Anyone for a Reuben Junior sandwich for lunch?

Jon Condon, 24/10/2012


One Sydney sandwich bar is already marketing the Reuben Junior under this promotion campaign Travel to New York, and the Reuben sandwich appears on blackboard menus in virtually every deli and sandwich bar in the city.

The iconic Katz’s Deli, on the city’s lower east side, serves two tonnes of the popular sliced Rueben sandwich meat, based on corned brisket, each week.

Literally millions of New Yorkers and Americans devour a Reuben sandwich each day, mostly on ryebread, with mustard and a pickle.   

Now Australia is developing its own specialised version of the flavourful New York-style corned brisket meat as part of a renewed push into value-added beef product development.

The “Reuben Junior” project is being developed by Meat & Livestock Australia in collaboration with Earlee Products (see previous story, “Big scope for more value-added work in beef”), and NSW processor, Wingham Beef Exports, which will be the first to adopt the process commercially.

While corned meat in Australia is more typically made from silverside, and sold largely as a ‘commodity’ line at a modest price, it is in fact a long way from the pickled and cured brisket meat typically used in New York’s famous Reuben sandwich.

The new Rueben Junior take corned meat to a whole new level, and closely matches the famed corned brisket sandwiches made famous in New York’s delis and sandwich bars.

The product is based on briskets from MSA-selected cattle, corned and picked, seasoned with mustard, onion and vinegar powders sealed in a vacuum-packaged bag, and cooked sous-vide style in a water bath for five or six hours.

This sous vide cooking process breaks down and gelatinises the connective tissue within the brisket muscle, producing corned meat like you have never eaten before – tender, moist and flavourful, very close to the pressure-cooked corned briskets sold in New York delis as the famous Reuben sandwich.

The secret in delivering the end eating performance is in the complete multi-stage process. Leave a component out, and the end result will not be quite the same, Earlee’s Brett McMullen said.

“It starts with a brisket of known MSA quality, size and fat spec, the way the product is injected, flavoured, cooked in the bag and other inputs. The idea is to get rid of as much variation as possible, through a system approach.”

“The vision is that every time a customer has a Reuben Junior sandwich, regardless of location in Australia and the source of the product, it will eat the same. As soon as some deviation occurs in the production system, the quality starts to vary, and nothing upsets the consumer more,” he said.     

One of the challenges has been in getting smaller, lighter Australian grass or grainfed MSA briskets to perform more like grainfed US briskets that are typically much thicker and carrying heavier marbling.

A lot of development work went into trying to emulate the finished product as sold in the US. Because of its thinner dimensions, the Australian brisket is shaped in the bag, with the flaps folded-in to make it a more manageable shape and less prone to drying out. A new injection process has also been developed for local briskets.    

“Currently the red meat sector does not perform well in that whole lunchtime market,” MLA’s David Carew said.

“But with some careful promotion, we think we can build a solid niche in the lunchtime cold meat sandwich filling segment, which is huge in the capital cities where workers often buy their lunch at a nearby sandwich bar. We think we can stimulate that market segment by producing this type of product,” Mr Carew said.

While the Reuben Junior could be sold either whole or in pre-sliced form, for some food service venues, the option is there to re-roast the brisket for a short period, and serve it hot from under a heat lamp. One of the advantages in being a cured meat is that it won’t produce any characteristic warmed-over flavours when it is re-heated in this way.

“Typically briskets in Australia go into the sausage mincer. While it makes a damn fine sausage, when value-added in this way, it delivers on quality and taste and creates other opportunities in what is a very commoditised market,” Mr Carew said.

“And we need to grow the market opportunity – not cannibalise existing ones. The more we can leverage off finding a new home for items like briskets in some value-added form, the more potential there is to bring money back down the chain in terms of carcase value.”

Earlee’s process evaluation room recently processed a tonne of the Reuben Junior briskets in a large commercial trial, allowing small issues in the production process to be ironed out.

“One of the advantages is that the development work at Earlee will allow Wingham Beef Exports' staff to visit, see the process from start to finish, and make a reasonably accurate assessment of equipment requirements to put a production line in place,” Mr Carew said.

While it would be up to Wingham abattoir to decide how it set up its production process, typically, the processor would send the raw material to a facility where it is prepared and process-cooked and sent out to food service customers through their normal cold chain distribution networks.

Building a marketing campaign around ‘Ruby Tuesday’

MLA is exploring the marketing of a ‘Ruby Tuesday’ concept, built around the Reuben Junior product, where Tuesdays become a Reuben sandwich choice when busy office workers across Australia are ordering their lunch.

Leading chefs like Matt Moran have recently written newspaper food columns devoted to the Reuben sandwich, suggesting momentum and consumer awareness is growing.

Beyond the domestic market, there is also scope to take the Reuben Junior finished product in chilled cryovac form into export markets – particularly those where New York-style deli meals are popular.

The Reuben sandwich, for example, is already making a big splash in western style five star hotels and quick service restaurants in China.


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