Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! I hope it was wonderful, that you overate and were surrounded by loved ones (even if they’re annoying.) And I hope you had help with the dishes. Now I’m gonna help with leftovers, and these ideas work equally well with your Turkey or Chicken Leftovers, although this post is really geared towards your Thanksgiving turkey leftovers or any holiday turkey leftovers.
If you’re like me, family & friends (and let’s not forget all thier dogs!) are the best part of any holiday, but the leftovers come a close second. Leveraging those Thanksgiving leftovers into more great meals is one the most frugal things you can do. If you have a freezer (and you should) pick up more turkeys at rock bottom prices; its one of the cheapest proteins you’ll find.
If you’re a planner, have a few recipes in mind for your leftovers and shop for them when you shop for your turkey dinner. Then you know you’ll use the leftovers. (All of this applies to chicken, too.) If you had ham, see my 12 Days of Ham post.
Let’s talk Leftover Turkey Safety
First of all, remember the two-hour window for leaving food out at room temperature. Break the turkey down and refrigerate it as soon as possible. I find it’s always hectic, messy, and everyone is probably tired after a big feast and wanting to socialize instead, but treat that food right and you’ll never have any doubt about food safety.
As For the Turkey, Break it Down:
Big old turkeys usually don’t fare well in the fridge: turkeys are hard to wrap and it’s hard to find room. If you’ve accomplished both, the turkey gets pulled out, nibbled from, rewrapped (probably poorly) and shoved back in to dry and shrivel. Sometimes by the time someone deals with it, it’s to take it out, & dump it in the trash.
Take the time to break that turkey down right away, and at the very least slice off the breast meat and wrap or put in Ziplocs for sandwiches or casseroles and do the same with the legs & thighs.
If you plan ahead and know what you want to make with your leftovers, pick up any needed items for those recipes. You’ll be ready to go and that can help to avoid any waste that might come from good intentions but lack of follow-through in using those leftovers. It can be hard to find time or energy to run to the store!
If you’re making turkey soup, think about getting it started while you’re doing the cleanup, or wrap the carcass well. To make it easier, prep all the soup ingredients ahead of the holiday while you’re doing so much prep anyway. They’ll take less room in the fridge, too, so bonus for that. Carrots, onions, celery can all be in a large Ziploc waiting to go, and if you’re smart, you’ll have another bag that will save a lot of the potential waste from all the Thanksgiving preparations. Celery tops, onion skins, carrot peelings, etc. Those are fabulous for stock. It’s all flavor!
After a couple days in the fridge, turkey can dry and taste gamey. Assess what you have in the way of leftovers (after your feast or the next day) and portion out for sandwiches and recipes, label, and stash back in the fridge or freezer. Cooked turkey won’t last long in the freezer; maybe a couple of weeks before it gets dry. The freezer will buy you some time, though, so you don’t literally have to literally eat turkey for 12 days!
No Brainer Ideas:
Of course, you probably already have a couple of favorite recipes and go-to meals. There’s sandwiches and maybe soup. Maybe a turkey, mashed potato and stuffing casserole. Or turkey and gravy over bread (and mashed potatoes ARE appropriate) for the famous Open Faced Turkey Sandwich.
If your turkey has gotten dry, heat it gently in broth or simmer it until it’s tender in barbecue sauce thinned with a little water for pulled turkey. Both are a handy save for chicken, pork, or steak, too. Your turkey can be gently cooked with the spices for other pulled type recipes, too. Recipes like shredded turkey used for tacos or burritos or maybe those shredded arepas, below.
The Recipes for Turkey or Chicken Leftovers
Here are a few recipes we love to use those turkey (or chicken) leftovers in; I hope you’ll find a recipe or two that you and your family will love, too. Chicken and Turkey leftovers can be used interchangeably, so don’t sweat it if you see the word “chicken” on some of these recipe titles. Just sub in your cooked turkey instead. The same goes if the recipe is originally for another protein or vegetarian. If it’s here, it’s just as good with poultry.
Some of the recipes below call for cooking the poultry from a raw state but for the recipes I’ve chosen, it’s easy enough to sub in cooked turkey (or chicken) instead. Usually, you’ll just want to toss in your leftover turkey or leftover chicken at the end of the recipe, to just warm through.
chilis & chowders
cold sandwiches, fillings & salads