Give Your Thanksgiving Leftovers a Makeover

3 clever ideas for transforming the remains of the feast
November 24, 2020 Updated: November 24, 2020

Once the Thanksgiving turkey and all the accouterments have been devoured, and everyone is enjoying their postprandial nap, please rush into the kitchen and save all the leftovers.

Did you know that there are tons of dishes that have to be made with leftovers? Bread and butter pudding needs day-old bread. Shepherd’s pie is made using already-cooked lamb, arancini are made with yesterday’s saffron risotto, and bone broth is simmered from otherwise discarded bones and vegetable scraps. Even chicken pot pie has to be made with precooked meat.

Using leftovers sounds like, well … using leftovers, so I suggest we call this act of transforming what we didn’t eat yesterday into a new, delicious meal something that sounds much better: a makeover.

This collection is just to give you an idea of meal makeovers we can give the leftovers from a traditional Thanksgiving meal: roast turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and cranberry sauce.

A Turkey Take on a Classic

Use extra roast turkey meat to make chili, soups, pastas, and casseroles—such as tetrazzini, a cheesy pasta bake that combines the best of both worlds.

I love using it to make turkey hash, inspired by the chicken hash served at the classic New York speakeasy, the 21 Club. They have been serving this dish since their Prohibition-era beginnings, and it has become a classic. It is made with chunks of cooked chicken folded into a cheesy béchamel sauce, served with sautéed spinach and wild rice. I love the creaminess of the béchamel, and the flavor from the generous splash of sherry that is added to the sauce.

I swap the chicken for leftover Thanksgiving turkey and make mine in individual gratin dishes, topped with a layer of crispy breadcrumbs and garnished with a spoonful of cranberry sauce.

turkey hash with cranberry sauce
Turkey hash a la 21 Club. (Victoria de la Maza)

Re-Stuff Your Stuffing Into Flaky Pastry

Stuffing is perfect to use as the filling for stuffed bell peppers, as the base of baked eggs, or the insides of these deliciously crispy, flaky, savory turnovers. Turnovers may seem complicated and tedious, but with the help of store-bought frozen puff pastry and your leftover stuffing as a ready-made filling, they are quick, easy, and fun to make—and oh-so-pretty on the plate.

I cut the puff pastry into squares, fill them with the stuffing, fold them into triangles, and bake them until golden. The trick for perfect turnovers is to not fill them too much, so the filling doesn’t break the shell. Served with a green salad, they make a perfect quick lunch.

stuffing turnovers
Thanksgiving stuffing turnovers. (Victoria de la Maza)

An elegant alternative is making them in round vol-au-vent shells. Readily available frozen, these puff pastry shells are just a prettier presentation. I bake them in the oven, then fill them with the stuffing and pop them back in the oven until hot throughout.

The Secret to Shortcut Croquetas

You can give your mashed potatoes new life by adding herbs, bacon, cheese, and cream, and re-baking them until warm. Or, turn them into croquetas.

Spain’s quintessential tapa, croquetas are made with a thick béchamel sauce with ham or hard-boiled egg, breaded and deep-fried for golden-crisp outsides and creamy, molten insides. They usually take a bit of time to make, as the béchamel has to completely cool and set before the deep-frying step.

Inspired by them, I take leftover mashed potatoes, which are already cold, form them into balls or patties, dip them in beaten egg and bread crumbs, and then quickly shallow-fry them until they turn golden. I could eat these on their own with evening drinks, but they are also delicious as an accompaniment to grilled chicken or steak.

mashed potato croquetas plated
Mashed potato croquetas. (Victoria de la Maza)

Creating delicious new meals is such a pleasure, but making them by giving yesterday’s dinner a makeover is even more satisfying. It gives you such a feeling of cleverness and pride, a nod to frugal cooks everywhere. I hope you enjoy it, too.

RECIPE: Turkey Hash a la ‘21 Club’

Serves 2

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1 cup half-and-half
  • 1 cup grated Gruyère cheese
  • 1/2 cup dry sherry
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 2 cups diced roast turkey
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup cranberry sauce, for serving

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

In a saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter and add the flour. Using a whisk, mix well until the flour melts with the butter. Add the half-and-half and cheese and whisk gently until the sauce thickens. Add the sherry and season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Remove from the heat.

Fold in the turkey, mix well, and divide between two 6-inch round baking dishes. Sprinkle bread crumbs on top and bake in the oven until golden and bubbly, about 20 minutes. Serve garnished with cranberry sauce.

turkey hash with bread crumbs
Bread crumbs toast into a crispy topping. (Victoria de la Maza)

RECIPE: Thanksgiving Stuffing Turnovers

Makes 18 turnovers

  • 1 pound frozen puff pastry (2 sheets)
  • 1 cup leftover sausage and apple stuffing
  • 1 egg, beaten

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Follow package instructions to thaw the puff pastry at room temperature. Unfold the sheets on a lightly floured surface. Cut each sheet into 3 strips along the fold marks, and then into 3 squares each, for a total of 18 squares (9 per sheet).

Place a teaspoon of the filling on one side of each square. Brush the edges with a little water and pull the dough over the filling, creating a triangle. Using a fork, press around the edges to seal. Arrange on a greased baking tray. Repeat with the rest of the dough squares and stuffing.

filling the turnovers
Be sure to not overstuff the turnovers. (Victoria de la Maza)

Brush the tops with egg and transfer to the oven to bake until golden brown, about 15 minutes.

turnovers sealed and brushed with egg
Brush the sealed pastries with egg for a golden brown finish. (Victoria de la Maza)

RECIPE: Mashed Potato Croquetas

Makes about 24 croquetas

  • 3 cups chilled mashed potatoes
  • 2 medium eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup bread crumbs
  • Olive oil, for frying

Using a melon baller or a spoon, scoop the mashed potatoes into balls, about 2 tablespoons each, and use your hands to shape and roll them all to approximately the same size.

Beat the eggs in a shallow bowl or soup plate, and pour the bread crumbs into another. Working one at a time, dip each mashed potato ball into the egg, and then roll it in the bread crumbs, shaking off any excess.

making mashed potato croquetas
Set up your egg and bread crumb stations. (Victoria de la Maza)

In a frying pan, add enough oil to cover the bottom of the pan with a layer about 1/4-inch deep. Heat over medium heat until it just starts to smoke. Working in batches, so as to not overcrowd the pan, cook the croquetas, turning them on all sides until golden, about 3 minutes per side. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on a paper towel-lined plate. Serve hot.

mashed potato croquetas
Serve hot. (Victoria de la Maza)

Victoria de la Maza is an award-winning cookbook author, columnist, and international TV host. Passionate about great food, she combines American traditions with her European heritage to create classic-with-a-twist recipes and ideas for stylish entertaining at home.