With good reason, we’ve been talking a lot this year about smaller Thanksgiving meals. Many of us are making fewer dishes for fewer people. But that raises the inevitable follow-up question: What will the leftovers situation look like?
Frankly, anything in this year that takes some of the burden off the daily grind feels like a blessing, leftovers included. But I know they’re not the problem everyone likes to have, if you get tired of eating the same things or are not motivated to reinvent them.
To help you find that silver lining, I’ve collected a host of ideas to use some of the more common parts of the holiday meal. They cover a wide spectrum in terms of how much work you have to put into using them, so you can find the right fit for your favorite leftovers.
Have a favorite use of leftovers? Share in the comments below.
Turkey. I know, this is the leftover content you're really here for. Of all the also-rans, the turkey is probably the most maligned, neglected and yet versatile. If your biggest concern is dry meat and how you can reuse it with the least amount of trouble, here's a tip I uncovered in our archives from former Washington Post staffer Renee Schettler: “Simply fry it in copious amounts of butter.” [Insert mind-blown emoji.]
Of course, one of the most reliable standbys is the turkey sandwich. And the one I’m thinking about right now is my colleague Ann Maloney’s Thanksgiving Leftovers Turkey Po’ Boy, below, which piles cornbread dressing, gravy and cranberry sauce with the meat onto soft bread. Look. At. That.
Schettler’s package from 2002 also included a mash-up of a Cobb salad and club sandwich that featured bacon, avocado, mayo and red onion piled onto dense, crusty white bread with sliced turkey. Another option: a grilled sandwich with avocado and mozzarella. Or how about a Hot Brown (open-faced) sandwich, that Kentucky staple? If you have leftover gravy, you could swap it in for the traditional cheese sauce for a hybrid experience. To be extra, you could turn the turkey into a falafel-esque meal.
If you’re feeling extremely motivated Thursday evening, go ahead and assemble a strata to have Friday morning. That’s a pretty easy dish to improvise, with eggs, milk, bread, cheese and whatever else you want to toss in. For a more specific game plan, check out Dorie Greenspan’s Next Day Turkey-and-Cranberry Sriracha Strata, above, which uses leftover turkey and cranberry sauce, plus greens, cheddar and an unexpected cinnamon raisin bread.
Anything that requires a filling will take nicely to turkey, whether that’s tacos, quesadillas, enchiladas, ravioli or pot pies (bonus points if you have extra pie crust). Turkey is an ideal topper, too, on pizza, salads and pasta, perhaps with a creamy Parmesan sauce.
And who could turn down a one-skillet meal, especially after all the cooking and cleaning for the holiday? Enter hash, stir-fries and shredded turkey warmed and tossed with barbecue sauce for a more seasonal spin on pulled chicken.
Bread/rolls. Naturally, here’s what to use for your sandwiches. Leftover bread works well for bread pudding, French toast and croutons, too. If all else fails, blitz it in the food processor and give yourself a good stash of breadcrumbs to keep handy in the freezer.
Cranberry sauce. As is, cranberry sauce makes a perfect day-after sandwich relish. It can also bring tartness to otherwise sweet dishes, as a topper for waffles, pancakes, yogurt, oatmeal and even ice cream. Speaking of which, if you’re a fellow hardy soul who eats ice cream regardless of season, whip up a batch of your own and swirl in dollops of cranberry after churning. For other sweet possibilities, cranberry sauce can go inside thumbprint cookies, rugelach or even a riff on sticky buns.
A long time back in our archives, Elizabeth Post Mirel suggested adding some to beef stew or pot roast for a hit of bright flavor, much as you might accomplish with lemon juice. Have you tried it in fruit salad, too? She also said cranberry sauce can serve as the base for a barbecue sauce. Ditto vinaigrette.
Stuffing. In name alone, “stuffing waffles” sound like something dreamed up for social media. But they’re trendy for good reason: They’re eye-catching and fun to eat. If your stuffing is already pretty moist, go ahead and pack it into your iron. If it’s on the dry side, you can add eggs, or even broth, to serve as a binder. Top with leftover turkey, cranberry sauce and/or gravy. Maple syrup is fair game as well, even more so if there’s sausage in the stuffing. (If not, now would be the time to consider adding some to the mix!) No waffle iron? Simply mix the stuffing with eggs and fry up individual fritters in the skillet with butter or oil.
Even if you didn't stuff your turkey with it, stuffing can fill plenty of other foods. In another story from our deep archives, Jane Adams Finn suggested using stuffing to fill large mushroom caps: “Moisten the stuffing with a little broth, if necessary, and brush the stuffed mushroom caps with melted butter and bake until the mushroom is cooked through.” Or, as Post Mirel shared, tuck celery and apple stuffing into pork chops: “Into the slit of a thick chop insert about 2 tablespoons stuffing, close with a tooth pick and bake, covered, in a 325-degree oven for about 1 1/4 hours, uncovering for the last 20 minutes to brown.” I also like her idea to use sausage stuffing inside baked eggplant, peppers or tomatoes.
Potatoes or other vegetables. One of the least fussy strategies is to puree any of these to incorporate into soup. Mashed potatoes (white or sweet) will get you halfway to a shepherd's pie, or closer if you decide to use leftover turkey and vegetables as the filling. Roasted vegetables can co-star with turkey in the aforementioned hash.
Here’s another clever take from Post Mirel: “In an ovenproof glass bowl place a layer of sweet potatoes, a layer of diced fresh pineapple (or drained, unsweetened crushed pineapple) seasoned with a bit of mace, and a layer of damson plum preserves. Bake at 350 degrees until the sweet potatoes and pineapple are hot and the preserves are syrupy, about 3/4 hour.”
Pie. I can guess the comments now! “Leftover pie?? What is leftover pie???" Look, guys, it happens. Sometimes. Anyway, of course “extra” pie is just fine served in its original form. If you’re feeling particularly fiendish (and maybe you didn’t overindulge on the holiday), you can incorporate it into a milkshake. I think bite-size pieces of pie would make another great mix-in for homemade ice cream. And this is a fun idea for a “pie parfait,” from Serious Eats.