Food

How to Actually Transform Your Thanksgiving Leftovers

We are going way beyond the turkey sandwich here.

One side is thumbprint cookies, the other side is greens going into a blender.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by bhofack2/iStock/Getty Images Plus and undefined undefined/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

On this week’s episode of the Waves, Rebecca Onion interviews Tamar Adler, author of An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace, about why women end up taking on the bulk of the leftovers work. Adler offers up her mind-blowing theory about how everything comes back to women’s comfort with slimy textures. Then, she serves up some equally transformative advice about what to do with Thanksgiving leftovers. Don’t just reheat them—repurpose them. A portion of their conversation, edited and condensed for clarity, is below.

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Rebecca Onion: I would love to talk some more about specifics when it comes to Thanksgiving leftovers. I think we all know what to do if you have a turkey carcass—you would boil it and make a stock, or of course there’s the classic take a roll and put turkey and cranberry jelly in it for the next day turkey sandwich.

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Tamar Adler: I think that’s one of the great sandwiches.

Friday is easy. If you had Thanksgiving on Thursday, then on Friday, you just have the Thanksgiving meal again. But let’s talk about the dregs, the less attractive leftovers. Let’s start with gravy. What would you do if you had a whole bunch of extra gravy?

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I think it’s really important to do a gravy thing as soon as you can after the meal, because once the exact things that you put gravy on, on Thursday aren’t there, it starts to diminish in appeal super quickly. What I like to do is turn it into a ragout. Braise a bunch of a different kind of meat. You’ll use your turkey, but beef, slow cooked beef, and use the gravy as some of the braising liquid.

Then I’d also water it down with a little bit of your turkey stock and probably some leftover wine in that one bottle that you find under the La-Z-Boy or whatever, so that it’s not so thick, because gravy started with a roux so it has a little bit of flour in it. But if you’re making a really thick sticky ragout, the kind that you’ll put on a short, fat pasta or on Pappardelle or something, then it’s not a problem to have that kind of richness.

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And you could use a meat that is particularly gelatinous and rich, like shank or oxtail or shoulder, or just something that what you’re going to end up with is a thick, wonderful pasta sauce or polenta sauce. And the great thing about that is also, If you make a big pot of it, you can freeze a bunch of it for when you’re feeling more ragout-ish in a month. But I’ve definitely tried just freezing the gravy and I don’t want to come back to it in gravy form. I think it’s really important to just move it along.

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Yeah. That happened to me last year. I froze the rest of the gravy. Or a couple years ago. I froze the rest of the gravy.

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It’s still there right?

Yep. It’s definitely still there taking up space in my chest freezer. OK, what about the purees? Speaking of texture, these get glutenous. Mashed potatoes, squash and sweet potatoes. I always make too much sweet potato puree and then I’m just like, OK, now what?

Yeah. There are so many. I think that these are another one where kind of the faster you transform it, the better off you are. So one direction you could totally go is a scone or a biscuit. If you were just to use sweet potato puree instead of the liquid in a scone recipe that would work. If you have a scone recipe that calls for a half a cup of milk or cream at the end, you could just use sweet potato puree. And if it’s really sweet, cut down on the sugar. Sugar doesn’t do a ton in scone recipes. So that’s one.

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Another that’s really good, depending on how sweet yours is, is to make it into a Thai style curry or soup. Curry flavored soup, where you start with cooking a little bit of curry paste in. Red curry paste, so it’s not all brown at the end, because red plus orange is nice, but green plus orange is not as nice. But you could cook the curry paste down in a little bit of coconut milk and then add your puree and coconut milk. And then you could add some shrimp or some fish and make it really, really spicy, really, really different from your Thanksgiving meal. If your Thanksgiving meal wasn’t spicy, put in a lot of Thai basil, something like that.

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Can you freeze portions of the purees?

So, I’m sure that you could keep some of their qualities. But I also really like vichyssoise a lot when you put them through a food mill, if you need to, and then add milk and cream. Or you could do the same thing and add some clams and have a really wonderful clam chowder, clam potato chowder. Or I really like also just spreading them out and making them, spreading them out into a gratin, making them even a little richer, putting on a bunch of shredded cheese and bread crumbs and baking it.

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What about when you’re cleaning up the Thanksgiving table and there’s the salad bowl that has a bunch of gloppy limp leaves at the bottom of it? What would you do with that?

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Well, I love that. I would probably eat it unless it were really late. If it were up to half an hour before bedtime, I would eat it, but I’ve also had very good experiences just storing it as it is. And then the next day kind of ringing it out a little and then chopping it finely and putting it in a cornmeal pancake batter and making little fritters. And it ends up just being kind of nice bright green or whatever flavor. It doesn’t even matter. Just chop it up small… Ring it, chop it up small and put it in cornmeal pancakes and make savory pancakes.

You know what I’ve also done? I don’t remember exactly what I did. I mean, it’s in my next book, but I’ve pureed it and then it’s been this amazing rich green thing that I’ve used to make a sauce starter. I’ve used it to make this super bright green mayonnaise. And actually, to the point of whether or not you serve people outside of your family leftovers, I have used a pureed salad, but I liked the taste so much that I made a vinaigrette with it, and I brought it over to a writer’s house and served it to 25 people during the summer. And everybody was like, oh, this vinaigrette’s so good and it was literally started with my pureed old salad.

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What about the sweet potato marshmallow casserole, which ends up at my Thanksgiving, not by my own hand and which I like a couple scoops of, but which ends up being super sweet. Have you ever had to repurpose one of those?

What I would do is I would take off the marshmallows and use them to make Rice Krispie treats. Where you melt them. And then it would be pumpkin spice Rice Krispie treats, and then use the puree to make muffins or scones. You can make pumpkin bread. It can make anything that you would make with pumpkin puree or even banana bread, any kind of smooshed up sweet thing you can make with that casserole.

And maybe reduce the amount of sugar by your own judgment.

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Yes.

I have one last one. What about the end of the cranberry jelly? The kind in a can—what would you do with that?

I have had great success turning that into thumbprint cookies. And thumbprint cookies are great because they kind of expand out a little bit anyway. They’re made for a little well of something. It doesn’t really matter what’s in the middle of them. You can do the same thing with leftover lemon curd or really any jam. The thumbprint cookie is not really about what the thing in the middle is. It’s kind of the contrast between jelly thing in the middle and soft but slightly crisp butter cookie around. So I made cranberry jelly butter cookies. They were great.

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