It’s that Turkey time of year again, and with turkey comes leftovers.
Here are some amazing ideas that transcend the turkey sandwich.
Just a quick note to set the tone of this post…
I’m not going to provide actual recipes, nor link to them. If you like one of the ideas mentioned here, google for a basic recipe, then customize it as you see fit.
Tastes and preferences are highly personal, so rather than tailor a specific recipe to my tastes, I’d rather share the concept and mechanics, and leave the specifics to google.
Of all the ways to cook a turkey, I prefer the richness of a smoked turkey, and many of these ideas have smoked turkey specifically in mind. If you’d like to learn how to smoke a turkey, please check out my post, here:
How to Smoke a Turkey
Some of these ideas require a certain part of the turkey, or at least the distinction between light and dark meat.
Just a quick overview of turkey anatomy and mechanics:
- A typical bird, after cooking, will yield 35% to 40% of its uncooked weight in meat. So a 20 lb bird could yield 7 to 8 lbs of meat, depending on the bird itself, as well as cooking technique.
- A portion size is 1/3 to 1/2 lb. Typically, at Thanksgiving, there are so many sides that 1/3 lb per person is a good estimate. If you have some healthy eaters, you might want to move toward 1/2 lb per serving. Example, a 20 lb bird would yield 7 to 8 lbs of meat, which is 15 servings on the conservative side, up to 22 servings.
- Light meat is breast meat. Everything else is dark meat.
- A typical bird will yield just over half of its cooked meat as light meat (about 4/7), and just under half as dark meat (about 3/7). So a 20 lb bird, cooked and cleaned might yield 7.5 lbs of meat. Of that, about 4.3 lbs will be light meat (breast), and about 3.2 lbs will be dark meat (everything else).
- Breasts: The center, forward portion of the turkey. Turkey breast, although it can be dry if not cooked properly, is usually preferred over dark meat. As a leftover, breast meat is excellent for sandwiches.
- Back: Although sparse, some of the best, most tender and flavorful tidbits can be found on the back. Strip this area clean, yielding a handful of very tender, very tasty meat. Save the back for omelettes or mac and cheese.
- Wings: The wing consists of three parts:
- The wing tip isn’t commonly eaten, because there is almost no meat, but some consider it a delicacy. If cooked properly, the wing tip will be crispy or crunchy.
- The “flat” is analogous to your forearm. There are two bones, and if cooked properly, there is a small amount of dark, very tender meat.
- The “drumette” is analogous to your upper arm, and is like a small version of a drumstick.
- Legs: The legs consist of two parts:
- The thigh is probably the best portion of any bird. Plenty of fat keeps this part nice, moist, and tender as it cooks, and it has plenty of flavor.
- The drumstick is what I would refer to as a “cult favorite” – among those who like dark meat, the drumstick, if cooked properly, is the holy grail of dark meat. A deep fried turkey leg is a favorite at fairs and carnivals.
- Frying in oil: There is no natural process to extract oil from corn or vegetables. Thus “processed oils”, such as “corn oil” or “vegetable oil”, require an elaborate chemical process that results in fatty oils. Conversely, “natural oils” such as olive oil, grape seed oil, and peanut oil result from simply pressing the seeds or pits under high pressure, without the need for a chemical process or chemical reaction. Therefore it is my personal belief that natural oils are healthier for you than processed oils, although there is no hard evidence to back this up.
- Peanut oil has a high smoke point, can withstand high temperatures, and goes well with turkey, as long as neither you nor your guests have a peanut allergy.
- Grape seed oil also has a high smoke point and can withstand high temperatures. Grape seed is a good substitute for peanut oil, if someone has peanut allergies, or for olive oil, in situations where olive oil would exceed its smoke point.
- Olive oil has a tremendous amount of flavor, but unfortunately, has a low smoke point, and can withstand relatively low temperatures. Olive oil is good for cold salads or as an ingredient in sauces, but can be used to braise or fry at low temperatures.
- Butter is good for frying at low temperatures, or adding butter to grape seed or peanut oil can add significant flavor.
- Contrary to popular belief, there is nothing wrong with cooking with lard. Lard has a bad name because traditional so-called “health science” has viewed fat in = cholesterol out. However, modern SCIENCE-BASED findings are starting to turn that perception around.
Updated 11/25/2016: added Turkey Quesadilla
Update 2, 11/25/2016: added Turkey Pizza
2. Turkey Fajitas
Mix light and dark meat, cut in to even-sized chunks. Breast and thigh meat are excellent for this application.
Fry in oil at a higher temperature, such as 350 F, along with some chopped onions and bell peppers. Since the turkey is already cooked, you’re looking for it to get slightly crispy, and for the veggies to become tender.
