Jane Says: Turn Your Thanksgiving Leftovers Into Delicious Meals

Have leftover turkey and stuffing? Get ready for some amazing soup.

(Photo: Marisa McClellan/Flickr)

Nov 26, 2014· 4 MIN READ
Jane Lear is a regular contributor to TakePart and the executive editor of CURED, a magazine devoted to the art and craft of food preservation. She was on staff at 'Gourmet' for almost 20 years.

“I never know what to do with Thanksgiving leftovers. Help!”
—Annie Larsson

Thanksgiving is all about abundance, and when it comes to turkey and the trimmings, no one wants to skimp—which is why admonitions to buy and cook only what you need for X amount of people on the big day generally fall on deaf ears. Besides, turning leftovers into another meal, or five, is a heck of a lot easier than cooking from scratch. Not incidentally, you’ll also have done a little bit to minimize food waste; according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, about $277 million of turkey alone was thrown out over the holiday in 2013.

Your first key to success is to deal with the bird while you’re putting away the remains of the day. So that the meat (and carcass, which is destined for the soup pot; hold that thought) will stay as fresh and moist as possible, keep the wings intact and remove most of the rest of the meat in large pieces. Leave a satisfying fringe of meat on the frame, though, and save the skin, which adds great color and flavor to soup. Then use your hands to separate the rib section from the backbone so the carcass will take up less real estate in the fridge and in the pot. Wrap up the back and ribs together with the wings, skin, and any other bones, and refrigerate until you make broth.

I know that sounds like a lot of bother, but turkey broth, blond and full-bodied, is worth its weight in gold. And although I know it’s hard to gear up the day after the holiday, if you can get the broth working on a back burner while the turkey carcass is still fresh, you will be well on your way to the best turkey soup (see below for recipe) ever.

Even if you don’t get around to making a full-fledged soup for a meal over Thanksgiving weekend, at least make the broth. You can always turn it into soup later on this winter, if you don’t use it for turkey Tetrazzini, named for the Italian soprano Luisa Tetrazzini, who loved pasta and chicken with mushrooms. Larger than life (on several different levels), she once said, "I must not diet. If I diet, my face sag."

This year, I’m taking a cue from Sara Moulton, chef and host of Saras Weeknight Meals, on PBS. In the November issue of Every Day With Rachael Ray, you’ll find her Potato and Turkey Soup. Inspired by a recipe in an old Italian cookbook, it’s one of the savviest, most delicious takes on Thanksgiving Day leftovers I’ve ever tasted. Leftover mashed potatoes give it a creamy texture, leftover stuffing is turned into Parmesan-enriched dumplings, and leftover green beans (which I might cut into smaller, more spoonable pieces) add freshness. Crumbled crisped prosciutto as a garnish brings it all home.

In the same piece—in which five chefs transform Thanksgiving leftovers—Elizabeth Falkner, author of Cooking Off the Clock and a Next Iron Chef finalist, has a recipe for Sweet Potato Waffles that may also come in handy. She plays with the chicken-and-waffles concept (ideal for brunch or Sunday night supper), but the waffles themselves stand alone with nothing more than a drizzle of pure maple syrup. Get in the habit of roasting an extra sweet potato or two during the week, and these waffles can be a staple all winter long.

As far as cranberry sauce is concerned, I happen to like swirling it into softened butter and spreading it onto everything from toast to a turkey sandwich—it’s amazing how fast it disappears. But you can also add it to muffin or banana-bread batter, or heat it until it thickens and pour it over ice cream and/or slices of pound cake.

One last thought: If you bought an assortment of herbs for your Thanksgiving dishes, you’ve likely got some left. Don’t let them decay in the vegetable crisper; instead, dry them in any one of a number of ways.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Turkey Soup

Adapted from The Gourmet Cookbook (Houghton Mifflin, 2004)

The following recipe is based on a 12- to 14-pound turkey, but simply adjust the quantities if your turkey is larger or smaller, and don’t worry—the end result will be absolutely delicious. The food editors at Gourmet probably made thousands of gallons of turkey broth in their day, but the trick of letting the carcass, wings, and other residue sit in the broth as it cools, then chilling the whole shebang overnight results in a broth that’s especially flavorful, with lots of body. Most of this recipe is devoted to making the broth: It morphs into a simple, satisfying pot of soup, and you can easily substitute leftover cooked wild rice, say, for the raw rice or noodles. You can also use it to make any number of dishes, including turkey Tetrazzini or Moulton’s Potato and Turkey Soup.


1 meaty turkey carcass
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions, sliced (2 cups)
2 large carrots, sliced (1 cup)
2 celery ribs, sliced (1½ cups)
¼ cup raw long-grain white rice or ½ cup dried noodles
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley


Break up the turkey carcass as suggested above. Chop or shred enough meat to measure 2 cups (reserve remainder for another use) and refrigerate.

Put the carcass, wings, skin, and any other bones in a large pot and add cold water to cover by 3 inches. Bring to a boil, skimming off any froth. Reduce heat and simmer gently, uncovered, 3 to 4 hours. Remove from heat and let the carcass and broth cool in the pot, uncovered. Once the contents of the pot are completely cool, cover and refrigerate at least 8 hours.

Remove and discard the solidified fat. Reheat the contents of the pot over moderate heat, about 15 minutes, and season with salt and pepper. Fish out the larger pieces of the frame and discard, then pour the broth through a colander into a large bowl; discard solids. The strained broth can be made 3 days ahead; cool, uncovered, then refrigerate covered. Or freeze up to a month or so.

Heat oil in a 3- to 4-quart heavy saucepan over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking. Add onions, carrots, and celery; cook, stirring occasionally, just until golden, about 15 minutes. Add broth, bring to a simmer, and simmer until vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes.

Stir in rice or noodles and simmer, uncovered, until rice or noodles are tender, another 15 minutes. Just before serving, stir in chopped turkey and parsley and heat through.