The celebration of St. Patrick’s Day is a fascinating study of immigration, ethnicity, and foods. On one hand, it is supposed to be a celebration of the Irish nation, specifically St. Patrick’s death and the arrival of Christianity to the island. Even more interesting is how widely celebrated this tradition is in the United States by Irish immigrants initially, and now by just about anyone that just wants an excuse to drink in early spring. We document the impact of the Irish diaspora and the settling around the Great Lakes region on our Ethnic Traditions page.
One of the foods long associated with Ireland is corned beef, with the “corn” a reference to the Old English word for the salt particles used to cure the beef brisket. Salt cured beef appears in many cultures, but the British commercialized the practice and the farms of Ireland supplied much of the beef. Sometime in the early 1900’s a Reuben sandwich was created, maybe in Nebraska, maybe in New York, but very likely by a Jewish immigrant! But in the last few decades having a Reuben sandwich with your Guinness (or, gods forbid, a green beer!) has become part of the St. Patrick’s Day tradition in the United States. So we have an ethnic food tradition, largely celebrated outside the country of origin, with foods created by another immigrant tradition entirely!
Well, we had our Reuben on St. Patrick’s Day along with a Guinness or four and then happily took a two hour nap in the middle of the day. The next day, we had left-over corned beef from Benji’s Deli in Milwaukee, which is perfectly prepared, fall apart tender, thick-sliced corned beef. And when we have leftover meats, they are usually going to show up one of two ways – in a hoppel poppel or in a poutine. Readers might remember our use of leftover turkey from Thanksgiving in this poutine. And given the association of Ireland with potatoes, which we explored in this soup, we felt like a “Reuben” poutine would be a lot of fun.
We went with tater tots as our base and added Saverne’s Original Organic Kraut to the oven at the same time with a tablespoon of butter and crumbled corned beef. Their kraut is already fairly mild, but the extra cook time with butter and beef added mellows it beautifully for this dish. Over the top of the kraut are those incredible slices of Benji’s corned beef.
We created a cheater cheese sauce to pour over the top to mimic the Swiss cheese often added to the Reuben. I call it a “cheater” sauce because it was a quick microwave sauce created by adding 1 tablespoon butter to 1 tablespoon flour and microwaving for 30 seconds. Then add 1/2 cup milk and heat for another 45 seconds or just until it begins to heat through. It should be thickened to a white sauce. To the hot sauce we stirred in 1/2 cup of Irish cheddar cheese. So it was a rich cheddar sauce in about 2 minutes.
We were looking for a hint of the Thousand Island dressing, which is often substituted in the Midwest for the tradition Russian dressing in a Reuben sandwich. Pickled green tomatoes from last fall fit the bill. Diced small and tossed with just a bit of parsley it gives us that nice color contrast, but also brings in that pickled component on a very rich and meaty dish. And we love our pickles here at Great Lakes Cuisine.
Two other possible additions come to mind – maybe we could add small rye croutons to make the connection to the sandwich but perhaps simply adding toasted caraway seeds would get us there as well. Of course there is also a myriad of Great Lakes cheeses we could have subbed in for the Irish cheddar to keep it more “local”. Nevertheless, this was a fun, simple adaptation of a Reuben into another ethnic tradition of poutine.