8 chefs share their best Thanksgiving leftover ideas

By | November 21, 2023

Leftovers are much more than just reheated food; They offer the opportunity to unleash creativity and innovation in the kitchen. Using leftovers in new meals has much more meaning this holiday season. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, about 35% of perfect turkey meat in the U.S. is eaten after it is first cooked.

Additionally, according to 2019 statistics from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), approximately 106 million tons of food waste was generated across various sectors, with approximately 60% from the food retail, restaurant and residential sectors ending up in landfills.

Given these statistics and the fact that a significant amount of produced food is thrown away each year, we sought the advice of restaurant chefs who know a few things about transforming leftover ingredients into delicious new dishes. Let’s go waste-free during the holidays and discover new culinary adventures, one thing at a time.

Andrew Thompson’s Thanksgiving Leftover Sandwich

Ritz-Carlton Sarasota Executive Chef Andrew Thompson puts a savory twist on the traditional leftover sandwich. “My favorite leftover preparation is a cold turkey sandwich with plenty of cranberry sauce. If your turkey is cooked correctly, this leftover dish won’t disappoint,” he explains.

Thompson generously shares insider tips from the kitchen at Ritz-Carlton’s signature restaurant, Jack Dusty. They brine their turkeys in a mixture of herbs, garlic and brown sugar for 24 hours before vacuum sealing and sous vide cooking overnight to ensure the perfect moisture.

Thompson suggests an unconventional alternative for those looking to shake up their Thanksgiving routine: “Try this technique—it will transform your Thanksgiving feast!” He also suggests experimenting with different flavors, such as using a curry -Spice blend when preparing your turkey, which can result in delicious leftover turkey curry sandwiches!

Dylon Ruiz’s Turkey Papas Rellenas

Dylon Ruiz of Albany Ale & Oyster introduces a new take on classic holiday leftovers.

“Leftover Thanksgiving sandwiches are a classic for a reason, but why not do something different? “Picture this: turkey papa rellenas—the ultimate comfort food for this chilly weather,” suggests Ruiz.

When preparing a dish popular in certain regions of Latin America and parts of the Caribbean, Ruiz begins by shredding some dark turkey meat until it has a consistency almost reminiscent of ground beef. This meat is then braised with sofrito, cumin, coriander and a touch of tomato sauce for added depth and flavor. Once that’s done, the leftovers come into play – mashed potatoes and filling are made into an easy-to-shape dough with a little egg and flour as a binding agent.

Ruiz explains, “Take a ball of dough, flatten it into a disk, and place some of your turkey stew in the center of the disk before gently rolling it into a ball.” The final step? Fry each ball until golden brown.

Side Dish Glow Ups by Nik Fields

Nik Fields, aka The Chic Chef, shared several ways to inspire you to reuse leftovers to their full potential! She recommends making irresistible waffles or forming wonderfully crispy croquettes from cold mashed potatoes using leftover filling. Try their sauteed hash with onions and peppers for a unique sweet potato side dish.

Even dessert isn’t neglected, as Fields transforms cranberry sauce into fruity pancakes and transforms pumpkin pie into a seasonal bread pudding.

Dan Vargo’s Turkey and Waffles with Spicy Cranberry Relish

On November 24, award-winning chef Dan Vargo of Fine Coastal Cuisine reinvented a classic recipe with his “Turkey and Waffles with Spicy Cranberry Relish.” Vargo says, “I take the traditional chicken and waffles recipe and give it a Southern Thanksgiving twist.”

The base of this comforting breakfast dish is created by combining leftover stuffing and mashed potatoes. Vargo explains: “For the waffles, I take the leftover filling and mashed potatoes and mix them with an egg. Then I put the mixture in a preheated waffle iron and bake it until the edges are crispy.”

To complete the dish, he lightly dusts bite-sized pieces of turkey with seasoned flour and deep-fries them in heated oil in a pan until golden brown. Vargo’s creativity shines through in his ingenious adaptation of cranberry sauce. He gives the leftover sauce a Southern twist by adding lime zest, lime juice, maple syrup and chopped jalapeños.

Marco Grajeda’s turkey sandwich with gravy dip

At the heart of Sea Level Restaurant and Ocean Bar at the Marriott Harbor Beach Resort, chef Marco Grajeda leans toward a classic solution to leftovers. “My favorite thing to do with holiday leftovers is a classic choice. A sandwich!” says Grajeda.

He suggests turning cranberry sauce into a tempting cranberry aioli, toasting a potato roll in a buttered skillet, heating the carved turkey, and adding Muenster cheese. The finishing touch? “Heat the sauce for a sandwich dip.”

Craig Tooker’s leftover empanadas

Chef Craig Tooker of Gold Coast Kitchen + Cocktails at the Miami Marriott Biscayne Bay shares an innovative use for Thanksgiving leftovers. “I’ve been using leftovers to make Thanksgiving empanadas for a few years now,” he reveals.

These empanadas, filled with a mix of diced turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, sweet potatoes and gravy, are “perfect for a snack, light meal or side dish.” Once prepared, Tooker recommends dipping the golden-brown empanadas in cranberry sauce for a fantastic flavor combination.

Coatiest Gabbidon’s Tips for Transforming Leftovers

Executive Sous Chef Coatiest Gabbidon of the Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas encourages readers to think differently about Thanksgiving leftovers. “If you do Thanksgiving right, you should have leftovers to experiment with for weeks!” Gabbidon brings creative suggestions like a Cubano-Style Turkey Sandwich Melt, Cranberry Glazed Turkey Wings, and Turkey and Puff Pastry Tapas to the ideas to get rolling.

He encourages readers to think beyond the traditional, starting with the original recipes. He notes, “Unique and tasty original dishes promise the best leftovers.” He further challenges conventional norms by suggesting the addition of unexpected flavors to traditional dishes.

Gabbidon lists some of his surprising favorite elements: pimento berries, pimento berry wood for smoking, and red stripe beer. Using these examples, he offers a starting point for reimagining classic ingredients and dishes in the Thanksgiving edition.

Gavin Lambert’s Instant Turkey Ramen

Chef Gavin Lambert, known for his work with the Bon Ami pop-up dinner series currently at 80 Thoreau in Concord, Massachusetts, shares his favorite way to reuse Thanksgiving leftovers with a unique twist: “My favorite reuse of “Leftover turkey is instant turkey ramen,” says Lambert.

His innovative approach involves grinding up any leftover turkey bones. He puts it in a pressure cooker overnight and “all the leftover aromatics and vegetable scraps that I have left over from cooking.” Lambert then strains the turkey broth, thickens it with leftover gravy and cranberry sauce, and seasons it with soy sauce and mirin.

Add some instant ramen to the broth and top with sliced ​​turkey, roasted Brussels sprouts, candied yams, or any other extras you have available. As an additional tip, Lambert recommends saving excess turkey stock to use in future recipes, emphasizing the practicality and sustainability of his approach.

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