This Cod Reuben Sandwich is a fishy take on a classic deli-style Reuben, and is piled high with seared cod, sauerkraut, and a homemade yogurt-based Russian dressing.
Growing up, I didn’t spend much time eating Reuben Sandwiches. What I did eat, on a somewhat regular basis, is the Reuben’s ever so slightly lighter cousin– the Rachel. Just like a Reuben, the Rachel is made up of rye bread, Russian dressing, sauerkraut, and Swiss cheese– all grilled in sweet, sweet butter. Unlike the Reuben, the Rachel has turkey instead of corned beef.
At some point during my last year of graduate school, it occurred to me that I was eating A LOT of processed white meat. While white meat wasn’t greasy, and didn’t leave me feeling unwell like red meat did, I started to wonder if I’d have fewer headaches and feel generally healthier without the processed lunch meats. So, I stopped eating them. It turns out– I DO feel better, but I missed– really, really missed– my occasional huge deli sandwich. I can confidently say– this Cod Reuben Sandwich tastes EVEN BETTER than the Rachel sandwiches I’d been missing!
Using High-Quality Cod
After a few experiments gone wrong with vegetarian Reubens– I’d nearly given up on my favorite sandwich. This past spring, though– something happened that gave me hope! I was in Florida for the bestie’s wedding, and I saw– not once, not twice, but THREE TIMES– seafood Reubens on restaurant menus. I shrieked with delight– and then the sandwiches came. They were good– but they WERE NOT Reubens! There was no rye bread, there was cole slaw instead of sauerkraut, and there was no Swiss cheese– but these faux-Reubens gave me an idea.
I came home, and started brainstorming. Which type of fish would be thick and delicious, so that the sandwich would have a similar texture and look to a classic Reuben? Which type of fish would go well with the flavors in the classic– the rye bread, sauerkraut, and spicy Russian dressing? The answer seemed clear– Cod.
I didn’t want just any cod, though. I wanted high-quality cod. Healthy cod with enough flavor that I would still be able to CLEARLY taste the fish when it was paired with the other strong flavors in the sandwich. I also wanted the cod to be plump and thick– thick enough to make the sandwich substantial, and not wimpy. (No one wants a wimpy Reuben.)
Where would I find such a delicious and flavorful cod? I knew right away where I’d find it– I went straight to my local healthfood store and picked up some frozen Pacific Cod fillets from my favorite seafood company– Orca Bay. Their plump and flaky cod is sourced from Alaska’s Pacific Coast waters– which is exactly what the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Program recommends. Orca Bay’s seafood, as always, is clearly labeled with the fishing method used and even the fishing zone that the fish were caught in. (Plus, their cod is DELICIOUS!!!)
Order Orca Bay Online: Use my Ambassador Code: champagnetastes for 15% off!
Find Orca Bay locally: Use their store finder, or try these vendors: Costco, Ingles, Giant Eagle, Market of Choice, Whole Foods (Northwest Region), HyVee, Dierberg’s, Woodman’s, Acme Fresh, Hen House, Price Cutter, Harp’s, Price Chopper- Kansas City. (Note: if you don’t have one of these stores in your local area, but do have a health food store, check there! That’s where I find my Orca Bay fish.)
What makes a Reuben?
All through college, I worked at a restaurant that served both Reubens and Rachels (although the Rachel was off-menu), and I experimented with the recipe for a Rachel. Could I make it healthier? I tried toasting the bread instead of grilling it in butter– the flavor wasn’t the same. It needs the butter. I also tried changing the dressing, leaving off the dressing, and using half the cheese. What did I learn? Keep reading– I’ll come back to the dressing and cheese.
After eating faux-Reubens in Florida, I came home and started experimenting. I made a platter of Cod Reubens with variations on the sandwich– some with cheese, some without, some with cole slaw instead of sauerkraut, and some with my homemade yogurt-based Russian dressing. What did I find?
You can skip the cheese, or use less cheese– if you want to. There’s probably a few seafood purists out there who are screaming at me right now, yelling, ‘Seafood and cheese don’t go together!!!’ While I don’t want to go against hundreds of years of Italian cooking rules, this time- I’m telling you– it’s good with and without the cheese (but personally I’d go for the cheesy version!).
I tried versions with cole slaw instead of sauerkraut, just in case all those Florida cafes were onto something– they weren’t. Use sauerkraut! It’s delicious with the cod. And as for the dressing, if you’re in a hurry, a pre-made Russian dressing (if you can find one!), or a Thousand Island will work just fine. (Russian dressing is spicier than Thousand Island– just in case you were wondering.) I prefer to use my healthier, mayo-free and ketchup-free homemade dressing, and it doesn’t take long to make.
Making a Cod Reuben Sandwich
To make a Cod Reuben Sandwich, start with the Russian dressing. I make mine with whole yogurt, tomato paste, dill relish, diced green and red onion, a little paprika and salt, and some grated horseradish. Stir it all together, taste it, adjust the seasoning if you want to. (If you want, you can make this part ahead of time!)
Next, sear the cod! Start with thawed cod that you’ve let come to room temperature. Dry it off– I usually do this part twice. Wet fish WILL NOT SEAR! Sprinkle a little salt and pepper over your cod. Get a heavy pan really hot– I like to use cast iron– and melt a little butter inside. Sear the fish about 4 minutes per side, and then set your fish aside. Lower the pan heat to medium.
Assemble your sandwiches– rye bread layered with sauerkraut, as much of the dressing as you want, the cheese (if you’re using it), and of course– the cod. If your cod isn’t the same size as the bread, you can flake it apart a little and spread it out. Next, add a little more butter to the pan, and grill each side of the sandwich for about 2 minutes per side. Grab some napkins and eat your Cod Reuben Sandwich while it’s still hot! Then, sigh happily after enjoying your giant deli sandwich!
Cod Reuben Sandwich
Deli-Style Seafood Reuben
Russian Yogurt Sauce:
- 1/2 cup whole milk plain yogurt
- 1 tsp tomato paste
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 TB relish (dill or sweet)
- 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
- 1 TB horseradish root, freshly grated (or sub prepared)
- 2 green onions, diced
- 1/8 cup diced red onion
- 2 cod fillets (~4oz each) recommendation- Orca Bay cod
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1 TB olive oil
- 1 TB butter
- 4 slices Jewish rye bread
- 1/2 cup sauerkraut
- 2 ~7oz slices Swiss cheese (optional), add more if desired
- 1 TB butter
Combine all ingredients for Russian dressing. Taste dressing, add more salt if it tastes bland, and/or more horseradish if you prefer it spicier. Set aside.
Add oil to a heavy pan, such as cast iron, and heat on medium-high heat. Pat cod dry, and then dry it off again. Wet fish will stick to the pan.
Set cod in hot pan, and DO NOT TOUCH IT. Set a timer for 4 minutes, and don't touch the cod until the timer goes off. (If your butter smokes a little, lower the heat slightly.)
Next, use a thin metal spatula to flip the cod. If it sticks to the pan, wait another 30 seconds. The fish will release when it's done cooking. Cook for another 4 minutes, and remove from pan.
Lower the heat to medium.
Prepare sandwiches by layering one slice of bread, a thick layer of the Russian sauce, sauerkraut, the cod, cheese, and another piece of bread. If the cod is too small for the bread, you can flake it apart with a fork and spread it across the bread.
Add remaining butter to the pan, and grill sandwiches about 2 minutes per side, until each side is golden and the cheese is melted. Serve immediately.
*Calorie Information was calculated per serving using My Fitness Pal.