These are primarily ideas for small bits of leftovers that may be not enough, for instance, for a casserole or leftovers on their own. If you’re looking for great ways to use leftover Turkey or Ham, some simply good and others marvelously gourmet, see 12 Days of Turkey & 12 days of Ham, too.
Nearly any recipe that calls for an already cooked meat, fish or poultry is a prime candidate for the use of leftovers! Think of leftovers as short cuts for other meals. Don’t let any leftovers languish in your fridge to be thrown out, later. Even the smallest amounts can be stretched with a good recipe, idea or imagination.
Some of my recipes are tagged for Leftovers or Planned Leftovers (meaning they make leftovers, or planned leftovers, for another meal) or they use leftovers. Others may be tagged by the kind of leftovers, too: leftover beef, leftover chicken and so on. Watch for those tags and click on them for more ideas of how to use leftovers.
A general note on stretching leftovers: I tend to serve a lot of leftovers in something, under something or over something. Hopefully, the final product will leave no hint that it was made from leftovers at all:
- Take bits and pieces of things and put them in won ton wrappers, egg roll wrappers, puff pastry or pie dough, sometimes with cheese, if appropriate, and fry or bake them. Try them in traditional shapes or make little (or large) turn overs. Almost every culture has some sort of stuffed wonderment!
- Make little cups of Won Ton or egg roll wrappers, filo dough, pie dough, bread or puff pastry by spritzing a muffin cup (mini or large) with cooking spray, filling with the dough, spritzing with spray and baking them off. Fill them with your favorite gravy and meat type mixtures, or use BBQ and cheese like below:
- Don’t forget, leftovers can often be served over bread, corn bread, toast, biscuits, pop-overs, rice, potatoes or noodles.
- Leftovers can be topped with something: pie dough, puff pastry, corn bread, mashed potatoes.
- Imaginative Pizzas are a great use for leftovers. Double pizza dough and freeze, so a pizza crust is always on hand. Here’s two recipes for a BBQ turkey (or chicken) Pizza and a Chicken or Turkey and Artichoke Pizza. Both use leftovers.
- Leftovers can be rolled in tortillas: think wraps, tacos, rollups or tostadas, fried or baked, or even microwaved.
- Masa dough can be made into several different fun leftover stretchers: little cups, turnovers, fat little gorditas or tamales.
- Crepes can be stuffed with all manner of things, savory as well as sweet, and served plain or covered in a cheese sauce and broiled till bubbly.
- Fried Rice is a great option for all kinds or a mixture of small bits of leftover meats and seafood.
- Arepas are wonderful little South American breads that can be filled or stuffed with all kinds of things. Pupusas from Salvadorian countries can serve the same purpose.
- There are Stromboli from Italy as well as Calzones – since the fillings need to be precooked, they are an ideal use for many leftover meats.
- Indian Fry Bread is often served with a taco type meat, but would lend well to many other savory leftovers.
- Many cultures have basic recipes for breads or flat breads; think of them in new ways – can they be stuffed, filled, made into cups or rolled up with non-traditional ingredients?
- Hand pies are making a resurgence: savory or sweet. In the frozen north, here, we make pasties, little pie turnovers filled with various meats and traditionally turnips or rutatbagas. They can, of course, be filled with all manner of fillings and are a great way to clean out the fridge. These, of course, are not to be confused with pasties used in Burlesque dancing!
- Indian cultures have Samosas, lovely little pockets of goodness…simply fill them up with flavored up leftovers.
- Don’t forget sandwiches when you have any leftover meat. Two of our favorites are hot broiled sandwiches and the light hot brown. Sandwiches made from fillings like chicken salad, tuna salad, etc. are a great way to stretch a few leftovers, especially if loaded up with finely diced vegetables.
- Salads are of course, a no-brainer. All kinds of meats and fish can be added to a marvelous salad to make it a main dish option.
- Bowls are becoming more popular, and no, they’re not just for Vegans anymore! Add a bit of leftover meat to a bowl with some greens, a few vegetables, a grain (don’t feel limited to just rice) and perhaps some beans or legumes of some type. Top with a simple dressing, warm or cold.
- Hash is pretty affordable and can be made with anything from meat to seafood. Salmon Hash and Corned Beef Hash are two of my favorites, but don’t feel limited: use the technique to fashion your own hash.
- Frittatas, Omelets, Quiche and Scrambled Eggs are often great places to use up a bit of leftover ham, bacon, or poultry.
- Soup, soup and more soup can be made with many leftovers – especially turkey, ham and beef bones or leftovers, but some soups can be made with pork and fish.
- I could go on and on!
Bones or Shells
Save by type in a ziploc in the freezer until there is enough to make soup or broth. Try roasting them first for a better flavor.
- Serve over any bread or biscuit, or perhaps even a popover.
- Thin it down and add to a like flavored broth for a soup…say beef gravy with beef stock and barley for beef and barley soup.
- Use it in pot pies.
- Use in shepherd pies.
- Layer it in a casserole with the leftover meat and mashed potatoes, and stuffing, if you have it.
- Add to chef’s salad, omelets, frittatas and quiches.
