My favorite holiday has come and gone. Everyone I missed has returned safely from trips to Macy’s and Sandinista Thanksgiving dinners, the former complete with ice skating and record-breaking NYC crowds, the latter with sparsely crowded beaches, cloudless skies and no sign of cornbread dressing anywhere.
I made it back from a fruitful trip to Laurel, Mississippi, where my brother and I joined forces to fry only two turkeys this year. It was not without incident. We’d become a little cocky about the task since we had no responsibility to anyone but ourselves, and a couple of things were overlooked.
In last-minute preparation, we stupidly forgot to inject turkey Number 1. I remembered as soon as the bird was submerged in the peanut oil (the oil I got at the last minute, as we mistakenly thought we had plenty the week before). About 10 minutes into a 33-minute fry for an 11-pound hen, the flame extinguished. We’d run out of propane. We tried another tank hoping there’d be enough juice to get us to our internal temperature goal of 165 degrees, but this tank wouldn’t even hiss.
With the oil still bubbling, I put a tight lid on the pot and Big Al took off running to the nearest Blue Rhino service center. I was thankful there were no cops out because the champ returned with a full tank before the temp dropped 10 degrees. Everything was a little like a NASCAR pit crew for a bit, but we work together well. In the end both turkeys were incredible, injected or not, and with only three adults and two kids at our Thursday meal, I was fortunate to bring home a ton of leftovers.
With a fridge full of memories, I have done goofy things like eat potato salad for breakfast (don’t judge, it has bacon in it and bacon is a breakfast meat), as well as bribe my kids with their newfound love for sweet-potato casserole in order to get them to clean up their toys. But there came a point where I grew tired of living out of a microwave and the urge to cook began to gain steam. It was at this point I saw my leftovers as a challenge to come up with new ideas.
First things first. The turkey carcass goes into the pot. You can make a generous amount of stock from leftover turkey bones and what meat hasn’t been retrieved will be much easier to pick. Cover them in water in a large stockpot with an onion, a couple of stalks of celery and two cloves of garlic. A bay leaf or two doesn’t hurt, and don’t forget the salt and pepper. Boiling for a couple of hours should do the trick. You can use this stock for any soup or gumbo, and feel free to freeze the strained remains.
Dressing is the second most important part of the leftover bounty. The way we make dressing is a little on the firm side. We use a lot of stock, but we cook it out to the point the dressing can be sliced like cake. If yours is like this, then treat yourself to something special by frying a slice in a cast-iron skillet over butter as if you were making toast. This adds to the flavor, making it almost decadent.
Don’t forget to put dressing and cranberry sauce on a turkey sandwich. It’s amazing.
Speaking of cranberry sauce, I’ve got a million uses. Add leftover cranberry sauce to sweet barbecue sauce and pour over Little Smoky sausages in a crock pot. You could also use cranberry sauce to serve over cheese such as Neufchatel or brie on your next charcuterie plate. The relish style with whole cranberries that I prefer goes great in a fruity smoothie.
Make little turkey tarts with crescent-roll dough and put a dollop of cranberry sauce in the filling. Or you could just pretend it’s jelly, because it basically is, and serve it on peanut butter sandwiches, toast or anything else you would put jelly on. The most creative thing for cranberry sauce I read this week was to make a turkey meatloaf and use the sauce as a topping instead of ketchup.
One simple recipe I’ve fallen in love with is bound to have come from leftovers, but is now a side dish every year. If you have leftover rice (preferably long-grain wild rice), add a tube of cooked pork sausage and walnuts. If you are feeling really brave, then use hot sausage with grilled onions. The walnuts are the key, though.
Of course the centerpiece, the turkey, can be incorporated to millions of dishes. Tetrazzini is one of my favorites. Turkey, rice and cheese casserole is a good comfort food. Pot pie is always a crowd pleaser, and if you make it from scratch be sure to use a light roux. But if you decide to make turkey gumbo, a darker roux is a must. I go for a lot of lighter roux gumbos these days but the turkey gumbo deserves a darker roux. As a matter of fact, I am enjoying mine now, which I just made based on the latest John Besh cookbook, “Besh Big Easy.” It is amazing.
Stay safe and get creative out there. Don’t reheat a dish more than twice. Come up with your own ideas and make something special. Your next tradition is only a leftover invention away.
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