Sometimes this whole writing thing ends up backing me into a culinary corner that only determination, innovation, and a bit of extra mayonnaise can get me out of. Case in point: I once wrote about how I'm a fan of Taylor Ham, A.K.A. Pork Roll, a large, semi-emulsified, ultra-salty pork-based luncheon meat that's been produced in New Jersey since at least 1906. I've always said that Pork Roll is Spam for folks who don't want to admit that they like Spam, and it still seems an apt description.
And what ended up becoming close fridge-mates with this pork roll languishing on the bottom shelf? As luck would have it, it was a gallon of leftover cole slaw from my recent Food Lab testing.
And when life gives me pork roll and cole slaw, I make sandwiches. Pork Roll Rachels, to be specific.
I only recently found out that Rachels are not very well known in the sandwich-eating world. Even Serious Eats Overlord Ed had not heard of them before I cooked up a batch last week. Though their origin is a matter of debate, their assembly is not. They're the sister sandwich to the Reuben, made by replacing the corned beef with pastrami and the sauerkraut with cole slaw. The melted Swiss cheese and Thousand Island dressing and the buttery toasted rye bread remain the same.
Pork roll is a pretty natural substitute for pastrami. It's salty, it's tender, it's heavily spiced, and nicely fatty.
There's only one real trick to cooking it, and you've probably gathered it from the photos already: cut a slit into it. This technique, known as the "pac-man cut" or the "fire badge" ensures that the slices lay flat while you fry them. Nobody likes cupped pork roll.*
*this is a sentence I would never have imagined writing.
From there on out, the construction is exactly like making a Rachel sandwich: top some rye bread with sliced Swiss cheese, then pile on cole slaw. Any creamy claw will do, but to toot my own horn, my recipe is my favorite.
Pile on the fried pork roll, slather it with a bit of Thousand Island dressing (because nothing goes with mayo like more mayo), another pile of cole slaw, more cheese, and the top slice of bread.
If you've done it right, your sandwich should look bigger than you can manage. This is ok. You will manage it. This management process starts by compressing it gently under your hands. You may see some juices squeeze out or perhaps a stream of mayo will leak onto the cutting board. Do not panic.
Instead, gently lift the sandwiches with a spatula and slide them into a skillet coated with melted butter (or even better, a sandwich press).
The key to good melts is a low, even heat. I cook my sandwiches over medium low so that they take a good ten minutes start to finish. During cooking, I'll occasionally swirl them around to compensate for hot spots and to get a more even color, pressing them with a spatula so they stay nicely compressed.
Remember those juices that were leaking out earlier? they may well leak out again, in which case you can swirl the sandwiches around and sop them right back up into the bread.
What emerges from that skillet should be so sloppy that one gives up all hopes of eating it with any shred of dignity. Again, do not panic. You will not be judged by anyone who matters. Just grab your napkins and go to town.
About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.