Thanksgiving Leftovers Sandwich Recipe
We’re back early with our November recipe because we wanted y’all to have this at your fingertips next week. Most holiday traditions are well-worn paths these days: the Thanksgiving feast is familiar territory, and the internet is chock full of recipes for turkey, stuffing, gravy, and cranberry sauce. But there are other holiday traditions less celebrated, but no less popular. We present to you the underdog of holiday dining, the Thanksgiving leftovers sandwich.
History & Cultural Importance
We’re not going to bore you with the story you’ve heard so many times before. The story of the Pilgrims and the Indians, the history and cultural significance of Thanksgiving. Today we’re talking about the cultural significance of Thanksgiving leftovers. Oh yeah! In the estimation of many (including us), leftovers are the best part of the meal, and the tastiest way to experience the wide variety of leftovers cramming the fridge after Thanksgiving is via a sandwich. It should be no surprise that we enjoy almost everything even more when it’s shoved between two slices of bread.
Thanksgiving weekend is the only time of year when a significant number of Americans get four straight days off. Since Thanksgiving is a static holiday (in terms of where it falls on the calendar), most “weekday” jobs have taken to giving people four day weekends. The predictability and regularity of this scheduled tradition has allowed a variety of unique traditions to take hold. These traditions range from Black Friday (the official start of the holiday shopping season) and nearly four straight days of football on TV. But the Thanksgiving day feast isn’t the only culinary tradition of the holiday: the bountiful leftovers are often used to craft giant, unconventional, imaginative sandwiches for the duration of the weekend.
Thanksgiving leftovers are valued because they represent ease and convenience. Most people have just spent one to four days cooking a meal large enough to feed a small army. The last thing anyone wants to do for the rest of the weekend is cook. Not only is fridge space limited, but the willingness to light another burner or scrub another pot is severely limited. This is the principal value of leftovers: reaping the rewards of past effort. Like gumbo, Thanksgiving leftovers just seem to taste better the second time around. It’s because the flavors have had time to meld, but it’s also because you can taste the satisfaction of a job well done in every bite.
The Thanksgiving holiday weekend has come to represent relaxation and time off. A boatload of leftovers plays well into that notion. With so much football to watch and family to visit with, who wants to do much else? Not us! We, like many other Americans, appreciate the gift that keeps on giving: Thanksgiving leftovers. Even when we dine at someone else’s home, we’re always taking home as many leftovers as we’re offered. Less time in the kitchen means more time doing things outdoors or catching up on our sports. Leftovers make life easy and more fun, and are every bit as delicious as the first time around
Ingredients, Procurement, and Preparation
Let’s start by saying that there’s no set recipe for a Thanksgiving leftovers sandwich. The sky’s the limit, or rather, what you have leftover is the limit (either way!). Be as creative as you want. We’ve constructed a basic, delicious sandwich based on common Thanksgiving ingredients, but we encourage you to be creative and do whatever your hungry little heart desires. Another caveat: since this sandwich is meant to be created with leftovers, we’re not focusing on the creation of each individual component, so we’ve taken some shortcuts and purchased things that you might otherwise make yourself. The spirit of this post, and the spirit of this sandwich, is the leftovers part, not necessarily the process of making each individual component. In the paragraphs that follow, we talk a bit about each ingredient, where we got it, and why we chose it for our version of the Thanksgiving leftovers sandwich.
First, the bread. We used ciabatta bread that we obtained from Gracious Bakery here in New Orleans. They make wonderful single, sandwich-sized ciabatta loaves that they sell for $1.50 each. They’re perfect for this sandwich. Gracious has all kinds of wonderful bread and pastries so we knew we had to include them in this post. But why ciabatta bread? Two critical reasons, both structural. For one, ciabatta is a sturdier bread than normal sliced bread. This has to do with how the loaves are baked: wide and flat as opposed to long and tall. This means that when you bite into a loaf of ciabatta, you’re biting into the crust instead of the “middle” of the bread like you do with sliced bread. Since the crust is more sturdy than the soft middle, your sandwich is more likely not to fall apart from all of the deliciousness contained inside. (You’re going to notice that structural integrity is an ongoing theme with ingredients).
