Sandwich Night

Oh great, the forecast is for freezing rain. That ought to put a lovely glaze on the ice and snow already covering most of the secondary roads in and around Portland. We plan to address the impending worry of not being able to leave the house tomorrow by having Reuben sandwiches and tomato soup for dinner.

First, Bake the Bread

Dark Pumpernickel Rye Bread - Red Star Yeast original recipe
Prep Time
15 mins
Cook Time
2 hrs
Total Time
2 hrs 15 mins

Finding good pumpernickel bread in Portland is difficult. Kenny & Zuke's has excellent dark pumpernickel bagels, and Einstein has passable ones, but finding a fresh loaf of true pumpernickel, yes, with caraway seeds in the bread, has thus far eluded us.

Course: Breads
Servings: 1 loaf
  • 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons brewed coffee at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 2 tablespoons dark molasses
  • 1 1/4 cups bread flour
  • 1 cup medium rye flour
  • 5 teaspoons cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons Sugar in the Raw or regular sugar
  • 3/4-1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast 1 1/4oz packet
  • Touch of canola oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 1/4 cup water
  1. Combine 1 cup bread flour, cocoa powder, sugar, salt, onion powder, and yeast in a mixer bowl. (Reserve 1/4 cup bread flour and all of the rye four.) Combine liquid ingredients and heat to 120° to 130° F in a separate bowl.
  2. Combine dry mixture and liquid ingredients in mixing bowl with paddle attachment for 4 minutes on medium speed. Gradually add rye flour and enough of the reserved 1/4 cup of bread flour to form a firm dough. Knead with dough hook 5 to 7 minutes to a moist, supple, elastic and smooth consistency.
  3. Place dough in lightly oiled bowl and turn to grease top. It has to be only a slight film of oil. Cover; let rise until dough tests ripe, about 1 hour. Punch down dough to remove air bubbles and shape dough into a round loaf. Place on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet or a parchment paper lined 8-inch layer cake pan. Cover with a kitchen towel; let rise in warm place until indentation remains after touching (about 30 minutes). Bake in preheated 400° F oven for 25 to 30 minutes.
Recipe Notes

We used dark brown sugar instead of sugar in the raw and substituted re-hydrated Penzey's Air-Dried shallots for the onion powder.

Second, Procure Pastrami

Boar's Head pastrami

Yes, pastrami. A traditional Reuben would, of course, use corned beef, but I prefer pastrami. My local Fred Meyer has undergone a renovation and switched to 100% Boar’s Head provisions in the deli counter. I grew up with Boar’s Head back in New York. The good delis stocked Boar’s Head, the ghetto delis stocked brands you never heard of, and the hole-in-the-wall delis stocked a little bit of this and a little bit of that. Sometimes the off-the-radar delis made their own pastrami and corned beef. Sometimes it was really good, other times it made you sick.

My only problem is while Boar’s Head pastrami is dependably decent, the people working the counter are not. First, it’s hit or miss if the cafeteria worker behind the counter even knows what pastrami is. That’s what happened to me today when I asked for “a pound of pastrami, sliced extra-extra thin, please.”

Yeah yeah, I know, I grew up in the holy land of delicatessens; everything afterward (aside from Kenny & Zuke’s) tends to disappoint. But why staff your deli counter with people who aren’t into what they’re doing? You can’t phone-in deli counter work. You have to be a people-person and you have to enjoy food to do even half-well. I couldn’t do it; I’d end up killing people with a clever.

First rule: make eye contact with the customer. It’s ok to be an intimidating deli person, customers are looking to you for expertise. Second rule: if the customer asks for something “sliced extra-extra thin” pull a test slice and present it to the customer. It’s ok to say “this is the finest setting we have on the meat slicer, will it do?” or something to that effect. Not all deli counters invest in the best slicers that can achieve a lovely tissue-paper-thin slice, but presenting a test slice goes a long way to letting the customer know you heard their request and, at least, twiddled the slicer dial.

Lastly, don’t leave cold cut ends sitting around in plastic bags. If there’s still enough to get good slices put the cut end down in a metal tray before putting it back in the case, or wrap the hunk of meat in fresh plastic wrap each time. If it’s too small for more slicing put it aside to be used in salads or given to employees to take home. Honestly, watching this deli woman rifle through industrial zip-locks of random bagged ends that had been opened and closed all day, picking them up one by one in the hopes one would be pastrami, made me want to simply leave. I finally had to say “there’s an unopened one over here, could we go with that?” She never made eye contact, came around to my side of the deli case, opened it, I then had to point at the pastrami. She got it back to her side of the counter, ripped off the plastic, sliced off a pound, bagged it, took three tries to enter the code in the scale/printer thing, slapped the label on, passed it over the counter still not making eye contact and said “will there be anything else?” No…. this is pretty much all I can deal with right now.

Ready the Saurkraut

Parts of a Reuben Sandwich

Mix the Dressing

Parts of a Reuben Sandwich

Best Foods Mayo with healthy squirt of ketchup, two twists of black pepper, and a sprinkle of Piment d’Espelette.

Prepare the Cheese

Parts of a Reuben Sandwich

Swiss Emmental, more flavor than Jarlsberg.

Bread, Out of the Oven & Cooling

Pumpernickel Loaf

Give it time to cool.

Assemble and Add Heat

Reubens in the pan

Heat up a non-stick frying pan on low and melt some butter. Assemble the sandwiches by coating both sides with dressing, one layer of sliced swiss cheese on both sides, sauerkraut on one side, artfully folded pastrami on the other. Brings the halves together, place in the not-too-hot pan, and let ’em heat till the cheese melts. Don’t let the bread burn. Place a second frying pan (not a ten-ton cast iron one) atop the sandwiches if you’d like them more squished and be ready to turn them a couple times so they heat thoroughly. Better to heat them slowly than to burn the bread.