The case against Thanksgiving leftover recipes.

Previously published Slate articles made new.
Nov. 26 2009 6:52 AM

Let Leftovers Be Leftovers

That turkey samosa won't bring your Thanksgiving dinner back to life.

Leftovers.
Turkey and veggie lasagna 

Americans everywhere are about to be inundated with turkey leftovers, and the urge to recycle those leftovers into bizarre new forms—like turkey fried rice and turkey dinner muffins—will be great, perhaps irresistible. In a 2007 article, reprinted below, Jill Hunter Pellettieri cautioned against the practice, claiming that whatever "bastardized concoction" you can cook up isn't worth the effort. Don't get fancy—just eat a turkey sandwich.

Reading this list of recipes—and trust me, there are plenty more—is enough to make you want to go cold turkey on turkey. Every November, magazine editors and food writers, cooking gurus and TV personalities, foist turkey leftover recipes upon us. Unless we put our tired, picked-over turkey carcass to good use, they tell us, we're wasting some precious opportunity. But don't be fooled. Do not be tempted by that recipe for turkey and leek risotto. Those stringy last bits of gristle and meat that cling to your bird are better suited to the raccoons who rummage through your garbage. Do you really want to morph the centerpiece of your most ceremonial meal of the year into turkey bundles (stuffed with turkey, cream cheese, dill weed, and water chestnuts, among other things)?

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But I don't want to be wasteful! Now, of all times of the year, I'm supposed to be thankful for my food, you might think. I'm not saying to abandon leftovers entirely. On the contrary: Embrace them. Just don't turn them into some bastardized concoction. Enjoy them for what they are.

Turkey leftover recipes are, essentially, a sham—an invention of food entertainment providers hard-up for new holiday ideas. There are only so many variations on the traditional Thanksgiving dinner (this year, try making Indian-spiced turkey breast!), and leftover recipes offer a seemingly appropriate way of filling pages and air time. (Few are brave enough to leave the leftovers alone; kudos to Food and Wine for doing so this year.)

But even the purveyors of these recipes recognize the absurdity of what they're presenting—they don't really expect any of them to become mainstays in your repertoire. (Perhaps the only exception is turkey stock made from your carcass—for the truly ambitious.) Of its turkey pot pie, Gourmet disclaims, "I can't guarantee this pie will make it onto your list of classics, but I'm pretty certain it will be a strong contender." Not if you make it with turkey, though. "This recipe could easily become a year-round favorite—simply substitute supermarket rotisserie chicken for the turkey."

Due to its taste and size, turkey has long played second fiddle to its poultry brethren. Turkey meat, especially the breast, is often dried out, and it's not as rich as that of more exotic birds, like guinea hen or capon. Its heft makes it more difficult to cook than the more flavorful, more manageable, and more common chicken. On Thanksgiving, we're willing to overlook these flaws for the sake of tradition. Still, many try to compensate for turkey's shortcomings by getting creative in the kitchen: We'll deep-fry, grill, brine, even spatchcock in an effort to zest up this bird. But I challenge you to count on more than one hand all the times you've made a turkey entrée since last Thanksgiving that wasn't a sandwich or a burger. (For that matter, when was the last time you ordered turkey tetrazzini at a restaurant? How about turkey pho?)

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