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A strata based on the Reuben sandwich

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Posted: Tuesday, March 17, 2015 11:44 am

Strata. One of a series of layers, levels or gradations in an ordered system. What does this have to do with good eating? Plenty.

Odds and ends in the refrigerator or cabinets often present a challenge when trying to put together a meal; if not thought out, you may end up with what my grandmother called ‘Goulash’. FYI Grandma: That’s not Goulash. However, I digress.

I much prefer to talk about strata. Traditional strata is a casserole layered with cooked meat, bread, cheese, herbs and or spices and a savory custard poured over and baked until browned and puffy. Comforting and delicious, a strata can even be assembled the night before serving. Contemporary versions often call for bread cubes, canned condensed soup, milk and mayo or sour cream mixed together instead of an egg custard. Stratas also work for breakfast, like warm baked French toast casserole or ham, egg and potato combination.

My particular favorite is naturally based on the best sandwich ever, the Reuben. A Reuben is always hot, on buttered rye bread, with either Russian dressing or more commonly, Thousand Island dressing and layers of grilled corned beef, sauerkraut and melting Swiss cheese. This delicious combination is assembled, grilled, then served with a crunchy dill pickle half on the side. Bliss. If that sounds amazing, cast an eye on the following strata.

Instead of pouring the custard over the assembled layers, the bread is dipped into it. Once baked, this technique creates a crisp top layer resembling the grilled version. I use an 11x 8 x 3-inch (2 quart) baking dish for 4 big servings; to double the recipe, use an 9 x 13 baking dish. For a larger amount, make 2 stratas.

Reuben strata

1 1/4 cups well-drained sauerkraut

4 eggs

1/3 cup milk

3/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

8 to 9 slices rye bread (dark or light), divided

2/3 cup Russian or Thousand Island dressing, divided

1 pound sliced corned beef (not lunch meat type)

3 to 4 ounces sliced Swiss cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Generously butter a 2-quart casserole dish and set aside. Place the well-drained sauerkraut on a parchment-lined baking sheet, spreading it out well and bake for about 20 minutes to dry it out (it will be limp but not brown and crisp). Remove from oven and cool. Reserve parchment.

While sauerkraut is baking, beat eggs with milk and Worcestershire sauce and pour into a shallow dish. Using half of the bread, trim to uniform size to fit baking dish (save trimmings). Quickly dip each slice into egg mixture to cover and allow to drain back into dish. Lay each in casserole to completely line bottom. Use dipped trimmings as needed to fill any gaps.

Spread the bread layer with half the dressing. Spread sauerkraut evenly across dressing. Layer the corned beef evenly over sauerkraut and spread with remaining dressing. Cover with even layer of cheese.

Trim and dip remaining bread (and trimmings as needed) to completely cover top of casserole. Lightly press parchment paper from sauerkraut directly on top bread layer and cover dish with foil (can be refrigerated overnight at this point).

Bake, with parchment and foil in place, for 40 minutes (45, if chilled overnight). After 40 minutes, remove parchment and foil and bake for 10 to 15 minutes more, until top is crisp and golden brown (easier to judge with light rye).

Remove from oven and let rest for 10 to 15 minutes, so as to allow juices to be reabsorbed. Cut into serving size squares. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Lori Bowles lives in Lodi with her husband Jeff and is living the semi-retired life while staying current on food trends. She enjoys searching out local purveyors of the best that Lodi has to offer.

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