It is inevitable in our current culture that Thanksgiving will produce leftovers for the majority of us. Most of us, in fact, will end up with left-over turkey well after we have finished off everything else.
Now leftover sandwiches are one of my favorites but they pall over time. Not only that, but I run out of the rest of the ingredients. Leftover sandwiches? You know – take two pieces of bread, toast them, start using a bit of this leftover and a bit of that one till you almost can’t hold it together. Maybe add a bit of cheese, maybe bake or grill it, all for the sake of variation. Then eat – probably over a plate, maybe even with a knife and fork (despite that seeming sacrilegious for a sandwich). But as I said, eventually you just can’t.
So let’s look at the situation a moment before digging into alternatives. You have a meat that is ALREADY COOKED that you’re going to add to other dishes. As significant, it’s meat with very little fat or connective tissue, meaning most long-cook techniques will leave you with tough, dry chunks. With that in mind…
The first advice is your freezer. Separate white from dark, wrap half-pound (or so) chunks in plastic and foil, label them, and pack them in the freezer. The simple reality is that you’ve a good chance of reaching the point of dreading turkey long before you run out. Why half-pound blocks? Because most of the time you’ll want a pound, and sometimes you want all white, sometimes all dark, and sometimes both.
Now what about cooking? Well, basically you want dishes where the meat gets warmed – or is even eaten cold – and go from there. Let’s consider a few options.
You can use it as the meat filler for a lot of basic dishes. I’ll skip recipes and just note: chop it up and add a bit of salsa verde or enchilada sauce or… to make burritos and enchiladas and such. Chop it more coarsely (or finely) and layer it over pasta that then gets topped with either a tomato sauce or a cheese sauce. (Mix it with sauteed mushrooms, onions, and a bit of garlic first — or even instead.) It works well as a crepe filler as well.
It also goes well being added to soups. Add it as you would to chicken noodle or chicken rice where the chicken is already cooked. I’ve added it as supplement to potato soup and minestrone. It is surprisingly good added to tomato soup. I’ve also added it to my avgolemono; works fine that way cut into bitesize and more finely chopped.
If you want to get a bit fancier you can make a mousse — please chop it fairly fine but don’t turn it to paste to make this work the best. You can use it in layers in a terrine – and in fact that is a great thing to do anyway with your leftovers; or if doing it later, with “pretend” leftovers that you’ve recreated. I think I’ll expand that a touch.
Consider your leftovers. Leftover salad and leftover veggies and leftover cranberries and… Now you’ve got that in mind. We’ll use turkey stock if we’ve got it, chicken otherwise, to make our gelatin. Make a coarse cranberry sauce – not the cranberry jelly, but… ok, a recipe.
It turns out my favorite cranberry sauce is pretty much the easiest to make. Take a 12 ounce bag of cranberries and clean them (pulling out leaves, twigs, bad berries, etc.) Put them in a sauce pan with 3/4 cup of water, 1 cup of sugar, and 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Bring to a boil. If you want your sauce a bit loose boil for five minutes, if you want one you can slice with a knife (after cooling) go for five. The reason is that cranberries are naturally high in pectin and acid, and between the natural sugar and the added sugar the jelly trinity is completed. For our terrine go for ten minutes. But wait to do it.
Start with your terrine pan or your loaf pan or whatever it is you’re about to use. Take your turkey and make a base layer. Add a layer of your stuffing or dressing, and another layer of turkey. If you used a vegetable or two, add these as well. Sweet potatoes; and for this I like to cook them till they’re soft, add a bit of brown sugar and butter and cook till that forms a syrup, then partially mash it together. When you add this layer make sure you leave space around the edges. Add your “relish tray” if you had it or want it — pickles (sweet and tart), olives, or whatever it may be. Note we’ve not yet had the cranberries – hold on here, it’s coming.
First, though, you want to make your gelatin. Get your stock going – how much depends on the pan you’ve got. While it’s coming to a boil, bloom your gelatin (sprinkle it on a quarter cup or so of cold stock set aside). Once your stock boils, pull it from the heat and add the bloomed gelatin, stir in thoroughly, and pour into your terrine. Some seemingly digressive points….
The basic requirement for gelatin is 1/4 teaspoon per 2 cups of liquid. If it’s going to be with sugar and/or acid it needs more, but not too much more or it’ll turn to rubber (bleah). Since I’m only going to have my gelatin in contact with the sweet potatoes and the acidic pickles I know the gelatin won’t pick up MUCH of either, and so while it’ll be softer at the contact points it won’t be liquid. However, if (and only if) I’m using bulk instead of packets I’ll add roughly 25% more gelatin — a “slightly heaping” quarter teaspoon.
Second seemingly digressive point — make sure the liquid gets everywhere. Poke, prod, roll, tilt, and do what you can to make this happen. I use a clear pyrex loaf pan for this both because I don’t have a terrine pan AND because it lets me see if I’ve done it all.
Anyway, once the stock is fully settled, let it cool for about 15 minutes then put it in the refrigerator for an hour. No, it’s not going to be fully set, but now we can make and add our cranberry sauce. See, I didn’t forget. The thing is that if we didn’t let it set somewhat the contact layer wouldn’t bind very well at all due to the fairly high sugar and acid content of the cranberry sauce. It’ll still be a bit of a soft join (though the cranberry’s pectin will somewhat make up for this) but it’ll hold together well enough when we serve it. Anyway, make the cranberry sauce, pull out the terrine, pour the cranberries on top and smooth it. Let it set on the countertop again for 10 to 15 minutes again to avoid overwhelming your refrigerator, then back in to chill. You can serve this anytime after about 4 hours. (If you cover it with plastic you can keep it in the refrigerator for a few days. The cranberry layer is a GREAT sealant but it will pick up stray odors if left uncovered.)
You serve the terrine by upending it onto a cutting plate (how much cutting you need to do depends on how much you broke up the turkey in the first place), cutting slices and placing them on plates. If you put the slices on freshly toasted bread it’ll slightly melt the side in contact making for great leftover sandwiches (but fancier). If you serve it as a main, your sides are… kind of tricky, actually, as everything’s already there. I recommend they be warm, though, to offset. Of course you can always put it in a soup bowl – and if you’re going fancy, float it on a thickened (almost gravy-like) broth.
Hopefully you’ve now got an idea or two. Enjoy your turkey.