Allow me to confess right at the start: This is not your grandfather's Reuben sandwich.
The legendary Reuben of yore was built on corned beef, but I swap that out in favor of smoked salmon. And while I hold fast to the classic version's melted cheese, I lose the untoasted rye bread in favor of a grilled panini. Unorthodox? 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 flavor 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 nonpressed 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.