The Elusive DIY Reuben Sandwich and Family Secrets Revealed

Reader Contribution by Ed Hudson
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All families have their folklore. Their tales of the past, of the the good and the bad. Some of which you learn from a serious conversation and sometimes through an off-hand comment. Then there are the times when you do the research, and you discover deep dark secrets and a revelation that changes how you look at your family and yourself.

Gaga’s Fudge

My father has three brothers and a sister. He is the second oldest son and the sister is the youngest. They spent parts of every summer visiting family in various parts of the country and by country, I mean largely Texas and Arkansas. It sounds like their grandmother (their father’s mother, called Gaga) was especially dear to them. She was very old when I was born, but I do remember her, if only through a virtual memory generated from old photographs. My daughter has her bedroom furniture.

One of the treats she made for the grandkids was fudge. She would wrap the pieces in wax paper and put them in a cylindrical cardboard Quaker Oats container and give it to the kids. It is a fond memory for all of them. One Christmas, long after she had died, the Hudson families gathered in Dallas for the holidays. It was rare for all of the families to be together and the always competitive “boys”, now quite grown men, would compete in anyway possible (but usually in a game of Risk that extended several days). Each day as the survivors gathered around the board for the day’s rounds of play, someone invariably suggested that somebody had moved their pieces around during the night, placing them at a definite disadvantage.

With such a large family, the exchanging of gifts was invariably chaotic and fast. However, that year, my uncle Andy pulled out of his bag of gifts five Quaker Oats containers – one for each sibling and his father. For the first time, maybe ever, the Hudson clan was quiet. They all beamed and almost simultaneously asked “Is that Gaga’s fudge?”. Andy handed out the tubes, and as each sibling received it, they went back 25 years to those special moments with Gaga. Just as they did way back when they could no longer wait, they opened the cans, hands shaking in anticipation and pulled out a roll of of fudgey goodness and the proceeded to gorge themselves. And that was the Christmas diabetes came to our family.

The Cheese Dip Deception

My dad’s mom was pretty good cook as well. She didn’t knock ’em dead like some grandmas, but when she did something, it was pretty good. One snack that was a staple at all family get togethers was Rotel. As a child, I watched her make this with fascination. You take this block of cheese, a block of cheese used only for this purpose, cut it into cubes, open a can of tomatoes, drain it but save the juice and put the tomatoes and cheese in a blender. Using the saved juiced to help liquefy things, you whipped up this wonderful dip that was called Rotel and eaten only with Fritos. It was smooth and creamy and absolutely amazing.

Jump ahead a few years and I am at college in my own place with a couple of roommates at Texas A&M University. It is football season during the great Jackie Sherrill years, and we were having some folks over to watch the game. Memories of Rotel inspired me to try and replicate the dish. My mom had come up with her version that used the stove to melt the cheese often resulting in the formation of a black skin of burnt cheese forming on the bottom of the pot. It was good, but not as good as Grandmother’s. The use of the blender made it creamier.

So I’m at the store looking for something tomato-ey to use in my own version of Rotel when I see a can labeled, Rotel. Wait, what is this? Did someone steal my grandmother’s recipe and rip her off? Or perhaps she sold someone the recipe and someday I’ll inherit a fortune made from cheese dip. I grabbed a can looked at the label to see if her name was on it or something, turned it around and there on the back of the label was a recipe for Velveeta Cheese Dip with Rotel. Wow, Grandmother hit the big time! She got her very own recipe on a can of product named after the dip she invented….wait a minute, I had it all backwards. She was a fraud. She didn’t invent Rotel cheese dip, she got the recipe from the label on the can. I was crushed.

When I got back to the house, I called my mom and asked her for an explanation. Her only response was “Seems like we are wasting a lot of money on you for an education.” and hung up. She was an obvious co-conspirator. I made some Rotel, burned it, of course, watched some football and drank a few Pearl beers as I tried to process this huge betrayal.

Not The Fudge, Too

Jump ahead another 20 years and I see my Uncle Andy at some family gathering, unfortunately, probably a funeral. I told him I was thinking about putting together a family cookbook and asked if he still had the recipe for Gaga’s Fudge.

He said “Yep, you go to the store..” I was not sure where this was going.

“Find you a can of puffed marshmallow..” Okay, I’m not liking this.