- Pinwheel roll-ups: take a tortilla, spread with cream cheese, layer with lunch meats, roll up and slice diagonally.
- Add to a cream sauce and serve over toast, biscuits or pop-overs.
- See different types of meats, below, as well.
Fish & Shellfish
I often use a strategy to make fish more affordable by doing what I call “divide and conquer.” I will trim a side or fillet, cook the fish for dinner, along with the trimmings (the very thin part of a salmon fillet or the thin part from the tail) and serve the fillets for the first dinner, then the second night, make a dish just uses the leftover trimmings and stretches them. Then I have two meals, the first pricier, the second very inexpensive, from the same piece of fish – the cost is divided among the two meals, and the average cost is much more affordable.
- Make into cakes or balls by adding a bit of well seasoned white sauce, finely diced vegetables and bread or cracker crumbs, dip in eggs and then flour or crumbs and pan fry or deep fry. Some people use mayo instead of the white sauce. Other recipes just call for bread crumbs or oatmeal and egg like this recipe for tuna cakes (which is wonderful with salmon, too, and would work well for any fish.)
- Larger quantities can be baked in a loaf: add a few crushed saltines, a bit of milk and a beaten egg, salt, pepper, dash of hot sauce, put in a small buttered casserole or even custard cups and bake till cooked through and browned on the top.
- Salmon or tuna, especially, can be made into a salad by mixing with mayo, adding a dash of lemon, and some finely diced celery, onion, chives or peas for color. Flavor with garlic or dill. Add to cooked pasta shells or macaroni, or use as a sandwich or cracker spread.
- Many fish can be made into dips or spreads with a combination of mayo and cream cheese, a dash of Worcestershire sauce, a sprinkle of onion powder, onion juice or finely chopped onion. May be improved with a dash of hot sauce. If you want to make a warm dip or spread, use creamed cheese thinned with a bit of sour cream. I found people who don’t generally care for fish will gobble these up. Works especially well with smoked salmon or crab.
- Many fish lend themselves to a wonderful hash…this Salmon Hash is fantastic and feel “gourmet.”
- Bacon – Garnish a salad, especially spinach. Garnish deviled eggs or egg salad. Crumble over a pizza. German potato salad is flavored with bacon and uses the drippings, this method also works for cabbage or spinach salad. Garnish potato soup. Garnish any potatoes, especially twice baked – either white or sweet potatoes. Garnish corn casseroles or creamed corn. When you fry bacon, make it in a cast iron skillet and then cook cornbread. Top a meat loaf. Make a B.L.T. Add to Mac and Cheese. Use a bit to flavor a stew, any type of pork or sausage dish, or even pot roast. Fry it up and use it to saute your onions for corn or potato chowder, then crumble the bits over the top when you serve. You can freeze, either raw or cooked. You’ll need to crisp it in the oven if it’s been frozen cooked. See also drippings as many recipes rely on bacon flavor by sauteing the vegetables in bacon drippings.
- Barbecue – Pulled pork or other bbq meat makes marvelous wontons, tamales or taco filling. Try it as the meat for a pizza. My son’s favorite? Put a wonton wrappers in mini muffin tins. Brush or spray with oil. Bake a few minutes till crisp, remove from oven and add a bit of almost any kind of shredded barbecue meat. Top with cheese and bake till warmed through and cheese is melted. “Recipe” here. Make Brunswick stew. Make barbecue pizza – really good with jack cheese.
- Bologna – Few slices leftover after sandwiches? Put a new spin on it with fried bologna sandwich. Make a few slashes in the outside edges of the bologna so it won’t curl so much, fry in a bit of butter and make sandwich as normal. Finely chop and add to Italian Red Tomato Sauce.
- Ham – When it’s not enough for a casserole, add to scrambled eggs or sprinkle over an egg bake. Whir it in a blender with butter, allspice and pepper for a dab of “deviled ham.” Make ham salad. Make a macaroni salad with ham. See 12 Days of Ham.
- Roast or chops – Use in pork fried rice.
- Sausage – Crumble, heat add a bit of butter and make a white sauce. Season and pour over biscuits. Add to pizzas or omelets. Mix with cheese and a bit of milk for a queso dip. Put in scrambled eggs.
Chicken and Turkey are one of the easiest leftovers to stretch: there are a myriad of recipes that call for just a bit of chicken or turkey and a lot of vegetables, ranging from casseroles to sauce type preparations.
Almost any recipe that calls for already cooked poultry is a prime candidate for using leftovers instead. I often pre-plan leftovers when baking, roasting or poaching – an extra breast or a couple of thighs can go far. Chicken and turkey are interchangeable. See 12 Days of Turkey for a dozen recipes using leftover turkey and chicken. Here’s a few ideas for specific leftover chicken:
- Chicken Wings – make a pizza using bleu cheese dressing (or ranch) instead of sauce, add the chicken wing meat, or chopped chicken wings if they are boneless, sprinkle with mozzarella and bake as usual. Use in a salad with celery and carrots, top with Ranch or Bleu Cheese dressing.
