I didn't grow up in the South, so I only discovered pimento cheese about five years ago. I learned that the ingenious blend of grated sharp cheddar with mayonnaise, onion, and spices is typically a dip for celery sticks. Since then, I've discovered that its highest expression is—in my non-loyalist opinion—as a grilled pimento cheese. On the griddle, this easy cheese spread not only melts perfectly, but comes amped up with flavorful add-ins. Plus, there's extra creaminess from the mayonnaise.
Ultimately, I was inspired by pimento cheese when developing a Reuben sandwich for the farm-to-table tavern I was opening at the time. I had a hunch that I needed something more than a slice of Swiss to highlight my house-made pastrami and sauerkraut, but couldn't put my finger on what would do the trick.
The trouble with a lot of Reubens I've had in my day is the Swiss cheese. A medium-hard cheese, Swiss does not readily melt. Meltiness is, in my book, essential in a griddled sandwich. But even when heated, Swiss is just a blanket over the fillings.
How much better would it be, I thought, if the cheese could become melty, spreadable, and totally integrated into the sandwich? Better yet, what if I could combine the cheese with all the elements of Russian dressing—mayonnaise, ketchup, and sweet pickle relish—and use it to Reuben-ize any kind of grilled sandwich, even ones without the signature pastrami? Vegetarian Reubens would be possible! And so I began my recipe tests to adapt the concept of pimento cheese to the inveterate Reuben.
It turned out that grating the Swiss cheese not only facilitated melting, it also allowed me to blend in the flavors one would expect in a Reuben. As I played around with a few variations of my "Reuben cheese," I could not believe I hadn't eaten it anywhere else before.
This Reuben cheese lets you improvise a lot—proven by the incredible sandwich I made with this spread and some sliced, canned beets. Would you believe me if I told you that I've at last made peace with these scourges of my youth? I'll now keep a can on hand so that I can make a beet Reuben anytime, in as quick as the five minutes it takes to make a batch of Reuben cheese.
Whether you're talking corned beef, pastrami, or turkey—or lean toward seitan, tempeh, tofu, or even beets—you're set to go with a quick batch of Reuben cheese. Spread it on both sides of your favorite rye or pumpernickel, preheat your griddle, and grab a plate while it melts.
For that matter, you might skip the fillings altogether and just eat a grilled Reuben cheese.
- 3 cups Swiss cheese, grated (12 ounces)
- 2 tablespoons sweet onion, finely grated
- 2 tablespoons ketchup
- 1/4 cup mayonnaise
- 2 tablespoons sweet pickle relish
- 1 teaspoon Sriracha (optional)
- 1/4 teaspoon sweet paprika
- 1 large beet, sliced (canned; or boiled or roasted if using fresh beets)
- 1 tablespoon butter, softened
- 2 slices bread (such as rye or pumpernickel bread)
What are your favorite grilled cheese toppings, and can you Reuben-ize them with this melty spread? Tell us in the comments below!