Turkey cranberry sandwiches and other delicious creations with Thanksgiving leftovers

Nov. 18, 2020
Thanksgiving leftovers of cranberry sauce and turkey used in this sandwich.
Some people look forward to Thanksgiving leftovers even more than day-of delicacies. From turkey sandwiches to turky soup, we’ve got ideas on what to make with your Thanksgiving leftovers. Photo: Getty Images.

When I was a kid (this would be some time ago), the worst day of the year was the Friday after Thanksgiving Day.

I was raised Roman Catholic and turkey was “meat” on a no-eat-meat fast day. Arguments that most of the bird was white meat and no resemblance to beef had no truck with my father. Or “The hen makes eggs and we get to eat eggs on Fridays.” Nope again.

In those days, it was a mortal sin to eat meat on Fridays. A mortal sin was serious business. If you committed one and, say, crossed the street and got run over by a car before you went to Confession, you went straight (do not pass Go; do not collect $200) to Hell. Then, around 1964, the pope decided that it was OK to eat meat on Fridays and it wasn’t a sin anymore. You tell me.

Late Thanksgiving night, my mother set the bird — or what remained of it after nine kids, two adults and the occasional visiting priest had had at it (she often roasted two to cover) — in the downstairs refrigerator, swaddled with a wet tea towel. We sibs would take turns just to look at it.

We waited all day Friday, until midnight at the crack of Saturday (my father was lenient in at least this) until we could eat what was even better than Thanksgiving Day dinner: sliced turkey on lightly toasted Pepperidge Farm white bread slathered in Hellmann’s mayonnaise, with a slice of cranberry jelly and cracked black pepper. Only when, later in my teens, a cousin from St. Louis suggested Durkee Famous Sauce as a substitute for the mayonnaise, did I discover a better condiment.

Using every part of the Thanksgiving turkey is the closest thing that we modern Americans have to the town pig of olden days, that communally slaughtered animal of which every single part is used or eaten. Regarding leftover turkey, I believe “tetrazzini” is Italian for “smithereens.”

After the sandwich scaloppini, perhaps the most useful leftover from the turkey is its carcass. Any worthwhile cooking coach (or your own good sense) will tell you to retain the turkey carcass from Thanksgiving Day dinner in order to make of it a full-flavored broth or stock to freeze and for use at other meals.

So, simmer up a nice stock with the carcass and, after de-fatting it, use it for a number of dishes such as a rich, winter soup (of onions, garlic, lentils, mushrooms, topped with grated dry cheese and parsley flakes) or hearty risotto (of mushrooms and risotto rice, or one with turkey bits in it as well). The recipe offered here is for a complete soup that is founded on the carcass itself.

I have a hunch that while lots of folks make Brussels sprouts for Thanksgiving Day dinner, lots of folks also don’t eat them that day.

Get more great tips and recipes from Bill St. John.

The British amalgam of leftovers from Sunday dinner called “bubble and squeak” is perfectly adaptable to Thanksgiving leftovers and one we should adopt with alacrity. It is one of that lexicon of oddly-named U.K. dishes so endearing in title to travelers. It apparently gets its name for how the leftover cabbage produces those two sounds when it hits the skillet on reheating.

Because we rarely serve cabbage on Thanksgiving, as the British do for many a Sunday dinner, our substitute is what the French call “petit choux” (“small cabbages”), that ubiquitous Turkey Day side of Brussels sprouts.

Finally, one helpful suggestion recently made to me was to consider Thanksgiving leftovers before they became that. When you’re preparing your Thanksgiving dinner, it’s likely you’ll have more in the larder than you’ll need for the meal itself. Don’t let whatever it is go bad and, hence, useless and wasted.

Think on it.

For example, too much squash (sweet potato, too) profitably can be peeled, diced, blanched, and frozen, for later use in risotto, soup, a mash, to flavor hummus, or in another dish as a grace note (in a pasta sauce, for instance, or as part of a vegetable curry). An overabundance of broccoli, likewise, can be broken up, blanched and frozen, then later made into a pesto of sorts with lemon juice, garlic, good oil and some sort of seeds.

What to do with Thanksgiving leftovers:

Turkey carcass soup

Serves 8-10


1 picked-over turkey carcass, with any remaining drumstick, wing, neck or thigh bones and their meat

4 quarts water

2 large stalks of celery with leaves, sliced lengthwise

2 large carrots, scraped lightly and sliced lengthwise

1 large onion, skin on and quartered

4 bushy sprigs of curly leaf parsley, stems included, or 8 stems of flat-leaf parsley, stems included

1 tablespoon kosher salt

12 black peppercorns


Place the turkey bones and meat in a large pot. Cover it with the water and bring to a boil. Skim off any grey froth as it forms.

