Not to be a harpy, but wasting food is just about the shittiest thing you can do. Sure, we all save leftovers, but admit it: you put leftovers in the refrigerator and then leave them there until they're so gray and bearded that they show up at Lord of the Rings cosplay conventions. Maybe you'd like to stop trashing so much food. Maybe you'd like to class things up a little for once. Friend, we've got you covered.
Check it out: history has fancy names for a lot of plebian fare, because those resourceful Victorians knew how to use up some leftovers! Why eat Turkey Casserole Clumps when we can have savory dolpettes in rich gravy? Skip the Sweet Potato Library Spackle and have croquettes with a Parmesan Béchamel! Granted, old cookbooks also highlight inventive ways to use calves' heads (dainty brain cakes, anyone?), but mostly they're full of helpful hints and hilariously dated writing. Here are 10 old-timey ways to jazz up your fug-ass Thanksgiving leftovers into decent dishes.
1) Coquilles. Not just a tribe of Pacific Northwest Native Americans! Thinly slice leftover turkey (white meat is good for this) and place it in little individual dishes or on ovenproof saucers. Mix wine, gravy and melted butter and pour over enough to moisten the turkey, then sprinkle about ¼" of bread crumbs over the top and bake until golden. [Note: According to some cookbooks, this is also an acceptable use for leftover veal brains.]
2) Dolpettes of Cold Meat. These are like little, fancy hash balls. Shred some leftover dark meat, add bread crumbs or crushed crackers (I like panko for this purpose), an egg yolk and a pinch of salt and pepper. Mix in a little grated cheese if you like. Form into little balls then roll them in bread crumbs and fry until golden brown. Serve in warm brown gravy. "Healthful, cheap, easily digested," as the saying goes.
3) Sweet Potato Croquettes. Mix mashed leftover sweet potatoes with an egg white and a bit of breadcrumbs or stuffing and form into little patties. Dip in breadcrumbs and fry until golden brown. This is nice with a Béchamel or warm cranberry sauce. Protip: pretty much anything you have leftover can be mashed into a patty, dipped in breadcrumbs, fried and called a croquette. These would make a "delightful and economical" breakfast.
4) Beignets. You might be getting the point about why Victorian cooking is so great: they may have fried even more shit than the Scots. Mix flour and beer to make a pretty thick batter, add salt and pepper to taste, and a pinch of cayenne. Cube leftover meat into 1" pieces, dip in the batter and fry until golden. This also works for cubes of sweet potato. "No dyspepsia about these!" as they say back east.
5) Rissoles. AKA hand pies. Shred turkey, mix it with mashed potatoes and a little gravy to glue it all together. (This is also a handy way to disappear some of that leftover green bean casserole — just diced it finely and mix it in.) Put spoonfuls of the mix onto little rounds of pie dough or puff pastry, fold over and pinch shut. Bake in a moderate oven until browned, or fry them in a little butter like an empanada if you're so inclined.
6) Noodle Soup. I sure as hell hope you simmer the turkey carcass into a dozen quarts of stock the next day, because tossing it to the cats is a fool's game, son. But instead of making that same tired-ass turkey noodle soup, make turkey pho by adding a knob of ginger and a shallot (char these first right on the burner then smash them with the blade of your knife), star anise, and clove to your turkey stock, season with a few squirts of fish sauce and a fat pinch of sugar per each serving, and dish it up with par-cooked rice noodles and shredded turkey. Toss in handfuls of bean sprouts, Thai basil and cilantro. Squirt in fresh lime juice, add a blob of chili paste. Go nuts.
6a) Or make ramen instead: Simmer your strained turkey stock with kombu and bonito flakes, and season with mirin, soy sauce, and a little sake. Serve with noodles, a wad of turkey, a sheet of nori, pickled ginger, soft-boiled (or poached) egg. Get crazy and fry up some turkey-skin cracklin'! Dip some green bean casserole into that beignet batter, fry it tempura-like and put that on top for a "wholesome and appetizing" entrée!
7) Golden Buck. This is like a really old version of a Kentucky hot brown. No, that is not a sex move. It's a hot, open-faced turkey sandwich with cheese sauce and bacon on top. A golden buck is the same as a Welsh rarebit, but with the addition of a runny fried egg.
8) Bánh Mì.* A solid upgrade to the old standby sandwich. Great use for those soft dinner rolls, too—make little sliders! Dress shredded turkey in a mix of lime juice, fish sauce, and sugar, then smear the rolls with Sriracha mayo. Top with pickled, shredded daikon and carrot (do chua; buy it at Asian groceries or make your own, or sigh, you can just use dill or sweet pickles if that's all you have), and add a little cilantro and julienned jalapeño. For an even better version, make dolpettes specifically for the purpose—just add minced cilantro and a sprinkle of the fish sauce/lime juice/sugar to the meat mix. Make it Korean by subbing gochujang for Sriracha, kimchi for do chua, etc.
9) Dumplings. Mix leftover stuffing with an egg and enough flour to make a dough about the consistency of biscuit dough (roughly 3 tablespoons of flour per cup of stuffing), form into balls and simmer them gently in a pot of broth thickened with leftover gravy. Serve in a big bowl with fat shreds of turkey. Tad's Chicken 'n Dumplins has nothing on your leftovers!
10) Turkey Tetrazzini. This dish, which is named after an Italian opera singer, isn't that old (it only dates back to around 1910), but the chicken version may be the basis of all of the casseroles that Americans grew up eating; it is the Holy Grail of casseroles. It bears the hotdish canon: meat, vegetable, noodle, cream of mushroom soup, and cheesy and/or crispy topping, but you could make your own mushroom Béchamel sauce if you're so inclined, and the vegetables needn't deviate from diced celery, onions and peas. Serving the dish over mashed potatoes instead of with noodles yields one of my favorite childhood school lunches, turkey à la king. Whether or not your childhood casserole memories are fond, a 1915 issue of Good Housekeeping promises it to be "a good and easy entrée," and after a marathon of cooking on game day, "good and easy" are enough.
*"What?!” I hear you clamoring. “Those delectable Vietnamese sandwiches are a new trend!” Wrong-o! When the French colonized Vietnam from 1887 to 1940, they taught Vietnamese chefs their culinary techniques, including the art of baguette, beef Bourguignon, and pâté.
Alvin Wood Chase, Dr. Chase's Third, Last and Complete Receipt Book and Household Physician, or, Practical Knowledge for the People: from the Life-Long Observations of the Author, Embracing the Choicest, Most Valuable and Entirely New Receipts in Every Department of Medicine, Mechanics, and Household Economy; Including a Treatise on the Diseases of Women and Children, in Fact, the Book for the Million, with Remarks and Explanations Which Adapt it to the Every Day Wants of the People, Arranged in Departments and Most Copiously Indexed (Detroit: F. B. Dickerson & Co., 1888)
Maude C. Cooke, Breakfast, Dinner and Supper, Or What to Eat and How to Prepare it: Containing All the Latest Approved Recipes ... Including Hygienic and Scientific Cooking, Rules for Dinner Giving; Use of the Chafing Dish, Menu Cards for All Special Occasions, Cooking for Invalids; Valuable Hints for Economical Housekeeping, Etc., (Philadelphia: J.H. Moore, 1897)
Fanny Lemira Gillette, White House Cook Book: A Selection of Choice Recipes, Original and Selected, During a Period of Forty Years' Practical Housekeeping (Chicago: L.P. Miller, 1889)
Mary Johnson Bailey Lincoln, Mrs. Lincoln's Boston Cook Book: What to Do and what Not to Do in Cooking (Boston: Roberts Bros., 1891)