The other reason we like ciabatta is because the bread developes voids inside the loaf, and these voids are perfect for absorbing things like cranberry sauce and gravy. Thus the liquid ingredients are absorbed into the sandwich, like you see below, instead of pushed out of the sides. These are important considerations for your Thanksgiving leftovers sandwich.
The first layer applied to the bread is the stuffing. This allows for any stuffing liquid to be soaked right into the bread. It also provides a sticky base for the turkey, which comes next (surprise!). We purchased our stuffing from Langenstein’s supermarket here in New Orleans. Well, actually we used the location on Metairie Road in Jefferson Parish, but that’s splitting hairs. We wanted to source the stuffing and our cranberry sauce from a local grocery, and since we haven’t featured Langenstein’s in a post before, we chose them. They offer a fantastic catering menu with several tasty dressing options. We selected shrimp stuffed mirliton dressing because, well, we love shrimp stuffed mirliton dressing! To us, that’s the tastiest stuffing out there. Plus, it gave us shrimp for our sandwich too, which is very Louisiana!
Next layer: the turkey! We actually specially roasted a 10 pound turkey for this sandwich, which we purchased at our local Whole Foods. (We wanted a growth hormone-free turkey, and this was the only place we could find one that fit into our budget). We used very little of that 10 pound turkey on our sandwich, but that’s totally normal. You really only need two to four ounces of turkey meat per sandwich. We recommend using the breast if you can, because breast meat separates into long, easily stacked strands, as you see below. This adds further structural integrity to your sandwich. However, when it comes to leftovers, you have to take what you can get so feel free to use any turkey you can – just be sure there are no bones or cartilage in the meat. That’s not fun.
Now the gravy. Since we roasted our own turkey, we made our own turkey gravy with the pan drippings, turkey fat, flour, and some extra stock. It was super easy, supremely tasty, and well-worth the minimal effort we expended to make it. We used a recipe from The Kitchn that was straightforward and quite useful in terms of understanding what making gravy entailed. We love their site with itspractical, in-depth information. We even used their “how to cook a turkey” recipe to roast our turkey. We’re never in charge at Thanksgiving (thankfully!) so we don’t ever cook turkey or gravy. It was nice to have a practical, accurate recipe to guide us through the process.
The cranberry sauce is the final ingredient, and it’s spread on the top half of the bread, as you see below. We also purchased this from Langenstein’s, and it was delicious (plus we got a pound of it for $5.00!). It was bitter, like a good cranberry sauce should be, but with a touch of sweetness. Don’t be tempted to skip this ingredient on your sandwich. Nobody ever eats all the cranberry sauce anyway. The slightly sweet tangy sauce compliments the other more savory flavors of the sandwich quite well. We used about a quarter cup of it on each of our sandwiches.
Thanksgiving is about more than just a few hours gathered around the table eating. It is about family, friends, football, relaxing, and feeling at home. It is also a whole lot of work. Once the big meal is done and every dish in the house has been washed, the leftovers are packaged into the refrigerator. Still, a few football games later, the crowd is hungry again and nobody, from grandma down to the baby, has any intention of cooking anytime soon. But the leftovers are there, waiting, right where you left them. Gathering together the turkey, the stuffing, the gravy, the cranberry sauce and who knows what else that found its way on to the holiday table, the hungry chef has an opportunity to be creative, to mix all the varied dishes of Thanksgiving tradition together yet again, between bread, the time honored improvisation: a Thanksgiving leftovers sandwich.
Thanksgiving Leftovers Sandwich
Use our recipe here as is or use it as a guide to create your own unique sandwich. You're only limited by your creativity and what you have on hand!
- 1 ciabatta roll
- 1/4 cup leftover dressing
- 2 to 4 ounces leftover turkey breast
- 2 to 3 tablespoons turkey gravy
- 1/8 cup to 1/4 cup cranberry sauce
- Optional: Mayonnaise, spicy brown mustard
- Cut the ciabatta roll in half horizontally.
- If you're using mayo and/or mustard, add them to the bottom layer of bread first.
- Scoop the dressing onto the bottom bread and spread into an even layer.
- Pile on as much turkey as you'd like.
- Top that with gravy.
- Spread the cranberry sauce on the top half of the bread.
- Combine the two halves and devour.
Please note: this includes no cooking time because it assumes you're using leftovers from Thanksgiving!