Make Runzas, Nebraska’s hearty answer to a Hot Pocket

Illustration for article titled Make Runzas, Nebraska’s hearty answer to a Hot Pocket
Graphic: Allison Corr

I’m just a few weeks shy of my first anniversary here at The Takeout, and if there’s been one moment that defines my tenure here, it’s the time I ate 35 Hot Pockets in 4 days to write an authoritative ranking. It will forever be my legacy, and now every time some sort of Hot Pocket–esque abomination starts making its way around the internet I receive dozens of messages about it. But in addition to taste-testing every Hot Pocket–adjacent food on the market, it is also my duty to educate the public on the many, many portable stuffed breads that walked so Hot Pockets could run. Today, I give you one such recipe.

Runzas are stuffed yeast rolls by way of Nebraska, where they were popularized by German immigrants. I have never been to Nebraska and don’t see myself paying it a visit anytime soon, so instead of sampling runzas at the source, I pulled out some of the old church cookbooks I inherited from my husband’s Midwestern grandmother and made the runzas come to me. Traditionally these are filled with little more than ground beef, onions, and, depending who you speak to, either cabbage or sauerkraut (I am not wading into this fight and want nothing to do with it). I’m trying to eat less meat, so I decided to swap the beef out for lots of mushrooms. They are spectacular! And since I’d already bucked tradition and infuriated tens of Nebraskans who shall deride my runza heresy in various dark corners of the internet, I decided to go completely off book (sorry, Grandma Flossie) and futz around with everything. I split a can of beer between the dough and the filling, I added mustard and soy sauce, and instead of spending hours tethered to the kitchen, I decided to spread my runza making over two days. I now make the dough and filling the night prior, which gives them time to develop more flavor. Using cold dough and filling also makes rolling, stuffing, and shaping the runzas much easier; if you’re already a runza hobbyist, try using this process with your favorite recipe and thank me later.

This recipe will give you 12 baseball-sized runzas, and maybe a little leftover filling that’s very good tossed with egg noodles or in a frittata. If you don’t have 11 friends to share your runzas, stick them in the freezer to heat up in the microwave just like, well, Hot Pockets.

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Illustration for article titled Make Runzas, Nebraska’s hearty answer to a Hot Pocket
Photo: Allison Robicelli
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Mushroom & Beer Runzas

For the dough:

For the filling:

  • 2 medium yellow onions
  • 1 lb. white button mushrooms
  • 1 lb. cremini mushrooms, stemmed and roughly chopped
  • 1/2 small cabbage, shredded (about 3-4 cups)
  • 1 Tbsp. soy sauce
  • Remainder of the beer in the can
  • 1 Tbsp. of your favorite mustard
  • 2 tsp. apple cider vinegar
  • 3/4 tsp. hot smoked paprika
  • 1/2 cup instant mashed potatoes
  • Cooking oil
  • An ample amount of kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly cracked black pepper

To finish:

  • 1-1 1/2 cups shredded cheese (your choice, and completely optional)
  • 3 Tbsp. melted butter

First, make the dough

In a small saucepan or microwave-safe container, heat milk and beer together until steamy, then remove from the heat and add the butter and sugar. Stir continuously until the butter is melted and the mixture has cooled to about 100-110 degrees. Stir in the yeast and set aside for about 10 minutes.

Put the flour, salt, and eggs into the bowl of a stand mixer, attach a dough hook, and set to medium speed. Slowly pour in the yeast mixture; when you no longer see any raw flour remaining at the bottom of the bowl, turn the speed to medium-high and let the dough knead for 5 minutes, until it forms a taut ball. Rub your hands with a bit of oil or butter, grease the dough ball, and place in a plastic bag. Refrigerate overnight.

Next, make the filling

In a Dutch oven over high heat, saute the onions with a bit of oil and a hefty pinch of kosher salt until golden—about 5 minutes. Add half the chopped mushrooms (both white button and cremini) with another generous pinch of kosher salt and cook for 4 minutes, stirring occasionally until the mushrooms are brown and reduced in volume, then stir in the rest of the mushrooms with the soy sauce and freshly cracked pepper and cook for another 5 minutes.

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Add the shredded cabbage, another pinch of salt, soy sauce, and the remaining beer; cover the Dutch oven, reduce the heat to medium, and simmer for 20 minutes. Turn off the heat, remove the lid, and stir in the mustard, vinegar, paprika, and mashed potato flakes. Taste for seasoning, adjusting to your personal preference. Let the mixture cool, then refrigerate overnight.

Assemble the runzas

Line two sheet pans with parchment paper. Divide the cold dough into 12 equal pieces, then roll them into balls. On a lightly floured board, roll out each piece until it’s about 1/8" thick, add 1-2 tablespoons of shredded cheese (if using), then pile about 1/3 cup of filling in the center. Bring the top and bottom edges of the dough to the center and pinch, then repeat with the left and right sides, and then the corners. Once sealed tightly, roll the runzas around in your palms to shape them up nicely, then place them seam side down on the sheet pans, equally spacing six on each pan. Cover them loosely with plastic wrap, slide into a cold oven, turn the oven light on, and let them rise until they’re light and puffy when you tap them—about 90 minutes.

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Remove the sheet pans from the oven and turn it on, preheating it to 375 degrees. Once preheated, bake the runzas in the center of the oven for 30 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through. Brush the runzas with melted butter, bake for another 3-5 minutes until beautifully golden, then remove from the oven and brush with melted butter one more time. Allow to cool for at least 15 minutes before serving.

If you’d like to freeze some of the baked runzas for a later date, wrap each one individually in plastic wrap, then place in a ziptop bag or an airtight container and freeze for up to four months. To reheat, you can pop them in the microwave for a few minutes like an extra-homey Hot Pocket, reheat in an air fryer for about 5 minutes, or bake in a 350-degree oven for 15-20 minutes until warmed through.

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Allison Robicelli is The Takeout staff writer, a former professional chef, author of three books, and The People's Hot Pocket Princess. Questions about recipes/need cooking advice? Tweet @Robicellis.

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DISCUSSION

burnermeonce
BurnerMeOnce

This is the most attention my people’s meatbread sandwich (is it a sandwich THO???) has ever gotten. Worth noting that Runza the restaurant pretty much owns the name.. they forced the public schools to call them Nebraska Buns decades ago. Last year they introduced vegetarian Runzas and hooo, I had some moments.

For the full Runza experience, however, I strongly urge the inclusion of crinkle-cut fries, half a liter of ranch dressing, and that you dine surrounded by as much green and yellow as you can possibly find in your house.

In fact, I’d do alot of things for those fries right about now.