Drain on paper towels, and serve with all of the traditional fajita fixin’s:
- Corn / flour tortillas
- Sour cream
- Pico de gallo (finely-chopped onion, cilantro, tomato, jalapeno, and various seasonings)
- Guacamole (smashed avocado mixed with finely chopped onion, garlic, and other seasonings)
- Frijoles Refritos (smashed, cooked beans mixed with beef fat)
Each person starts with a couple of steamed tortillas, and takes turns filling with fried turkey / veggie mix, and fixin’s.
3. Turkey Sushi
You can make sushi at home. It takes a few simple tools and a lot of practice. Hint: Badly-formed sushi still tastes like sushi, and practice makes perfect.
- You can get a bamboo sushi mat (actually a whole kit) on Amazon for just under $10. In a pinch, you can use plastic wrap.
- Nori is the seaweed wrap used for sushi. You can get it in bulk on Amazon or at just about any well-stocked supermarket these days.
- Rice vinegar / sushi vinegar
At a super high level:
- Sushi uses short grain rice (high starch content), like risotto. Use sushi rice if possible, or regular short-grain rice if not. Wash the rice (cold) until the wash water is clear. Cook at a ratio of 1.5 cups water to 1 cup of rice for about 20 minutes.
- As the rice cools, season with rice vinegar or sushi vinegar. Spread out the rice on a cooking tray, sprinkle some vinegar, then slice in to the rice with a wooden spoon (to mix), then repeat.
- WAIT FOR THE RICE TO COOL – cover with a moist towel.
- There are people who spend 4 or 5 years JUST LEARNING TO COOK RICE – you’re not going to get it perfect. Just go with it.
- Your average sushi roll uses a full sheet of nori, and has the rice in the middle. The “california” roll popularized using a half-sheet of nori with the rice on the outside. Google “how to make sushi site:youtube.com” or check out “How to Make Sushi” on Youtube.
- Toast a sheet of nori over an open flame, such as your gas stove. After a second or two, it will start to turn gray. Nori has a shiny side and a dull side – you want to place the nori shiny-side down.
- Assuming you’re making a basic roll, use a full sheet of nori covered almost all the way with sushi rice. This stuff is incredibly sticky. More sticky than you think. Keep a bowl of lemon water (water with lemon juice) handy to dip your fingers, to help keep the rice from sticking. Spread the rice in an even layer, about 1/3 inch thick.
- At about 1.5 inches from the left edge, add your fillings vertical (oriented top to bottom), which should constitute about 2/3 inch, if bundled together. It takes a while to get a good feel for how much filling to add.
- Use the bamboo mat to fold the left side over the middle. While pressing the left side, fold the middle over to the right, then apply even pressure and roll up the rest of the nori / rice.
- Top with whatever.
- Wet a VERY SHARP knife with lemon water, then cut the entire roll in half. Cut each half in to thirds or fourths. One roll yields 6 to 8 pieces.
- At first, you’re going to have problems wrapping the rolls tightly enough. Compensate by making thicker slices and put them on the plate vertically, rather than laying them flat. If the roll is loosely-packed and subsequently laid flat on the plate, the middle will fall out when it’s picked up from the edges. Save yourself the hassle – just leave it standing up until you can make a tight roll.
Here are some filling combinations that work well with Thanksgiving leftovers:
- Ham and boiled egg. Use a spicy mustard seasoning with the filling.
- Turkey and mashed potatoes. Spread cranberry sauce as part of the filling.
- Stuffing and cayenne pepper sauce
- Mashed potatoes and gravy with a sprinkle of mustard powder and smoked paprika
- Yam casserole (desert sushi)
- Ham, celery, carrot – cut the veggies in to thin strips
- Turkey, cucumber, carrot – peel the cucumbers and cut in to wedges. Cut the carrots in to thin strips
The possibilities are endless, and with a little practice, you can turn leftovers in to a classy snack.
4. Turkey Mac and Cheese
My wife makes this, with back meat and other dark meat, smoked Gouda and a blend of several other cheeses. She bakes it with a breadcrumb crust on top, and trust me, you would do something extreme just to get a second helping.
5. Turkey Pasta
This can go two ways.
Served cold, use rotini pasta, light meat, and some veggies with a vinaigrette makes an awesome turkey salad.
Served hot, use fettuccine pasta, mushrooms, veggies, and just about any sauce. Marinara, alfredo, or a simple olive oil drizzle all work well.
6. Turkey Hash
Chop some dark meat, dice some potatoes, and fry in a pan with extras such as olive slices, chopped broccoli, diced tomatoes, etc…
Serve in a thin layer with a deep fried egg on top.
To deep fry an egg, heat a pan with 1/2 inch of oil, and drop in an egg. It’s done as soon as it’s solid – about 1 minute.
