What's "The Rachel"? The Reuben's Relative, Explained
If you've ever been to a decent deli (Jewish or otherwise), you're no doubt familiar with the Reuben. Piling corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss, and Russian dressing between two slices of rye bread, this mouthwatering favorite is pretty much the platonic ideal of deli nosh.
But just like any sandwich, the Reuben isn't necessarily for everybody. Maybe corned beef isn't your thing. Perhaps there's something about fermented cabbage that makes you say nein to sauerkraut. Does that mean you have to abandon any pretense of eating the quintessential deli sandwich entirely?
As it turns out, the answer is a resounding no. You see, the Reuben has a sister of sorts, one that just might be more palatable to those looking for a leaner take that honors the spirit of its predecessor: the Rachel.
But to tell Rachel's story, we have to start with the Reuben first. And, as is often the case with sandwiches that aren't trademarked and packaged, the Reuben has two competing and relatively plausible origin stories.
Get the Recipe: The Real Reuben
One holds that the Reuben was born out of a poker game played at the Blackstone Hotel in Omaha, Nebraska sometime around 1925. In that telling, one Reuben Kulakofsky asked hotel owner Charles Schimmel to bring him a sandwich made of corned beef, Swiss, and sauerkraut on rye. Though there's no evidence that this particular Reuben took credit for the sandwich over the years that followed, the Reuben made its way onto the Blackstone Hotel's menu, and would later enter into and win a national sandwich competition in 1956.
Of course, you won't be shocked to learn that the other origin story for this deli staple originates in New York City. Based on evidence presented to famed New York Times food writer Craig Claiborne, Arnold Reuben, the German-Jewish proprietor of Reuben's Delicatessen, supposedly invented the "Reuben Special" more than a decade earlier in 1914. Interestingly, Arnold Reuben's Reuben supposedly featured Virginia ham, turkey, Swiss, coleslaw, and Russian dressing … which sounds curiously like the Rachel, as you'll soon see.
What does any of this have to do with the Rachel? Well, not much, other than to note that the origins of this particular spin on the Reuben are even murkier. There's some evidence of a "Rachel sandwich" existing as early as 1931, though this chicken-based offering doesn't seem to bear much connection to how the Rachel is known today. A pastrami-based "Rachel" got a mention in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch back in 1993, which is clarifying in the sense that it confirms the sandwich has nothing to do with Jennifer Aniston's character on Friends.
Perhaps owing to its absence of an exact origin story, the Rachel is certainly more of a pliable sandwich than the classic Reuben as far as ingredients are concerned. The first major difference is that the Rachel swaps brisket-based corned beef for pastrami, which comes from a comparatively leaner cut of the cow.
If you're looking to keep things even leaner and lighter, turkey is a perfectly valid option, whether it happens to come sliced from the deli or carved from the animal itself. At the very least, consider it a fun spin on your usual post-Thanksgiving leftovers. And for what it's worth, Arby's one-time Turkey Rachel (obviously) used this particular protein.
Get the Recipe: Grilled Turkey Reuben Sandwiches
Elsewhere in the Rachel, the most noticeable difference is the sandwich's relationship with cabbage. Whereas sauerkraut emphasizes a (fittingly) sour and fermented flavor, the rachel instead opts for the comparatively creamy, crunchy choice of coleslaw. It's a revision of the sandwich that works for those who wish the Reuben had a different textural profile - or just wish it had more mayo.
In terms of other ingredients, the Rachel can often include French rather than Russian dressing. Even more unconventionally (at least in terms of things you'd find in a Jewish deli), some say the Rachel can be made with barbecue sauce. Finally, there are those who tell you that it's acceptable to swap out the Reuben's signature rye for sourdough, though this may be considered sacrilege in some corners.
If you're looking to order yourself this Reuben alternative, it's important to note that the Rachel won't necessarily be known as the Rachel everywhere you go. Weirdly enough, it seems that a Rachel made with turkey, swiss, coleslaw and Russian dressing is known as a "Georgia Reuben" for reasons that aren't very well-documented. Sometimes it's called a "California Reuben", which makes slightly more sense if you interpret a turkey Rachel as a (comparatively) healthier riff on the Reuben.
So if the Reuben has always been a little bit too far outside of your wheelhouse, consider the Rachel your invitation to try a new spin on an old favorite. No matter what your name is, you'll be glad you did.