“Slowly turn it around and there it is on the back of the can!” He started laughing.

I was like, “Wait, it was not some great, passed down through the ages family recipe.”

“Nope, no great recipe. She got it off the can. Can you believe that?”

What is it with this family?

The Reuben Sandwich Sauce

And now, I have a DIY Reuben sandwich and while I did not invent the sandwich, I did manage to kick it up a few notches (to quote a celebrity chef). As I told you a couple of months back, I have started making my own corned beef and sauerkraut and we figured out how to make a Jewish rye bread. I’m not making my own Swiss cheese yet, so all I needed was the sauce.

The sauce put on a Reuben sandwich varies from region to region across the United States. Most commonly used are Thousand Island Dressing and its derivative Russian Dressing. My dad in his retirement has decided to reinvent cooking and, of course, he started with the Reuben. He soon learned that there is not much flexibility with most of the Reuben ingredients. If you are not making your own, you get what the store gives you. However, the sauce does allow a little flexibility and creativity. He has spent years perfecting his craft. Many different interpretations with modifications here and there. I am sure his Reuben sandwiches will be a lasting legacy, perhaps the lasting legacy for which all of the grandkids will remember him.

I knew it would be difficult to get the recipe from him. Certainly the correct recipe. I hoped he had written it down. I knew I had to come up with some incentive to get him to cough it up.

“Hey Dad,”


“I made up another batch of corned beef. I have some homemade kraut, and we have a rye bread recipe.”

“Sounds good. When can we come over?”

“Sunday, but I’m just missing the sauce. I was wondering if I could have your recipe so I can give proper respect to the sandwich you perfected.”

I had him! If he wanted a good sandwich, he would have to give me the right recipe. Looks like that education paid off, Mom.

“Well, I don’t know,” he said pausing for a moment. I’m thinking “c’mon old man, if I don’t carry the Reuben torch, who will? Matt? (my younger brother) Not bloody likely!”

“Okay, I’ll give it to you…just Google Emeril’s Reuben sandwich, and it has a recipe for Russian Dressing.”



“Did you even tweak it?”

“Nope, I like Emeril’s stuff and use his Russian dressing recipe.”

For the love of originality, I come from a family of plagiarists. It is apparently in my DNA. It probably resides in that mole on my back. Three generations of Hudsons have passed along mythical recipes… that someone else came up with.

It would seem that Huddy’s Reuben Sauce is really Emeril’s Russian Dressing. AYFKM?

As a public service announcement, please note that I always reference and credit my sources. I am trying to break this cycle and give credit where credit is due.

For your own DIY Reuben you can go here for the corned beef and sauerkraut recipes that were posted a couple of months ago. You can apparently Google Emeril’s Reuben Sandwich recipe to get his recipe for Russian Dressing, or see below for the sauce. Please don’t confuse it with Huddy’s Reuben sauce. By the way, it is great on almost anything.

Also included below is an abridged version of the Sourdough Rye Bread recipe. For the full recipe go to Hudson’s Farm on the Cement Pond.

Assembling the Reuben

On a griddle or large skillet, melt a little butter. Lay two pieces of bread down in the butter to toast. Apply dressing to each of the pieces on the side facing up. Add cheese to one slice of bread. While the cheese melts, add corned beef and sauerkraut to to other side.

Once the cheese has melted to your preferred consistency, flip onto the other side and press down with a spatula. Carefully flip it over and press again. When it is toasted how you like, remove, cut in half and enjoy.

When my mom and dad tried it, they said it was the best Reuben they ever had, especially the sauce. They may be a bit biased, but I guarantee you will impress some folks with this DIY Reuben sandwich.

Huddy’s Reuben Sauce

Emeril’s Russian Dressing

Mix together:

• 1 cup mayonnaise
• 1/4 cup chili sauce
• 1 tablespoon minced yellow onion
• 1 tablespoon minced dill pickle
• 1 tablespoon minced celery
• 1 tablespoon minced parsley leaves
• 1 tablespoon heavy cream
• 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
• 1/2 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
• 1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
• 1/4 teaspoon sugar
Once mixed, add salt to taste. Store in the refrigerator until needed.