Garnish with chopped scallions or parsley
7. Turkey Shepherd’s Pie
Shepherd’s pie is a favorite in my house, and you can make an awesome “leftovers” pie:
- Small / medium casserole dish
- Put in a layer of turkey, both dark and light meat
- Cover with leftover gravy, mix thoroughly, then spread out evenly
- Optional: Cover with a thin layer of leftover stuffing
- Cover with leftover mashed potatoes
- Bake at 350 F until the gravy is hot, or about 30 minutes. DO NOT BOIL TURKEY GRAVY.
- Sprinkle with cheese and breadcrumbs, and bake for 10 minutes
My apologies to Chef Ramsay, who probably senses a disturbance in the force as I click “publish”.
8. Turkey Nachos
Excellent snack food…
Chop up a mix of light and dark meat.
- Lay out some corn tortilla chips on a baking tray
- Use a spoon to smear some bean dip or refried beans on to each chip
- Sprinkle with chopped turkey
- Sprinkle with cheese
- Bake at 400 F for about 15 minutes or until cheese melts
- Let the nachos cool slightly…
- Smear with sour cream or guacamole
- Sprinkle with toppings that might include olives, chives, jalapenos, tomatoes, chopped bacon, etc….
Like sushi, there is no wrong answer with nachos.
Unlike sushi, it doesn’t take 10 years to master making nachos.
9. Turkey Omelette
Dice some light and / or dark leftover turkey meat, according to preference.
Just about everyone adds milk or cream to eggs, when making an omelette or scrambled eggs. I detest milk. Since eggs contain lecithin, which is an emulsifier, it can grab hold of fat directly. Instead of adding milk to loosen up eggs, in order to make them more fluffy, I tend to add just a little bit of olive oil instead. I find that this results in very fluffy eggs without having to deal with milk. Again, this is simply my preference…. you can do what you want.
This is going to be deceptively filling. You might get a small slice and think, “I could eat twice this much”, but you’ll be surprised!
Prepare your egg mixture:
- I use 1.5 to 2 eggs per person (There are no lightweight eaters in the Parr household)
- Again, I use some olive oil to loosen up the eggs – everyone else in the universe uses milk, but I despise milk
- Season with salt, pepper, garlic, basil, parsley, etc…
- Beat until creamy
Cook the omelette:
- In a pan, add a thin layer of oil and bring up to temperature
- Saute the turkey meat, with some diced onion, diced peppers, diced tomatoes, mushrooms, etc…
- When the turkey gets slightly crispy, add in the egg mixture
- Cover your pan, and wait until done. The steam will cook the top of the egg, as the bottom cooks from direct heat. Wait about 10 minutes and check.
- Remove the cover and sprinkle with cheese
- Do the omelette flip thing – fold side A on top of side B
- Top with sour cream? (Optional)
- Sprinkle with grated cheese, bacon bits, and chives
I usually cut the omelette in to thin strips to serve.
This is deceptively filling. Make sure you serve small portions and if people are still hungry, they can come back for seconds.
10. Turkey Quesadillas
Toast a flour tortilla in a frying pan with a little bit of butter…
While toasting, sprinkle with chopped or shredded turkey, sprinkle with cheese
Top with a 2nd flour tortilla, then flip the entire thing.
It’s done when the other tortilla is toasted and the cheese is melty.
Place the entire thing on a cutting board, and use a knife or pizza cutter to slice in to wedges.
Note that some quesadillas use ONE tortilla folded in half – I think it comes out better when made like a grilled cheese sandwich using two tortillas. Do whatever makes you happy.
11. Turkey Pizza
Well, Mrs. Parr, once again, proved her creativity and resourcefulness today…
Pizza is super simple.
Use canned pizza crust from the biscuit section from the store. One can = one sheet tray, for a thin crust, or double up for a thick crust.
Roll out a pizza crust on a sheet tray, add some sauce – Alfredo goes well with turkey, or use marinara, whichever you prefer.
Add some diced turkey.
Add other toppings, to your preference.
Cover with shredded provolone or mozzarella cheese.
Bake at 400 F for 20 minutes, or follow the directions on the pizza crust container.
Here is what we had:
- Turkey, pepperoni, alfredo, and provolone
- Turkey, pineapple, alfredo, and mozarella
Here are some other ideas:
- Turkey, olives, bell peppers, marinara, and mozarella
- Turkey, ham, onion, alfredo, and provolone
- Turkey, onion, sprinkles of stuffing, sliced pickles, turkey gravy, and provolone
Go crazy. The sky is the limit. Add 5 to 10 minutes cooking time if you add a bunch of toppings.
Pro tip: Pre-bake the crust 1/2 way before adding any sauce or toppings. Take it out of the oven, let it cool slightly, then finish assembling the pizza. This will keep the crust from getting soggy.
Hopefully, this has imparted you with some ideas for what to do with that leftover turkey, beyond the simple sandwich.
Leftovers can yield some incredible meals, and hopefully, this post inspires you to try something new.