Americans' favorite way to eat leftover Thanksgiving turkey is in a sandwich the next day. But this time, think outside the bread: Try tucking turkey into quinoa salad, quesadillas or an egg scramble. Cranberries and mashed potatoes get a second life, too.
For many Americans, the best part of Thanksgiving dinner happens on the Friday after the holiday, when the leftovers begin. The November celebration that began at a single table nearly 400 years ago has grown into a holiday feast eaten in nearly 90 percent of American households. According to the National Turkey Federation, Americans gobble more than 690 million pounds of the big bird every Thanksgiving.
Most birds will be roasted, others brined, a lucky few deep-fried. Yet, most of us won't enjoy the turkey on Thanksgiving, no matter how expertly cooked, because we'll have already grazed for hours on hunks of warm cornbread, hills of herb stuffing and mounds of creamy mashed potatoes. And let's be honest, we'll often deliberately skimp on the turkey in order to savor a slab of homemade pumpkin pie.
This is why Americans' favorite way to eat leftover turkey is in a sandwich the next day. Is there an American household that doesn't make some version of the day-after-Thanksgiving turkey sandwich? Although I love sandwiches — I wrote an entire book in praise of the humble edible — this year I'm going to think outside the bread.
There's no shortage of leftover Thanksgiving recipes available both online and in print. From understated turkey chili to something called Thanksgiving turkey cake — a multilayered sandwich made from turkey, mashed potatoes and stuffing — there really is something for everyone.
Keep in mind that leftover turkey is best eaten within three to four days after Thanksgiving. After that, you risk that funky leftover turkey taste. You know what I'm talking about.
While turkey will always be the wallflower at the poultry party, when paired with the right partner it can be just as tasty as the more popular chicken.
Not surprisingly, turkey is most comfortable in cuisine of the Americas. Turkey pot pie topped with mashed potatoes, stuffing or cornbread is a quintessential leftover favorite, as are hot turkey melts and cold turkey salad wraps.
Because it marries well with Mexican seasonings such as cumin, chipotle chili powder and cilantro, turkey makes a delicious filling for migas, tacos, chili, nachos, burritos and quesadillas.
As for other cuisines such as Asian, Indian and Italian, well, you might want to stick with chicken. There's something jarring about the idea of eating Vietnamese turkey pho, Indian turkey samosas or Italian turkey lasagna. People do it, but I wouldn't recommend it.
I would recommend, however, topping a toasty English muffin with hot turkey, gravy and a fried egg for a stellar day-after-Thanksgiving breakfast, or making a belly-warming pot of turkey soup with homemade turkey stock, mixed vegetables and rice.
As for the leftover cranberry sauce, try one of these: Swirl it in your oatmeal or yogurt; smear it on a bagel with cream cheese; spread it on a turkey, ham or pork sandwich; blend it into a smoothie. Or eat it straight out of the Tupperware container like I do.
Stuffing can have a second life, too. Use it as a topping on a pot pie, pack it into mushroom caps for stuffed mushrooms or spoon it into colorful bell peppers for a hearty vegetarian entree.
When it comes to leftover mashed potatoes, I have three words for you: mashed potato cakes. Leftover mashed potatoes are lightly seasoned with onions, salt and pepper, shaped into chubby discs and cooked in sizzling oil until golden and crisp. Served with traditional sour cream and applesauce or some leftover cranberry sauce, these cakes are wonderfully comforting. In fact, you'll want to be sure to make extra mashed potatoes exclusively for the mashed potato cakes.
As for the leftover string beans, broccoli, squash and other vegetables, well, they don't mind if they're not repurposed. Just eat them as they are.
So this year as you pack your Thanksgiving leftovers into the refrigerator, you'll be armed with a number of creative recipes for the days to follow. Just do me a favor — please don't under any circumstances make leftover Thanksgiving turkey cupcakes with mashed potato "frosting." The bird deserves at least a modicum of respect.