Homemade Sourdough Rye Bread

Makes 1 Loaf

• 100 g Sourdough Leaven (freshly fed sourdough starter, fed with a 1:1 ratio of all purpose flour and water, then allowed to ferment for at least 4 hours at room temperature. Note, if you cannot bake in 4 hours, transfer the leaven to the refrigerator until ready to bake, but do not store for more than 48 hours in the refrigerator – the longer it goes, the more sour the bread. Longer than 48 hours makes it too sour and too dense)
• 400 g Water (room temp)
• 400 g Bread Flour
• 100 g Whole Rye Flour
• 10 g Sea Salt
• 1Tbsp Caraway Seeds

Preparing the Dough

Transfer the Leaven to a large mixing bowl. The Leaven will be bubbly and fluffy.

Add the Water to the bowl of Leaven. Stir with a spatula or a dough whisk to disperse.

Add the Bread Flour and the Whole Rye Flour. Stir with a spatula or a dough whisk to combine into a shaggy dough. Make sure to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl to incorporate all the flour.

Cover and let rest for approximately 30 minutes, but no more than one hour.

Add the Sea Salt and the Caraway Seeds to the bowl. Use the dough whisk or your hands to fully incorporate the Salt and the Caraway Seeds throughout the dough.

Bulk Fermentation – Letting the Wild Yeast Do the Work

Cover the bowl. Rest for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, use a spatula or your hands to stretch the dough and fold it in to itself. Scoop along the edge of the container and pull the dough toward the center, working your way all the way around the container. Cover and rest for 30 minutes.

Repeat Step 2 at least three more times – until the dough has increased approximately 30 to 50 percent, and has a springy texture that will hold a shape. It may take longer than two hours, but you will learn what the dough is supposed to feel like – just do a stretch and fold every 30 minutes until it is ready.

Scrape the dough onto a floured surface. Sprinkle flour over the top of the dough, cover with a cloth and rest for 10 minutes.

Shaping and Proofing

After the 10 minute rest, pat the dough with your fingertips to make it slightly flatter. Take the two side edges and pull them toward the center, then roll the dough, creating tension and forming a cylinder loaf. Sprinkle flour on the outside of the roll, and set it on the floured counter, seam side down. Cover with a cloth and let rest for 10 minutes.

After the 10 minutes rest, tighten the dough roll to make sure there is tension on the surface. Lightly flour the loaf.

Transfer the dough seam side down into a loaf pan (We use a Pullman Loaf pan with a cover). Cover the loaf with the cover (if using) or with a cloth and let rest and rise for approximately one hour, until the loaf is almost to the top of the loaf pan.

Baking the Bread

1. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Place a heavy skillet on the lowest level shelf.

2. Get a very sharp knife or a bread lame ready. Make sure you have oven gloves that are suitable up to at least 500 degrees – the oven and the pans get VERY hot!

3. Get a cup of ice and set it on the counter, near your oven.

4. After the rise, remove the cover and use the sharp knife or baker’s lame to score the surface of the dough. Replace the cover (or if not using a Pullman Loaf pan, cover with aluminum foil).

5. Put the covered container into the oven, then dump the ice into the heavy skillet on the lowest shelf and immediately close the oven door, allowing the oven to fill with steam. Turn down the temperature to 450 degrees. Bake for 18 minutes.

6. After 18 minutes, wearing oven gloves, open the oven and carefully remove the skillet of hot water and discard the water. Remove the cover on the loaf pan. Close the oven and set a timer for 15 minutes.

7. Keep your eye on the bread – it should be browned, and may even get dark brown edges near the scoring. You can take its temperature (wear oven gloves!) – the center should be approximately 198 – 200 degrees when it is finished. It should be finished approximately 13-18 minutes after you have removed the cover, depending on your oven and the size of your bread.

8. When the center of the bread has reached 198-200 degrees, pull it out and immediately transfer it to a cooling rack. Cover with a cloth. If serving immediately, let it rest for at least 15 minutes before slicing.

Bread Recipe Resources:

We have researched online and in books and have done many experiments with baking sourdough bread. Our primary inspiration for techniques and recipes has been Chad Robertson’s book Tartine Bread. For troubleshooting, starter development and other recipes, we have often referred to Mike Avery’s website/blog

Ed Hudson is a biochemist for NASA in Houston. His free time is filled with gardening and an ongoing list of Food Preservation Projects with his lovely wife, Jennifer. You can read more MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts from Ed here and contact him via email at He is always looking for comments, new ideas and suggestions.

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