Skip to main contentSkip to main content
You have permission to edit this article.

Ken Morris, Cooking for Comfort: After the feast: What to do with Thanksgiving leftovers?

Ken Morris

Ken Morris

If you write a story about hosting a big Thanksgiving, as I did two weeks ago, I believe you are contractually obligated to follow up this week with a story about Thanksgiving leftover ideas.

One of the best things about Thanksgiving is enjoying the leftovers in different forms for days afterward. As you can see below, I save the entire carcass of my big bird and first make a broth from the bones and then make a turkey bone gumbo from an Emeril Lagasse cookbook. It’s the only thing that makes me look forward to winter coming.

There seem to be thousands of recipes for Thanksgiving leftovers, just do a quick search on the Internet and you’ll be overwhelmed, but here are just a few suggestions.

Turkey Broth

Adapted from “Louisiana Real & Rustic” by Emeril Lagasse and Marcelle Bienvenu

Makes 2 quarts

You can use this for most recipes calling for chicken stock but the idea destination is Turkey Bone Gumbo. You can taste the difference between chicken and turkey broth but that’s not a bad thing.

1 turkey carcass (I use poultry shears or you can use a cleaver to break up the carcass so it fits snugly in the stockpot and helps the bones release collagen for that rich mouth fee.l)

3 ribs celery, cut into 4-inch pieces

2 medium onions, quartered (you can leave the skins on. Everything will get strained out after cooking)

4 quarts water, or enough to cover the carcass

2 tsp. salt

1 Tbsp. whole black peppercorns

4 bay leaves

Place the carcass in a large stockpot. Add the celery, onions, water, salt, peppercorns, and bay leaves.

Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium/low, and simmer with slow but constant bubbles on the surface, uncovered, for 2 hours. Remove from the heat. Skim any fat that has risen to the surface.

Strain through a large fine-mesh sieve. Reserve any meat that has fallen off the bones and pick off any meat that may still remain on the carcass.

Reserve the onions and celery for gumbo. Use right away or store the broth in quart containers in the freezer.

Turkey Bone Gumbo

Adapted from “Louisiana Real & Rustic” by Emeril Lagasse and Marcelle Bienvenu

Serves 8

¾ cup vegetable oil

1 cup flour

2 cups chopped onions

½ cup chopped bell peppers

½ cup chopped celery

1 Tbsp. minced garlic

1 ½ tsp. salt

½ tsp. cayenne

½ pound smoked sausage, (andouille is standard, or try kielbasa) chopped

1 tsp. dried thyme

1 tsp. dried oregano

2 quarts turkey broth (which you made earlier)

Reserved turkey meat and vegetables from making turkey broth. I usually add a bit more of the turkey meat, if any is still in the refrigerator

2 Tbsp. chopped Italian parsley

2 Tbsp. chopped green onions

Cooked long-grain white rice, for serving

Combine the oil and flour in a large cast-iron pot or enameled cast-iron Dutch oven, over medium heat. Stirring slowly and constantly for 20 to 25 minutes, make a dark brown roux, the color of chocolate.

Season the onions, bell peppers, celery and garlic with salt and cayenne. Add this to the roux and stir until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the sausage, the dried thyme and oregano, and cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes. Add the broth and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, for 45 minutes. Add the reserved turkey meat and the reserved onions and celery and cook for 15 minutes. Taste, adjust the seasoning if necessary, and add the parsley and green onions.

Serve in soup bowls over hot rice, or it’s a good poured over the leftover dressing. Filé powder (which acts as a thickener) can also be added at the table according to personal taste.

The Remains of the Day Sweet Potato Soup

Serves 4

Some Thanksgivings we offer baked sweet potatoes, topped with a pat of butter, cinnamon and nutmeg, in addition to the required mashed potatoes. Seems great to my wife and I, but most guests go for the mashed potatoes. That’s fine with us, since we can always warm the sweet potatoes up the next day or transform them into soup. Yes, I stole the name from the book and movie (1993 Merchant-Ivory production starring Anthony Hopkins), which allows me to add anything else leftover at the end of a Thanksgiving dinner that might improve the soup.

1 onion, chopped

3 chopped garlic cloves

1 2-inch piece fresh ginger, minced

1 tsp. ground fresh cumin

1 14.5-oz. can diced tomatoes

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

Kosher salt

¹³ cup leftover dressing (sure, you can add more, if you like)

3 cups leftover cooked sweet potatoes (this is a guess, since I just use what’s left over from Thanksgiving) roughly cut up or left mashed if you went that direction.

4 cups turkey stock (see the Turkey Broth recipe above)

¹³ c. fresh cilantro, finely diced

Sauté the onion and garlic in a large, wide pot. Once they are soft and translucent, add ginger, cumin, tomatoes, cinnamon, 1 teaspoon salt and stir. When the tomatoes have broken down somewhat, add the leftover dressing (which thickens the soup and adds a hint of spices that you just can’t put your finger on) and sweet potatoes, stir again and then add the turkey stock. Cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Using an immersion blender, or transferring the mixture to a blender in stages, blend until smooth, 2 to 3 minutes. Taste and season with salt, if needed. Serve with a dash of diced cilantro on top.

Thanksgiving Leftover Casserole

Serves eight

The casserole was king when I was growing up in northern Indiana. Beef Noodle, Meatball, Ground Beef, Chicken Tamale (when we had no idea what a tamale was), Lasagna, Green Bean…just about any food group would be baked in a casserole dish. The casserole is also known as a covered dish (even if you broke the glass top, you just cover it with aluminum foil) and was comfort food long before the term was invented. It fed us at school functions, Boy Scout awards night, church dinners, after-funeral receptions, welcomed new neighbors… just about any gathering.

2 tablespoons butter

2 cups of leftover vegetables, such as green beans or mushrooms

2 cups of leftover dressing

2 cups leftover turkey

2 cups leftover mashed potatoes

2 eggs

1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Optional: 1 can of cream of mushroom soup (I don’t use it but I think every mom where I grew up used it as the sauce to bring together the casserole. If you have some leftover gravy, use that to add some moisture and flavor.)

Preheat the oven to 350° F.

Butter the inside of a casserole dish (which I always think of as 9x13-inch but you can use smaller), and spread the stuffing over the bottom. Mix the turkey and vegetables together and spread evenly on top of the stuffing. If using, add the can of cream of mushroom soup or cup of reserved gravy and spread on top of the meat and vegetable mixture. In a medium bowl, mix together the mashed potatoes and the eggs until thoroughly combined. Spread this on top of the turkey and vegetable mixture. Top with the shredded cheese.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes until the cheese has melted and starting to brown. Let stand 5 to 10 minutes before serving.



Ken Morris has been cooking for comfort for more than 30 years and learning in kitchens from Alaska to Thailand to Italy. He now cooks and writes from his kitchen in Napa. Email

Be the first to know

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Related to this story