Pan-Fried Bologna Reuben with Spicy Kimchi

Before we even get started, can we agree to stop pretending that fried bologna isn’t 100% awesome? Once the exclusive dietary domain of semi-employed, emotionally abusive stepfathers everywhere, it’s time for pan-fried lunchmeat of highly questionable origin to enjoy its moment in the sun.

After all, if you’re a person that enjoys a hot dog from time to time, there’s absolutely no reason to raise an elitist foodie eyebrow at fried bologna; it’s the same mishmash of pork and beef something-or-others, with an increased surface area that allows you to impart of all of these flavorful, golden-brown, shellacky, crisped edges, for somewhere south of two dollars per pound.

Our twist on a classic reuben sandwich starts with piping hot bologna, sliced extra thick by the sad-eyed deli guy at the supermarket, who will understand exactly what you’re doing and offer you his tacit approval.

The only way to get that mouth-coating, funky, fleshy flavor off the surface of that mixed meat mash is to fry it in a pan, with the heat turned as high as it will go. Don’t be afraid to put some color on it. Really sear it. Press it down with a spatula. Set off the smoke detector. Some black bits are fine. You don’t even need any oil or butter in the pan; as soon as bologna hits hot iron, it will lubricate itself in the fatty tears of an industrial food system run amok, which is exactly what you want.

Choose a good marble rye and whatever Swiss cheese is on sale, but for the Russian dressing and the sauerkraut, we’re going to make a few changes. Since you’ve spent essentially zero dollars on the “meat” component of this sandwich, splash out and spend some money on the best fresh sauerkraut that money can buy, cut in equal parts with some jarred kimchi, either mild or spicy, depending on how much fermented stank you  can tolerate. An off-the-shelf Russian dressing is fine, but we like to make our own highly bastardized version, using ketchup, mayo, and a scoop of Vietnamese chili paste, which brings some additional spice and funkiness from the sesame oil.*

*You can track it down online, or make your own with some sambal olek chili paste and a few drops of sesame oil. See note below.

Layer it all together, and you’ll end up with a sandwich that feels instantly familiar, with a few twists that send it into a stratosphere of fermented animal savoriness, the likes of which you’ve never seen. The resulting sandwich is spicy, salty, funky, and when you sink your teeth into it, you can feel the thick-cut bologna squeaking fattily against your teeth. And if that’s not a ringing endorsement, I don’t know what is.

Pan-Fried Bologna Reuben with Spicy Kimchi

  • Servings: 1
  • Difficulty: easy
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    For the Janky Russian Dressing:
  • 2 tbsp mayonnaise
  • 1 tbsp ketchup
  • 1 tsp sambal olek chili paste
  • 2 drops sesame oil
  • For the Sandwich:
  • 1/4 cup sauerkraut
  • 1/4 cup mild or spicy kimchi, roughly chopped
  • 2 slices German bologna, thick-sliced
  • 2 slices marble rye bread
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 4 slices Swiss cheese


    For the Janky Russian Dressing:
  1. Combine all ingredients in a small bowl, mix well, and set aside.
  2. For the Sandwich:
  3. Combine sauerkraut and kimchi in a small bowl, stir well, and set aside.
  4. In a dry skillet over high heat, sear bologna on both sides until very well browned. Transfer to paper towels and set aside.
  5. Spread both slices of bread with half a tablespoon of butter, and place butter side down in a skillet over medium heat. Swirl the bread in the pan a few times to ensure even butter distribution, then top each slice with some of the Janky Russian Dressing, then two slices of cheese on each piece of bread. Cover and cook until cheese melts and bread turns golden brown, 1-2 minutes. Transfer bread slices to cutting board.
  6. To assemble sandwich, top each side of the bread with some of the sauerkraut and kimchi mixture, then the sliced seared bologna. Add more Janky Russian Dressing, then closer ‘er up and eat immediately.

Adapted from a recipe in “The Culinary Bro-Down Cookbook,” by Josh Scherer.