island?

                                                                1. re: bluedog67

                                                                  bluedog, according to this, citing craig claiborne, is that they are essentially the same, but that the russian originated with mayo tinged with caviar:

                                                                  1. re: bluedog67

                                                                    Not sure exactly, but here is the recipe for Russian that goes with this article/recipe about Reuben sandwiches. It's a good one.


                                                                    1/2 Cup Mayo
                                                                    1 Tbsp. Ketchup
                                                                    1 tsp.Grated Onion
                                                                    1/2 tsp. Horseradish
                                                                    1/4 tsp. Worcestireshire
                                                                    1 Tbsp. Chopped parsley

                                                                    1. re: grampart

                                                                      Jfood's take on the two points:

                                                                      - they can be the same, but every now and then some deli does not make the Russian to Thousand Island specs for a sandwich.
                                                                      - In defference to epicurious, no way that's the topping for a Reuben, there is no raw onion or chopped parsley in Thousand Island Reuben dressing. Basic recipe for jfood is Hellman's Mayo, Heinz Ketchup and drained green relish. Can also be made as referenced in the URL above as mayo and a little chili sauce, but the former is more original in Jfood's opinion.

                                                                      But whatever makes your sandwich sing is the way to go.

                                                                      1. re: jfood

                                                                        Don't want to get into a pitched argument with the estimable jfood, but to me, the horseradish and onion give true Russian dressing the bite that Thousand Islands lacks. (Not that I don't enjoy 1000 Islands on salads, burgers, hot dogs, and a whole bunch of other conveyances!) And, of course, many commercial establishments use prepared "1,000 Islands", which doesn't contain a hint of real mayo. I like Russian because its sharpness is a wonderful counterpoint to the unctuousness of the cheese and meat (pastrami, smoked meat, corned beef, OK. Turkey?! Meh!) And the kraut offers just that much more sharp flavour than coleslaw.

                                                                        IMHO, neither change makes a *HUGE* difference - turkey, slaw, cheese, open face on rye with 1,000 Islands is still a pretty awesome sandwich. But what I consider a true "Reuben" - some kind of preserved beef (pastrami/smoked/corned), kraut, Russian dressing and Swiss cheese on a huge slice of rye bread is a unique and not to be spoiled treat. I don't mind if delis want to serve close approximations, but they shouldn't call them Reubens.

                                                                        1. re: KevinB

                                                                          Good post Kevin.Couldn't agree more.Just for the record,I put kraut on many of my sandwiches,but I DO NOT call them Reubens.One other thing.I opened a deli and seafood restaurant on Central Ave. in St.Petersburg.Everyone in the area knew their seafood but not many people ever heard of a Reuben.As soon as they found out what they were,I couldn't make them fast enough.It got to the point I was selling Reubens 3 to 1 over the Cubans and my Cubans were real good.

                                                                          1. re: KevinB


                                                                            Many thanks for the insight on the difference between Russian and 1000, jfood always wondered. And if it is the horseradish (jfood loves horseradish) then he will absolutely test that theory this weekend. And the sandwich you describe in para 2 is SOP in casa jfood on the weekend, but on a roll. Jfood had three of them this weekend.

                                                                            jfood agrees whole-heartedly with you on the Reuben. Make any sandwich you would like, make it great and enjoy it but let's call a reuben a reuben. Don't want to order a hamburger and get a ham and cheese.

                                                                            1. re: jfood

                                                                              This one sure sounds like something special.

                                                                              The Russian Tea Room Russian Dressing Recipe
                                                                              This tasty dressing was found in The Russian Tea Room Cookbook. Use it on sandwiches, salads or fresh seafood.

                                                                              3 1/2 cups dressing
                                                                              20 min 20 min prep

                                                                              1 1/2 cups mayonnaise
                                                                              1/2 cup sour cream
                                                                              2/3 cup chili sauce (like Heinz Chili Sauce)
                                                                              1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
                                                                              2 tablespoons minced dill pickles
                                                                              1 tablespoon minced green peppers
                                                                              2 tablespoons minced onions
                                                                              4 teaspoons finely grated fresh horseradish or drained bottled horseradish
                                                                              2 teaspoons worcestershire sauce
                                                                              1/4 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
                                                                              2 teaspoons sugar
                                                                              1 pinch fresh ground pepper
                                                                              1/2 teaspoon paprika
                                                                              1 tablespoon minced parsley

                                                                              Combine all ingredients in a food processor or blender, and blend until mixed.
                                                                              Do NOT over blend.
                                                                              Refrigerate in a covered jar until serving time.
                                                                              Stir before using.
                                                                              Use to dress sandwiches or salads, or as a dip for fresh seafood.


                                                                2. Confusion solved!

                                                                  GF talked to both of her parents, separately last night. She asked them what goes on a Reuben, and each of them initially said "coleslaw" until, in the background, their respective spouses shouted out, "no! you mean sauerkraut!" at which point each parent said "oh yeah, I always confuse those. It _is_ sauerkraut. Slaw is what you put on a sloppy joe."

                                                                  My GF said, "See...It's not my fault. It's genetic."

                                                                  1. After reading this thread,I just made for the first time, a Reuben with pastrami, sauerkraut, dressing, swiss and it was delicious!