- Fried Chicken – Cut into bits and serve with gravy or syrup over waffles. Try throwing a piece into your homemade chicken broth when you make it; it does amazing things to the flavor. I usually save the wings (no ever seems to want to eat them at our house) just for this purpose – put them in a ziploc and into the freezer.
- Chicken or Turkey – Pot pies, chicken or turkey a la king, turn overs. It doesn’t take much but a few bones and a little leftover chicken or turkey to make a marvelous Chicken Soup. Canned broth works as well.
- Bones – Any leftover chicken or turkey with the bones generally makes a marvelous stock. While you can start with uncooked, often roasted lends a marvelous, deep flavor.
When researching Runza recipes, I found that the old-fashioned way of making a filling was to freeze smaller quantities of various meats until enough was saved up to grind together for a filling. I imagine that is part of why many old recipes that we make with hamburger, today, often called for more than one meat: many meatballs and meatloaves do, for instance, as well as many pasta sauces, stuffed cabbage rolls, etc.
- Pot Roast – Just have a smidge? Make Beef Barley soup or a sandwich. A little it more? Shepherd’s pie using sautéed mushrooms, pearl onions, the pot roast gravy and mashed potatoes. (Ok, so it’s beef herder’s pie, also known as ‘cottage’ pie), try cutting pot roast into chunks, putting into the gravy to serve over bread, mashed potatoes or noodles.
- Roast: Heat till warm and soft in a saucepan, shred and add bbq sauce for a sandwich filling, or add a bit of garlic, cumin and chili powder for a burrito filling.
- Steak: Slice thinly across the grain and use in a salad, make a sandwich. If you have an extra steak, rather than cook it (thinking what will I do with just one?) consider setting it aside and making Cornish Pasties for the family. Thinly slice a cooked steak and mix or layer with other ingredients for tacos. Steak salads are marvelous – just play up any flavors the steak was marinated in by using an appropriate dressing and vegetables.
- Hamburgers: Let’s face it, no one wants to eat a hamburger made the day before. I’ve found one trick that disguises them beautifully. Mexican Hamburgers (I imagine the same trick could be changed up to reflect other cuisines, too.) Lay a tortilla on a plate, top with the hamburger, a little green or red chili, a bit of grated cheese. Close the tortilla, add a bit more chili and top with cheese and microwave until heated through. The hamburger steams in the chili and you’d never guess it wasn’t cooked to order. Oddly enough, this is better with a well done burger than a rarer one.
- Chili – Mexican Hamburger: Make hamburgers, cook, place inside a tortilla, top with cheese, fold over and add chili (green is best for this) and more cheese to the top and broil till bubbly and melted. Cheesaritos: Roll some chili in a tortilla with some cheese and microwave. Chili Dogs, see leftover hot dogs. To stretch your meal, serve over rice or spaghetti for a Cincinnati twist. Mix with velveeta and use for a dip. Mix with real cheese and use for a dip. Mix with sour cream and use for a dip…you get the picture! Add to Macaroni & Cheese for Chili Mac.
- Corned Beef – Reuben sandwiches, corned beef hash, or even a reuben dip by mixing with a little cream cheese – add sauerkraut if you have it. You may need to thin with a little milk. Heat and serve with rye crackers or toast.
- Hot Dogs – Don’t throw out. Warm, slice the long way and place on a toasted bun, cover with warmed chile, canned is fine, sprinkle with cheese and broil for the best chili dogs. Slice the long way and fry with a bit of butter for a better leftover taste if you want to reheat and serve plain. Cut into pieces and heat with bbq sauce mixed with a bit of jelly or jam for a quick snack. And by all means, do the best you can to avoid slicing and adding into boxed macaroni and cheese…
- Meatloaf – Sliced meatloaf makes wonderful sandwiches. Try cutting into thick slices, covering with a quick sauce of ketchup, brown sugar and vinegar, and place under broiler to reheat. Cut into slices, dip in egg and breadcrumbs and fry – thank you Paula Deen for that idea! Crumble up to use in stuffed peppers.
- Sloppy Joes – Spread on open buns, top with cheese and broil. If you have a larger quantity, put in the bottom of a casserole, top with cornbread mix or homemade cornbread and bake. Mix with cheese and a bit of milk for a queso dip. Put in the bottom of little wonton shells that have been prebaked in mini muffin tins, top with cheese and pop in the oven till warm and melted. Make won ton with them.
- Stew – Make a Shepherd’s pie topped with mashed potatoes, top with biscuits for a pot pie, make a pasty or turnover – wrap in 1/2 moons of pie dough or square of puff pastry , crimp, wash and bake.
- Taco Meat – Use in a burrito for a different spin, perhaps mixed with refried beans to stretch it. Mix with cheese and use as a queso dip. Add a little salsa, layer over refried beans on a pizza dough, top with cheese. Fry up a tortilla, spread with taco meat and cheese for a quick appetizer. Throw in your chili. Try the “wonton” trick listed above. Roll in a corn tortilla and fry for a new spin. Make a taco pizza.
What are your favorite ways of dressing up your leftovers? I’d love to hear how you make use of your leftover Beef, Chicken or Pork!