Add the vegetables and seasonings. With the cover ever so slightly ajar, simmer slowly for three hours. Strain the soup. Serve it with matzo balls, noodles or small pasta shapes (for example, stars or orzo).

You may save the meat off the bones and add it to the soup. After you strain the soup, you may refrigerate it and later skim the congealed fat or you may strain it and serve it right away.

Bubble and squeak

Adapted from recipes.sainsburys.co.uk; makes 10-12 individual servings, perfect for another buffet the day after, should you be having one or perhaps sending food off to the homebound.


2 cups waxy potatoes such as Yukon Gold, peeled (if desired), chunked

1 cup leftover roasted (not mashed) potatoes, chopped

2 tablespoons butter, softened

1 cup leftover Brussels sprouts, quartered or chopped

3/4 cup other roasted or cooked (not mashed) vegetables, such as corn, succotash, squash, cauliflower, broccoli, or the like, chopped up if large

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, or more

2 cups leftover turkey, roughly chopped


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a very large pot, boil the raw potato chunks in a large amount of salted water for 15 minutes or until just soft and tender. Drain well, return to the pot, then add the roasted potatoes and the butter. Season well with salt and pepper, then roughly mash together, retaining evident lumps.

To that, add the remaining vegetables and gently combine everything. With the oil, lightly coat 10-12 ramekins or other small crocks (or paper 10-12 cups of a muffin tin) and fill each with a portion of the bubble and squeak, lightly pressing down to flatten the tops. Bake for 40 minutes or until golden and crispy.

Note: depending on the size of your ramekins or muffin tins, you may need more than 12 in number.

Leftover wines

In addition to the bird, leftover wine from Thanksgiving Day dinner may scatter about. In some households, leftover wine is like the sighting of a unicorn. But, in some households, one or two quarter-full or half-full bottles are bound to remain into the next day.

How to keep the wine at its best? Above all, rid it of its great enemy, oxygen. The amount of wine doesn’t matter; once the cork is pulled or the screwcap twisted off, all the wine in a bottle is laid siege by oxygen. As it oxidizes, wine loses its fruit aromas and flavors, turns darker or browner in hue and, eventually, tastes pretty awful.

The easiest way to prevent ongoing oxidation of leftover wine is to pour it into a smaller bottle so that the air-to-wine ratio drops big time. Best all-around bottle? Most American households these days have small juice or sports water bottles around. They work splendidly and seal perfectly after having been well-rinsed.

Refrigeration matters too, for both reds and whites. It helps stave off spoilage and, when you drink the reds, you merely need warm them with 20-30 minutes outside the frig, set on the kitchen counter. But keep in mind that, while refrigeration slows oxidation, it does not prevent it.

Finally, leftover wine is useful around the kitchen — and not merely inside the cook. You may braise, marinate, poach, macerate and reduce (or deglaze) with it or splash it in stir-fries, soups or stews. Try steaming vegetables or fish with it, for a special aromatic treat.

Which wine to use—red, white or pink—merely depends on what it is you’re cooking.

You may reach Bill St John at [email protected]

About the author

For more than 40 years, Bill St. John’s specialties have been as varied as they are cultured. He writes and teaches about restaurants, wine, food & wine, the history of the cuisines of several countries (France, Italy, Spain, Belgium, and the USA), about religion and its nexus with food, culture, history, or philosophy, and on books, travel, food writing, op-ed, and language.

Bill has lent (and lends) his subject matter expertise to such outlets as The Rocky Mountain News, The Denver Post, The Chicago Tribune, 5280 Magazine, and for various entities such as food markets, wine shops, schools & hospitals, and, for its brief life, Microsoft’s sidewalk.com. In 2001 he was nominated for a James Beard Award in Journalism for his 12 years of writing for Wine & Spirits Magazine.

Bill's experience also includes teaching at Regis University and the University of Chicago and in classrooms of his own devising; working as on-air talent with Denver's KCNC-TV, where he scripted and presented a travel & lifestyle program called "Wine at 45"; a one-week stint as a Trappist monk; and offering his shoulder as a headrest for Julia Child for 20 minutes.

Bill has also visited 54 countries, 42 of the United States, and all 10 Canadian provinces.