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Cook's Country

What the Cook’s Country Team Does with Thanksgiving Leftovers

Take our advice; there are more options than turkey sandwiches for days.
By Published Nov. 25, 2022

You might say the most frustrating part of Thanksgiving is preparing the meal and hosting guests. Maybe for others it’s dealing with Uncle Frank. But for me, it’s the pressure to make the most of every spoonful of leftovers, without loading myself up with turkey and green bean sandwiches until New Years.

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In my home country of Australia, we don’t observe Thanksgiving, but we do observe the tradition of bubble and squeak. What was originally a British recipe for wartime rations (usually consisting of fried potatoes and cabbage), bubble and squeak—in my household, at least—has come to mean the amalgamation of any leftover imaginable, tossed together and fried on the stovetop to create a new, hash-like meal.

Luckily, I’ve since learned from my colleagues at Cook’s Country that there are several more viable and aesthetically pleasing ways to use up your leftovers. And I promise not a single one of them bubbles or squeaks.

Here are a few ideas that maybe you can benefit from too.

Turkey Gumbo

Since I moved to New Orleans, I’ve started a new tradition with my Thanksgiving leftovers: turkey gumbo! As soon as I awaken from my post-feast food coma, I scour the carcass and squirrel away any meat scraps and leftovers in the fridge. Then, using a sturdy cleaver, I break the turkey bones down into manageable pieces and get them into a stock pot covered with water along with the scraps of aromatics (onions, carrots, herb stems, etc.) that I saved from prepping the holiday meal. 

Pro tip—now’s the time to rifle through the freezer for any other meat scraps to fortify that stock: smoked ham hocks, chicken bones, a stray wing or thighthe more the merrier!

A few hours later, I’ve got the base for my patented smoky turkey gumbo, to which I’ll add a dark roux, smoked andouille sausage, the Cajun Trinity, and very healthy doses of black pepper, paprika, thyme, and cayenne. And of course the stock and turkey scraps. The resulting gumbo is supremely comforting and fortifying, just the kind of one-pot cooking you need the day after making a labor-intensive feast. Frankly, thinking about it now, I look forward to those “leftovers” even more than the Thanksgiving meal itself. — Matthew Fairman

Gumbo

This Louisiana specialty is a hearty soup that combines culinary traditions from many different cultures.
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The Ultimate Thanksgiving Leftover Sandwich

The Thanksgiving leftover sandwich is the main reason I still roast a turkey on Thanksgiving. There’s really no wrong way to put turkey between two slices of bread, but here’s how I make mine:

  • Use a sturdy, crusty bread.
  • Mix up a spread using leftover cranberry sauce, mayo, whole-grain mustard, and maybe a little minced rosemary. Use it liberally.
  • You can use white or dark meat, but if you go with white meat, slice it as thin as possible before piling it on.
  • Most important, stir gravy into stuffing before adding a thick layer to the sandwich; this will add necessary flavor and moisture without making the sandwich soggy or hard to eat.


That’s it! You can add other leftovers sparingly, but don’t go overboard. Pass on the mashed potatoes (their flavor is too mild for this), but a thin swipe of sweet potatoes is nice. And if you have any around, a sprinkling of canned fried onions, a strip or two of crispy bacon, or a handful of baby arugula can add some welcome texture. — Jessica Rudolph

Crispy Twice-Cooked Mashed Potatoes

Mashed potatoes sadly do not turn out as good as they were on day one when you reheat them. Sure you could pop them into the microwave and douse them with gravy, but I prefer to go for a different texture altogether. I melt some butter in a skillet, add a few spoonfuls of the potatoes, and press them into the pan. I let them warm through and avoid stirring them until I get a golden brown crust on the bottom. Then I flip them section by section and brown the other side. I re-season them to taste and dig in. They’re no longer fluffy, but that’s OK. You won’t mind once you start getting all the buttery, crispy brown bits. This is how leftover mashed potatoes were meant to be eaten. (Serve them with a side of leftover turkey if you like.) — Megan Ginsberg

Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes

Too many recipes are buttermilk in name only. We wanted to actually taste the stuff.
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Breakfast Stuffing

Make extra dressing/stuffing so you can crisp some up in a skillet and top it with a runny egg for breakfast the next day. — Amanda Luchtel

Spicy Turkey Salad

Turkey isn’t always the star of Thanksgiving, but it is always the star of my leftovers. My favorite way to repurpose (and rehydrate) leftover turkey is by turning it into a spicy turkey salad inspired by bang bang chicken. It’s a cold, Sichuan-style dish with shredded meat (turkey breast or dark meat both work here), doused in a mixture of chili oil, garlic, soy sauce, sugar, and vinegar and topped with Sichuan peppercorn oil or powder. The slivers of meat soak up all the lip-tingling, flavor-packed sauce, and it never fails to bring much-needed succulence back into the turkey. I like to serve it with cucumber slivers or shredded cabbage over a bowl of rice or on top of cold sesame noodles. Best of all, the salad’s flavors intensify well in the fridge—prep a batch of spicy turkey and enjoy in sandwiches, bowls, or on a bed of greens for days to come. — Kelly Song

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Stuffing Waffles

My colleagues will laugh when they read this because it’s not a very “me” thing to do, but . . . I throw a scoop of stuffing onto my waffle iron and let it crisp up in there. Then, if no one is around to judge me, I hit it with a combination of maple syrup and warmed gravy on the plate. It’s. So. Good. — Scott Kathan

A Second Thanksgiving!

For as long as I can remember, my family has hosted Thanksgiving dinner at our home. Since folks come from all over, they stay and celebrate for a few days in a row. We always strive to have a vast assortment of foods in wild quantities. As such, we almost always host second Thanksgiving on Black Friday after the traditional Philadelphia Flyers hockey game. We gently reheat everything in its Corningware containers until warmed through while enjoying some chilled Beaujolais nouveau. It has a Groundhog Day feel, but two Thanksgivings are most certainly better than one. — Mark Huxsoll