Saturday, May 09, 2020

Working on the Cookbook

Working on the cookbook. Been working on it for several months now and getting fairly close to finish. The problem is that with each section, as I get close to finishing it, I think of a few new recipes I have to add. Or I think that I have to put at least one or two little stories in each section.
Today I was finishing up the "Burgers and a Few Sandwiches" section. I got a few down, then came to the Reuben. I don't make the Reuben in a traditional way, with corned beef. Here's what I wrote:
Every recipe in every cookbook will tell you to make this sandwich with corned beef. That’s pretty traditional. But when I worked at Jimmy Day’s Restaurant in New York’s West Greenwich Village back in the day, we made it with pastrami and that’s what I still think makes the best damned Reuben in the world.
I’ve got to say a word or two about Jimmy Day’s. It was not far to the west of 6th Ave. It was probably my second job in a restaurant as a grown up. I had a small apartment on Broom St. just off 6th at the time, so it made sense to try to get a gig not far from home.
Now I don’t remember exactly how many seats the joint had, but it was far bigger than my first job at The Lodge. I want to say I think it sat about 82 people. The kitchen was tiny, and the crowd came in surges. I would get in at about 6 PM and work with the chef till 8 ish. Then he would leave and I was on my own — with a dishwasher, of course — until 2 AM, when the kitchen closed.
We had a pretty big menu but it was mostly easy stuff to make: Eggs, steak and eggs, meatloaf, burgers, chops, spaghetti, and sandwiches dominated. Not a problem, except that the crowd was used to very fast service. I could look up after finishing five plates and see eight new chits calling for 25 meals staring me in the face. You either learned speed and dexterity — working the oven, grill, meat and cheese slicers, deep fryer, and the six-burner stove simultaneously — or you quit. I thought of quitting quite a lot at first because I was so overwhelmed. I’m glad I didn’t because I really learned speed work — without sacrificing quality — while I was there, something that made a huge difference in my whole career.
A lot of the guests were weight lifters who wanted their steaks trimmed of all fat and then wanted three fried egg whites on them. Or they wanted egg white omelets with their steak or pork chops. My hands flew separating out those eggs.
Now one of our big sellers was the Reuben. I’d toss two slices of rye bread into the grill to toast them. I’d pull them out quickly and put them on an oval metal sizzle plate, and put Russian dressing on one side of each slice of the toasted rye bread.
I’d slice a good portion, maybe six ounces or more, of fresh pastrami on the slicer, and toss that on the bread, splitting it evenly. I’d top that with sauerkraut we always had on the stove, then top each slice of bread with good Swiss cheese. Toss that into the grill till the cheese melted, pull it, and slide it, open faced onto a plate. Add pickles and coleslaw and done. Ring the bell, get it out of here.
That is still my favorite way to make a Reuben.
So go to your nearest Jewish deli and get six or seven ounces of very thinly sliced pastrami for each sandwich you’re making. Pick up a nice loaf of rye while you’re there.
Home, heat your oven to 350┬║.
While it’s heating up, put sauerkraut on the stove at medium heat. Add a tablespoon of garlic in olive oil for each sandwich. You want the kraut to start to brown and get a rich, deep flavor, so the longer you cook it the better it gets. Add a little white vinegar or dill pickle juice to it if it starts to dry out and burn. Oh, and turn down the heat on it.
So the pastrami is ready, the kraut is cooking, the oven is getting hot. Time to make your Russian dressing.
For each sandwich — two open halves each, remember — you need about two table spoons of mayonnaise, one good squirt of ketchup, and a tablespoon of pickle relish (sweet or not, your choice) or chopped up sweet and hot Jalepe├▒os. Mix that up, then toss your bread into the oven or toaster to toast it.
When the bread is toasted, bathe one side of each slice with the Russian dressing, top with the pastrami. Top that with the perfect sauerkraut, and then top the whole shebang with a couple of slices of Swiss on each half.
Put your open sandwich halves onto a baking sheet and bake for about 5 minutes, or until the cheese is righteously melted.
Pull sandwiches, plate them, add a couple of dill pickle spears and a dollop of coleslaw and get after it.
Thanks, Jimmy Day’s. I loved working that speed factory!


Anonymous said...

Love this post! Great to hear about your early days as a restaurant cook. Cannot imagine the pressure of cooking for crowds like that. Ring that bell!

Zarbby Malapai said...
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