It was St. Patrick’s Day at the weekend, and although us English like to raise a pint glass or seven in solidarity with our Irish neighbours, America seems to really embrace this day in acknowledgement of the sheer volume of Irish immigrants who crossed the Atlantic and therefore in turn potentially share blood with present-day Americans.
The Hublet and I found ourselves in need of sustenance last week while on the return from one of our epic adventures, and passing one of the Miller’s Ale House’s that populate Jacksonville we decided to pop inside to wet our respective whistles.
While we waited for our drinks to arrive, we were given a special St Patrick’s Day menu to peruse. I was immediately fascinated by the option of Irish Egg Rolls as never have I ever, ever heard of anything less Irish in my life. I’m not going to claim a greater knowledge on Irish food than anyone else based on my spending a number of Summer and Autumn holidays in The Republic of Ireland, however I have never come across Irish Egg Rolls on any menu in any of the towns and cities I’ve visited in Ireland.
Described as thinly sliced Corned Beef (undeniably Irish as from the Middle Ages Ireland was renowned for produced a salted beef which was the ancestor of what later became known as corned beef), Sauerkraut (originally Chinese, but eventually migrating to Europe and where it become associated with German cuisine. I cannot find any historic link between sauerkraut and Ireland, but can find a link between sauerkraut and Irish-American immigrants as they picked up new food ideas upon arrival in the brave new world and made friends with other immigrants, swopping food tips and cooking styles) and Swiss Cheese (really, they’re not even going to bother to call it melty-Irish-cheese), all wrapped in a deep fried Egg Roll (don’t even get me started on the origins of that). Admittedly the Irish are big fans of corned beef and cabbage, so maybe this dish was an upgrade of that original, simple fare.
The Hublet laughed his adorable butt off at my obvious bewilderment over finding such a culturally confused higgledy piggledy dish being served up in honour of an Irish holiday, and insisted that we ordered it along with a Guinness Black Lager.
While we waited for our freakish appetiser to arrive we both ran a bunch of internet searches on Irish Egg Rolls to answer my question as to how such a food could be served up on St Patrick’s Day, and I learned that the Irish Eggs Rolls are also known as Reuben Egg Rolls or Reuben Balls and were created by a German restaurant called Mader’s in Milwaukee back in 1990.
Reuben Balls are essentially the little fried babies of the Reuben Sandwich, which is basically a hot sandwich consisting of Corned Beef, Sauerkraut and Swiss Cheese, covered in Thousand Island dressing, usually served between rye bread although numerous variations to the Reuben format exist. Some claim that the sandwich was created around 1914 by Arnold Reuben, a German owner of the long gone Reuben’s Delicatessen in New York, although others contest that the creator was Reuben Kulakofsky, a Lithuanian grocer who played poker with a group of others at the Blackstone Hotel in Nebraska during the generous timescale of 1920-1935, and came up with the Reuben Sandwich as one of his contributions to their poker sustenance.
The Guinness Black Lager was, as expected, a little disgusting to my taste buds: I find that Guinness is an acquired taste, and I have to really, really be in the mood for it. When I do crave a pint or half-pint of ‘the black stuff’ I normally like to get a shot of blackcurrant cordial or coffee-based liqueur added (make sure you go for something other than Bailey’s as any liqueur with a cream content will curdle oddly when it meets the Guinness, and end up looking like a small floating brain in your drink).
The Irish Egg Rolls arrived and, I grudgingly had to admit, looked pretty delicious. The Hublet and I selected our first victims, and dipped them into the accompanying sauce which seemed to be a blend of mustard and thousand island dressing, and altogether mysteriously good, then we tucked in. Verdict: hot, tasty and absolutely delicious, I completely understood why the Reuben Sandwich remains as popular today as it did anything up to 100 years ago.
The Irish Egg Roll’s connection with Ireland continues to elude me, but when it tastes this good I’m not going to start complaining to the ethnic accuracy committee (not sure if there is even one, but they won’t hear a peep out of me).