We are a Thanksgiving party of two with a 17-pound spice-rubbed turkey parked in the refrigerator. Despite our best intentions — and those of a local farmer — for a smallish bird, things did not go as planned, and we have ended up with an embarrassment of riches better suited for a small village. After the requisite turkey sandwich-thon over the holiday weekend and a care package for my — “white meat only, please” — mother, there will still be enough remaining turkey to feed our side of the street.
Leftovers are grand; in fact, it’s the payoff for all the work. But if you’re in a similar gravy boat (apologies: I could not help myself), a plan for long-term storage and repurposing is mission critical to minimizing food waste. More than 200 million pounds of Thanksgiving turkey went uneaten last year, according to the National Resources Defense Council, a statistic that carries added weight when one in seven people in central Pennsylvania are experiencing food insecurity.
In the spirit of food thrift and kitchen economy, I am embarking on a three-pronged plan to make the most of my XL bird:
Spatchcock the bird
As part of my night-before prep and dry-rub seasoning, I will remove the turkey’s back with kitchen shears, turn it over and press down on the breastbone until the turkey is flattened, a technique better known as a spatchcock or butterflied turkey. In doing so, you reduce the height of the bird, allowing for more even cooking, which helps those notoriously slow thighs and drumsticks. With less volume and a circular cavity, the rest of the bird also cooks more quickly, about 10 minutes per pound (versus 12 to 15 minutes for a back-in bird).
And use the back for stock
With the back, you can make turkey stock right away or freeze for another time.
If you have a turkey 15 pounds or larger, you have enough bone matter to make stock. You also can clip the wing tips and add to your pot.
Traditionally, turkey stock is made from roasted bones, which is why so many people like to make soup with a turkey carcass after Thanksgiving. But similar to chicken stock, you can make turkey stock from raw bones. The flavor will be less intense, but it also may taste less muddy, a common pitfall of making stock from roasted carcasses.
For smaller birds (less than 10 pounds), I recommend supplementing with turkey wings or even chicken feet, which are loaded with stock-enriching marrow.
When you’re ready, thoroughly rinse all bones. (If using frozen bones, no need to thaw.) Place in a large pot and add enough cold water to cover, plus two inches. (For two pounds of bones, you’re looking at about 8 cups water.)
To that, add 1 large leek, washed, root removed and cut into chunks (Plan B: 1 onion, skin on, quartered, plus 4 to 6 parsley stems); and about 10 whole black peppercorns.
Bring to a boil and with a slotted spoon or fine sieve, remove the foam that rises to the top. You will notice that the foam is attracted to the chlorophyll in the leeks and parsley and works as a stock purifier.
Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and cook at simmer for about 2 hours (and up to 4). The longer you cook the chicken parts, the deeper the flavor. Completely cool, strain, and refrigerate or freeze.
Short and long-term goals for after-dinner storage
Two hours. That’s the Thanksgiving food safety grace period deemed by the USDA; any turkey and trimmings left out at room temperature for longer becomes a minefield for foodborne illness. Before you tuck into dessert and watch your favorite holiday movie, get the turkey into the refrigerator, even if still on the serving platter. When you have a few minutes, portion out what you think you might use over the next three to four days (per USDA advice) and place in storage bags or containers. For turkey beyond that timeframe, set your sights on the freezer,
where it will keep for about two months. Remove any bones before freezing and slice or shred as needed. Rather than storing en masse, think of portioning the turkey as if you were meal planning, with 1/2 to 1 cup per serving. Date and label, and start dreaming of your next turkey creations.
Thinking outside the sandwich box
The leftover turkey sandwich is a given at our house, especially with the gift of a long holiday weekend when we can forage from the fridge at will and use all matter of edible bookends, from stale potato rolls to rye toast. For the husband, there is no such thing as too many sandwiches, but my threshold comes much more quickly. A long-ago quest for lighter alternatives brought me to “Feast,” the 2004 collection of holiday recipes from British cooking celebrity Nigella Lawson. In her Thanksgiving and Christmas chapter, she includes several recipes using leftovers, including a handful of Asian-inspired turkey-centric salads. The recipe that follows reads more like a template, allowing you to mix and match based on your mood, with a fish sauce vinaigrette leading the way. Grains are completely optional, as are fresh salad greens. Whatever you decide, those same ole leftovers will feel like a brand new pair of shoes.
VIET-STYLE TURKEY SALAD
Inspired by “Feast” by Nigella Lawson.
Makes 4 to 6 servings.
- 1/4 cup fish sauce (Plan B: soy sauce or tamari)
- 3 tablespoons neutral oil
- 1 tablespoon water (if using soy sauce, use 2 tablespoons water)
- Juice of 1 lime
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1/2 chile pepper of choice, seeded and minced
- Optional: 1 clove garlic, minced
- 3 cups cold shredded or thinly sliced turkey
- 2 to 4 cups red cabbage, grated or finely chopped or 1/2 head iceberg or butter lettuce, cut into strips
- 1 medium red bell pepper, cut into strips or 1 cup of green beans, thinly sliced (leftover cooked beans are welcome)
- 3 scallions, roots removed and thinly sliced or 1/2 red onion, finely chopped
- 1/2 cup fresh cilantro or mint, roughly chopped
- Grain options: 8 ounces soaked rice noodles or 1 cup cooked rice, barley or wild rice (even better if it’s left over)
- Finishing options: A few teaspoons of rice vinegar or juice of fresh lime or orange, a few drizzles of sesame oil; 1/2 cup unsalted peanuts or cashews
Place the fish sauce, oil, lime juice, sugar, black pepper, fresh chile pepper and garlic (if using) in an 8-ounce jar. Screw the lid on tight and shake vigorously.
Place the turkey in a large bowl and measure 2 tablespoons of the dressing, drizzling over the turkey. Add the remaining ingredients, except for the finishing options, resisting the urge to stir in between additions. Drizzle the dressing on top, turning with tongs or salad forks until thoroughly coated. Taste and add salt as needed or any of the finishing add-ons for a pop of acid or crunch. Serve at room temperature.