The gift that keeps on giving: Chefs dish on how to transform your holiday leftovers


When Nov. 1 hits, so does the holiday-meal planning. Are you brining, roasting or smoking? Pumpkin or pecan? Will you stick to your family's traditional side dishes, or try something new?

Amidst all the food planning, something crucial can fall to the wayside: What to do with all those holiday leftovers.

Many may default, in a post-Thanksgiving food coma, to reheating plates of exactly what was eaten the day before or making turkey sandwiches. There's nothing wrong with either, but the potential for leftovers is endless. Leftover turkey can become soup, pot pie, sauce, hash patties, chili or salads.

Read on for the family traditions and suggestions from a group of local chefs on how to transform your holiday leftovers.

Anthony Strong, Pizzeria Delfina, Palo Alto

Anthony Strong, executive chef for Pizzeria Delfina, loves leftovers so much that he and other Delfina staff who stay in the Bay Area for the holidays actually stay up the entire night before Thanksgiving to make turkey and all the trimmings for an open house, and host a build-your-own-leftovers-sandwiches day on the day of. They keep the sandwiches simple: Pullman bread ("just to keep it real," he says), stuffing, sliced turkey, cranberry sauce and hot or cold gravy (Strong likes it cold).

Strong also makes a Thanksgiving version of ribollita, a hearty traditional Tuscan soup made from bread, cannellini beans and vegetables. (Strong called Tuscany "the land of 101 uses for leftover bread and beans.")

"In Tuscany, you typically make ribollita by making this really rich, dense bean soup with a bunch of pancetta and vegetables in it," he said. "You heat up that soup for dinner and take the leftover bread, tear it up and add it to that soup. Ribollita literally means reboiled or recooked, more or less."

So your leftover bread, vegetables (and added beans) can be served as a soup. Or, the next day, mash it into a cake-like patty and then saute it slowly in olive oil so it gets a crust, Strong said. He does the same with leftover stuffing and don't forget to serve it "drenched in olive oil."

Strong said at Christmas, he'll always make goose.

"We obsess over goose. Christmas goose is awesome," he said.

Pro goose-cooking tip from Strong: Get it a week or 10 days before, salt it and let it sit uncovered in the refrigerator. Then roast it very low and slow, at 250 degrees for an hour and a half.

But the best part? Puncturing the bird's skin with skewers before roasting so that all of the fat renders out, he said.

"The best part, the gift of Christmas that keeps on giving is all of the goose fat that I get to use throughout the year," he said. "I cook with that goose fat constantly throughout the year."

Alternatively, he'll save half the bird, shred up the leg meat and whip it with some of the fat to make rillettes, a preparation of meat similar to pâté.

Jarad Gallagher, Chez TJ, Mountain View

Chez TJ Executive Chef Jarad Gallagher does his own version of Thanksgiving ribollita. Take your leftover turkey and separate the dark from white meat. Take all of the skin, drippings from the pan and even extra bones to make a stock, then add leftover potatoes and bread. The result is a soup that can be enjoyed the day or even weeks after if you freeze portions of it.

He also offered some advice: "When I design the meals themselves for Thanksgiving, I'm always deciding with the plan to do something specific with leftovers," he said. "I plan from the beginning."

Kelsey Casavan, LB Steak, Menlo Park

Kelsey Casavan, who has risen up the ranks in the Left Bank restaurant group, from hostess to the cold line and now head chef at LB Steak in Menlo Park, has brunch on the mind when it comes to leftovers, although she said her family is among the many who eats turkey sandwiches for "probably longer than is recommended."

She makes turkey hash patties by combining pulled turkey, mashed potatoes, chopped herbs such as sage or parsley, a beaten egg, salt and pepper and a small amount of whole grain mustard. Make small patties and fry them. Then top with poached eggs and leftover gravy.

In her words: "Soooooo good."

Bradley Ogden, Bradley's Fine Diner, Menlo Park

Renowned Bay Area chef Bradley Ogden, who just this month opened a Bradley's Fine Diner outpost in Menlo Park, can't wait for leftovers.

His Thanksgiving standby is an open-face turkey sandwich, drenched in leftover gravy and cranberry sauce.

"That's a classic combination," he said.

But if you're feeling more creatively inclined, turn your leftovers into holiday brunch by using turkey, stuffing and gravy to make a turkey hash.

Other turkey ideas from Ogden? Turkey chili, turkey tacos, cream of turkey soup and turkey pot pie. Leftover pumpkin and bread can become pumpkin bread pudding.

Dmitry Elperin,The Village Pub, Woodside

If you need a recipe for that turkey pot pie idea, here's one from a Michelin-starred chef.

Dmitry Elperin of the Village Pub in Woodside said he starts by making a simple crust using three ingredients: all-purpose flour, butter and ice water.

"When cooked, the crust is golden brown, light and flaky," he said. "For the filling, I cook together tender bite-size pieces of turkey meat, glazed root vegetables, gravy, roasted potatoes, butter, chicken stock, parsley and sage."

Another idea: mashed potato, turkey and stuffing pancakes. Mix together bite-size pieces of turkey meat, mashed potatoes and stuffing.

Using your hands, form the mixture into disk-like shapes, about 1 inch thick and 4 inches in diameter.

In a clean large bowl, dredge the potato disks in flour and set aside to chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

In a large cast-iron pan over medium heat, add grapeseed oil to liberally coat the bottom of the pan. Add more as needed. Pan-fry each potato pancake for about five minutes per side, or until golden brown.

Top with leftover cranberry or gravy or both and enjoy.

Anya Fernald, Belcampo Meat Co., Palo Alto

Not a soup or sandwich person? Try Palo Alto native and Belcampo CEO Anya Fernald's curried turkey salad.

"This is a great recipe to make after a lot of cooking it takes five minutes start to finish and (there's) no heat involved," she said.

Whisk together 1/3 cup of mayonnaise, 2/3 cup of whole milk yogurt (Fernald uses Straus Family Creamery yogurt, which she said blends particularly well), one tablespoon of white wine vinegar, one tablespoon of curry powder and one teaspoon of salt.

To lighten it up, you can decrease the amount of mayo and proportionally increase the whole milk yogurt, Fernald said.

Finish it off by adding three cups of chopped leftover turkey (Fernald does half-inch cubes of both dark and white meat) and three stalks of celery (split lengthwise and chopped very finely).

"This salad gets better after a day in the fridge, so it's a great option for sandwiches the weekend after Thanksgiving," Fernald said. "Letting the meat sit in this dressing for a day is a great way to keep your leftover bird really moist and avoid the super-dry day two sandwich."

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