Thanksgiving leftovers can be either a blessing or a curse, depending on your perspective. The good: There’s a whole lot of food that you’ve already cooked. The bad: You don’t feel like taking the trouble to reinvent the extras before you get tired of them.
To help you take advantage of the bounty, 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.
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.”
Of course, one of the most reliable standbys is the turkey sandwich. Renee’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.
Anything that requires a filling will take nicely to turkey, whether that’s tacos, quesadillas, enchiladas, ravioli or potpies (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 and 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 to get a 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. For other sweet possibilities, cranberry sauce can go inside thumbprint cookies, rugelach or even a riff on sticky buns.
A long time back in The Washington Post’s archives, cookbook writer 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. No waffle iron? Simply mix the stuffing with eggs and fry up individual fritters in a skillet with butter or oil.
In another story from our 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.”
Potatoes or other vegetables: One of the least fussy strategies is to purée 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.
Pie: Of course, “extra” pie is fine served in its original form. If you’re feeling particularly fiendish, 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 Serious Eats suggests that you could also make a “pie parfait,” which is ice cream topped with pie, crushed cookies and a caramel, fudge or butterscotch sauce.