A corned beef sandwich at its most basic is a serving of corned beef placed in between two slices of bread. There are numerous variations of this basic composition, and most incorporate some combination of dressings and condiments. Among the most common is called the Reuben, which adds melted Swiss cheese, Russian dressing, and sauerkraut.
Corned beef is beef that is cured using salt in one of several methods. It can be cured wet in a bath of spiced brine, cured dry by rubbing with salt, or ground and mixed with both salt and gelatin and then canned. Most corned beef sandwich recipes call for either wet or dry cured beef. The third method results in a meat product of generally cheap but low quality that is less preferable for sandwiches.
Many variations on the corned beef sandwich exist, particularly in melting pot nations such as the United States. A typically Jewish take on the corned beef sandwich calls for rye bread and brown mustard along with thinly sliced corned beef. In the Caribbean, where corned beef was imported by British ships during the 18th century, the corned beef sandwich is made with the addition of local staples, such as onions and peppers. Mayonnaise, pickles, cheese and other kinds of meat such as turkey and roast beef are just a few of the options often seen in a corned beef sandwich.
The classic iteration of the corned beef sandwich known as the Reuben has a muddy history, and was likely to have been invented either in Nebraska or New York in the United States. Whether created by German Arnold Reuben in New York City in 1914 or Lithuanian-born Reuben Kulakofsky in Omaha during the Great Depression, the makeup of the Reuben is undisputed. Corned beef, Swiss Cheese, Russian Dressing, and sauerkraut comprise a Reuben, and it is generally served hot on rye bread.
Like almost all sandwich recipes, the Reuben is no stranger to variation. The most popular alternative is the Rachel, which substitutes turkey for corned beef and cole slaw for sauerkraut. Many also switch out the corned beef for pastrami, which is corned beef smoked with spices.
The corned beef sandwich has the distinction of being the only sandwich to threaten a manned spaceflight. In 1965, the crew of the Gemini 3 spacecraft smuggled aboard a sandwich containing corned beef, and once in orbit each took a bite before returning it to its packaging. Though nothing bad resulted, crumbs from the sandwich could have gotten into the craft's instruments and disrupted their operation. Clearly in the eyes of the astronauts, the risk was worth it.