The legendary Reuben of yore was built on corned beef, but I swap that out in favour of smoked salmon. And while I hold fast to the classic version's melted cheese, I lose the untoasted rye bread in favour of a grilled panini. Un-orthodox? Guilty as charged. Scrumptious anyway? See for yourself.
Of course, the idea to begin with was — somehow — to lighten up the Reuben, a sandwich that explodes with flavour as you eat it, but then sits in your gut like a rock for days afterward.
Smoked salmon has nowhere near the fat content of corned beef, but — given its high level of omega-3 fatty acids — it's plenty rich for fish. Indeed, it's rich enough to cry out for some kind of acid for balance, just like corned beef. Happily, sauerkraut does the trick for both of them.
Once upon a time, pairing up fish and cheese, as we do here, would have been unthinkable to me. The very idea is a strict no-no in Italian cuisine. It was a Frenchman who persuaded me to reconsider. The gent in question is Eric Ripert, legendary chef at Le Bernardin in New York.
Several years ago we ran his recipe for salmon croque monsieur in Gourmet magazine. (A croque monsieur is how the French manage to glorify a grilled cheese sandwich.) It quickly became one of the most popular hors d'oeuvres ever served in my dining room.
As for the Reuben's standard Thousand Island dressing, I slimmed it down and spiced it up by using low-fat mayo and chili sauce (instead of the more traditional ketchup), then combined it all with chopped dill pickle and a squeeze of lemon. Likewise, when it came time to cook this assemblage, I used extra-virgin olive oil instead of butter.
But why panini? I just happen to think that a pressed sandwich, especially one with cheese, always tastes better than a non-pressed one, probably because of the former's crispy crust. Unfortunately, I don't own a panini machine. It would be yet another piece of equipment vying for a patch of the limited real estate in my kitchen.
Fortunately, I invented my own. I just put my layered sandwich in a skillet, top it with a plate or lid, and top that with a heavyweight can of tomatoes. Voila, panini!
Again, this is not grandpa's Reuben, but I don't think you'll mind. And I know you won't need to take a nap after eating it.
SMOKED SALMON REUBEN PANINI
Start to finish: 30 minutes (15 minutes active)
1/4 cup low-fat mayonnaise
2 tablespoons chili sauce (the kind served with shrimp cocktail)
2 tablespoons finely chopped dill pickle
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
8 slices rye bread
4 ounces thinly sliced Gruyere, fontina or Swiss cheese
4 ounces thinly sliced smoked salmon
14 1/2-ounce can sauerkraut, drained, rinsed and gently squeezed to remove excess liquid
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
In a small bowl, combine the mayonnaise, chili sauce, pickle and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Spread one side of each slice of bread with some of the dressing. Arrange half of the cheese on 4 of the slices. Divide the salmon, sauerkraut and remaining cheese among the cheese-topped slices of bread and top each with one of the remaining bread slices, spread side down.
In a large skillet over medium, heat the oil until hot. Add the sandwiches and something heavy (such as a cast iron skillet, flat saucepan lid, or heat-safe plate and a weight such as a can of food) to firmly press the sandwiches down. Cook for 6 minutes per side, or until golden and the cheese has melted. Cut each sandwich in half and serve right away.
Nutrition information per serving: 510 calories; 260 calories from fat (51 per cent of total calories); 29 g fat (9 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 50 mg cholesterol; 39 g carbohydrate; 7 g fiber; 6 g sugar; 19 g protein; 1850 mg sodium.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Sara Moulton was executive chef at Gourmet magazine for nearly 25 years, and spent a decade hosting several Food Network shows. She currently stars in public television's "Sara's Weeknight Meals" and has written three cookbooks, including "Sara Moulton's Everyday Family Dinners."