top of page

Those damned leftovers - especially the turkey

During the festive season, many of us lay down enough food to feed a ravenous army, and our kitchens can accumulate a huge volume of cling-filmed and be-foiled foodstuffs. But this is a thing to be celebrated - and not just because leftovers symbolise the abundance and generosity of the season." Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

The rather grim picture at left here is of the remains of our second Christmas turkey, and you can't see it here but the leg is looking especially grim, so I shall take Nigel Slater's advice and sniff it before I use it for anything. I must admit, that contrary to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall I do not see this as joyous bounty but rather as a stressful race against the clock. And I think I only have one or two days left before I really shouldn't use this for anything. It's not the challenge of doing something with it - that's almost fun - but rather using it all before it goes off that is the big problem.

Because I really don't like to waste any of it. I was brought up on the dictum "waste not, want not" and it has stuck with me, so I was appalled to discover that once the first turkey had been more or less stripped of its meat it was thrown in the bin. I bet there was still good meat on it, and besides the carcass would have made excellent stock. And today 'waste not want not' has changed to the equally valid 'war on want'. How can you throw good food away whilst others have nothing? Not that it will be donated to others - well my son took a fair bit for his beloved sandwiches but he is hardly in want. The only saving grace is that it went into the green bin and so one day will be compost for a park or somebody's garden, so good things will grow from it.

We had two turkeys of medium size because I wasn't at all sure that one very large one would do. Indeed this is my fundamental cooking problem really. I cannot bear to think that I will not have enough and so I cook too much - a problem that has become much worse since we have become a household of two. Now that was almost thirty years ago now and so you would think that I would have adjusted by now. I'm obviously either a very slow learner or mentally I can't let go of my children.

I know I have talked about the Christmas leftover problem before but it's such a dominant thing in my life at the moment that I am trying to look at it in new ways. We have already had turkey vol au vents and turkey lasagne and I have been dutifully eating turkey sandwiches for lunch ever day. So for starters this year, because there is no way that I can use it all in time, I am actually going to slice up the best bits and freeze it. They say you can. I just have to remember to use that as well. Things that go into the freezer as a good idea, tend to stay there so long that ultimately they have to be thrown out. Not a good idea.

Tonight I have promised David pasties but in the spirit of experiment, once more I turned to one of my very, very favourite cookbooks Love your leftovers by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. If you haven't got this I urge you to acquire a copy. There are lots of full-on recipes for every category of leftover, but it also has tiny things that are just wonderful. For example here are a few of those from the Christmas leftover section:

Nuts, crisps, pretzels

For leftover walnuts, almonds hazelnuts - toast them a little, blitz until fine and add to your pastry mix next time you are making pastry.

Just whiz them us and use them for everything from adding to crumble, adding to bread, cakes, muffins, biscuits, rocky road, use on top of pasta and gratins ...


Crumble and fill mushrooms, top with cheese and breadcrumbs, then butter and bake until golden

Crumble and use in frittatas and omelettes, scatter on pizza or add to pies and rissoles


Spread over the base of your next apple pie or tart

Chocolate truffles (or just chocolate) - stir into a cup of hot chocolate

Cheese and stale bread - whiz together 100g grated cheese, 35g breadcrumbs, 1 teaspoon thyme leaves, salt and pepper. Pile spoonfuls on a baking sheet with space between and cook for 8 minutes at 220ºC. Leave to firm on baking sheet for 3 mins and then lift on to wire rack to cool. You could add cayenne or nutmeg to the mix if you feel like it. Use the cheese and breadcrumb mix for a gratin or pasta topping of course. And the mix can be frozen for use any time. He calls them Crumby cheesy Crimbo wafers, but I have no idea where the Crimbo comes in.

But back to the turkey. I should preface this with the fact that elsewhere in the book there are literally dozens of things to do with leftover chicken, all of which could be done with turkey too of course. However he has four really good suggestions for turkey - two of which are a bit out of left field and worth trying and the other two, I suppose are a bit more obvious, but still worth trying.. Christmas nut satay turkey is perhaps the most unusual and you can watch a video of this one:

The other three are: Turkey and mincemeat tagine - killing two birds with one stone here; Turkey curry - not so unusual I guess with the method applicable to any kind of flavouring really; and Turkey rissoles

So much for the leftover king, but I thought I should see if there were any other ideas out there that were worth considering. And indeed there are. Jamie first - who has seven -Jamie Oliver Christmas turkey leftovers of which the best looking I thought were Leftover turkey banh mi and Toad in the hole with Christmas leftovers and dirty gravy

Delia is possibly not very original with her Turkey flan with leeks and cheese - it's just a quiche after all. And there's an indicator of how far we have come from our youth when you can say it's just a quiche. Ditto for Jamie featuring the Vietnamese banh mi as a Christmas possibility. In my youth a sandwich was just two slices of white bread with something simple like tomatoes in between. Today the possibilities of the sandwich are limitless.

And finally, when I turned to delicious. I saw that the late Valli Little - what a loss to the cooking world - had two simple but enticing recipes - Christmas leftover pâté and Turkey and harissa soup

So David - pick something from the above and it will be done.

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall being a greenie foodie does indeed love his leftovers and gives this rather English - well it is winter over there - vision of de-stressing by dealing with leftovers:

"Once the big performance of producing Christmas dinner is over, leftovers, provide us with several days pf relatively low-stress fridge-foraging. We can tuck into sandwiches, slabs of cake and wedges of cheese without a second thought, leaving us with lots of time for the important tasks of watching films and sneaking afternoon naps, undertaking family walks and games, or reading novels, cosied up in amusing festive knitwear."

He, being relatively young, and running a business in-house as it were, has, however, many more potential mouths to feed. I only have David. And that's a lot of turkey for two people. So I shall now go indoors - it's a lovely day and I am tapping away on my laptop on our shady terrace - with next door's family in festive mood playing distant throbbing music and occasionally chatting loudly - I shall go indoors, as I said and cut some of the turkey up for freezing. There's half a chicken there too - leftover from making Caesar salad the day before Christmas Eve's feast.

And let's not forget the ham - but that will keep for much longer.


Related Posts

See All


Rated 0 out of 5 stars.
No ratings yet

Add a rating
bottom of page