Thanksgiving turkeys don’t come small—there’s always some left over. And while I like the challenge of concocting delicious meals with good leftovers, the lingering carcass of a turkey had always stumped me. Every time I would open the fridge, it would be there, looming, a constant reminder that I had to do… something.
But last year, rather than serving a second round of warmed-up meat and gravy and a sandwich or two, I decided to do something different. Turkey is mild, so I matched it with fresh, assertive flavors like mint, ginger, lime, and saffron. Imade a light, clean turkey stock that I used for a delicate version of turkey soup, as well as for a flavorful braise. I used the rest of the meat for tasty turkey cakes and a beautiful salad.
The recipes that accompany this article stand on their own but provide an antidote to traditional Thanksgiving dishes, many of which tend to be quite rich. They’re so good that you may, like me, roast a slightly bigger bird this year just to guarantee enough leftovers to make these great dishes.
Getting the most from the turkey
The best way to deal with a big leftover turkey is to divide and conquer it. Here’s a plan:
Transfer the stuffing from the inside of the carcass to a shallow baking dish to reheat and serve as a side dish later.
Break the carcass down into manageable pieces by removing the legs and wings first, and any breast meat that remains.
Separate the meat from the bones, and be sure to take the tough tendons out of the legs. Remember to remove and reserve those two tasty nuggets of meat (called the “oysters”) that are set in the turkey’s lower back.
Divide the turkey meat into portions. Keep some for a sandwich if you like, and then use the rest in one or more of the recipes. You’ll need 2 cups diced meat for the salad, 1 1/2 cups diced for the couscous, 1 cup diced for the soup, and 1/2 pound (about 1 cup diced) for the cakes.
Store the meat wrapped well in plastic; it will keep in the refrigerator for four days. Or freeze well-wrapped individual portions for up to three months.
Keep the carcass, wings, and bones to make stock. Wrapped well, they’ll keep for four days in the refrigerator.
Discard all the skin, which is never as tasty reheated.
Make a stock with the carcass and the remaining meat. The stock recipe here yields about 9 cups. You’ll need 5 cups stock for the soup and 3 cups stock for the couscous. Save any extra for weeknight cooking.
More ideas for using up turkey
• For an exotic twist to a turkey on rye sandwich, add some wasabi to the mayonnaise.
• Use the turkey stock for poaching vegetables or chicken, or instead of cream in a pasta sauce.
• For an easy stir-fry, combine cremini mushrooms, red onions, and snow peas; toss in diced turkey at the end to keep it from drying out.
• For a quick and soothing soup, toss some slivered turkey into simmering stock along with boiled egg noodles, some chopped parsley, and a squeeze of lemon.
• For a Vietnamese-style wrap, roll shredded turkey, fresh mint, chile sauce, and fresh lime juice in rice paper.