The morning following Thanksgiving is a bleary, cotton-mouthed, dead-eyed time—a time for questions, a time of Reckoning. "Oh, Jesus, how much did I drink yesterday?" and, "Am I going to die?" and, "Why do I keep doing this to myself?" and, "Am I in Fort Worth? How did I come to be in Fort Worth?" These are all very important questions, foremost among which surely is, "What the fuck do I do with all these Thanksgiving leftovers?"
The challenge presented by your leftovers is a pretty nice one to have to face down, really: However you approach it, you're working with Thanksgiving leftovers, which means the end result is going to be delicious. (I feel it sadly necessary to note that the accuracy of the preceding sentence will decline precipitously at some point in mid-January.) The question, really, is how to maximize their deliciousness, so as to feel, when the last crumb of stuffing has been savored, the last French fried onion nibbled tearfully in the dark, the final scrap of white-meat turkey furtively stashed in the dog's breakfast, that every iota of pleasure has been wrung out of our great annual vacation from dietary restraint and dignity.
There are three worthy options here; if you have enough leftovers to accomplish it, I suggest deploying all three of them. If you do not have enough leftovers to give all three of these a whirl, I suggest befriending someone who did not fail at the primary task of Thanksgiving, and then when that person goes off shopping for some Black Friday bargains, swapping homes with him.
The Thanksgiving Sandwich
Let's clear up one thing right away: Whatever you might be thinking, I am not referring to eating a piece of bread on Wednesday night and then another piece of bread on Friday morning and then thinking you have done something clever. I am talking about making a sandwich out of the component parts of your Thanksgiving feast.
But which component parts, exactly? There's some disagreement here. Some people like to pile a portion of each of the various delicious Thanksgiving victuals between two pieces of bread, in what invariably turns into a saggy, dissolving, unmanageable wreck, renouncing any rightful claim to the "sandwich" title within moments of its birth. Other folks prefer to stick to the holiday's saner-seeming sandwich fillings like sliced turkey and cranberry relish and salad, think there's something weird and redundant and brazenly gluttonous about putting stuffing (which is essentially pre-chewed bread) between two slices of bread, and are vampires. There is only one way to make a Thanksgiving sandwich.
To begin with, lay out two slices of bread on a plate or countertop. Don't worry about the Thanksgivinginess of the bread—it doesn't have to be pumpkin bread or cornbread or leftover dinner rolls or a bisected Pilgrim or whatever. If you want to use one of those things, there's no reason not to, but if you want to use two plain slices of sandwich bread, that's OK too. Somehow, the idea of using a hoagie roll is really strange and disturbing, though, so don't do that.
Next, pile Thanksgiving leftovers onto one of the bread slices. And, yes, you are required to use at least a little bit of pretty much every damn foodstuff salvaged from your Thanksgiving feast: turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, yams, casseroles, cranberry preparations, salad, all of it, all of it drowned gloriously in a great brown deluge of leftover gravy, poured from above your head so that it splashes all over the place and you cackle evilly in your soiled nightshirt. The only exceptions to this requirement are the various dessert items, which can be set aside for the sole purpose of later whirring them in the blender into a horrifying and delicious Thanksgiving slurry the consumption of which you will deny to your last bitter day.
This thing is likely already a catastrophe by this point; even if by some cosmic error the slice of bread is still visible beneath the heaped toppings, it is (or damn well should be) sodden nearly to the point of dissolving with gravy and other Thanksgiving runoff. Still, you will be denying yourself a moment of sublime, strangely appetizing comedy if you decline to nonetheless pick up the other slice of bread, place it atop this preposterous mound of food, and compress the thing with your fingers as though it were remotely plausible that it could be eaten as a sandwich. Really. Your mirth and hunger will increase tenfold if you follow this step. Try it and see.
Now, you're not actually required to try to pick up this friggin' mess with your bare hands and eat it like a sandwich, not least because it may not even be possible to do so. If you want to, sure, go for it: The very least you'll get is another big laugh, but you might also score a bite of delicious Thanksgiving sandwich before it completely disintegrates and/or the universe implodes. If you're not so much into wearing mashed-potato gauntlets, go ahead and use a knife and fork. Psych! That's bullshit. Pick the goddamn thing up and eat it with your hands because it is a sandwich.
And when it disintegrates onto your plate/countertop/lap, eat the falling hunks with your hands, too.
The Mindblowing Thanksgiving Meta-Casserole
What, you ask, is a mindblowing Thanksgiving meta-casserole? Why, it's a casserole made (to no small degree) of casseroles, and friends, it is glorious. Preheat your oven to (you guessed it) 350 degrees.
While that's going on, layer your Thanksgiving leftovers into an aluminum foil-lined casserole dish or roasting pan. It's not all that important what order you choose for layering (um, because you are making a fucking casserole out of leftovers), but it's a good idea to put the gravy in a higher layer than the turkey scraps and the mashed potatoes so that it can seep down as it heats and lubricate the other two, and it's another good idea to put the likely soggy leftover stuffing on top so that you can let it cook uncovered for a few minutes toward the end of the process and get crispy and browned all over again. Other than that, go nuts. Layer 'em however you like. The only rule is that you must use every leftover that is not dessert, including the ones that weren't even served hot the first time around, like salad and canned cranberry jelly. I don't make the rules, people. I just announce them.
Now, cover the pan with aluminum foil and stick it in the oven for a half-hour or so, not worrying all that much about exactly how long it needs to be in there or what internal temperature you are gunning for because, again, casserole made out of fucking leftovers. After the half-hour, open the oven, remove the aluminum foil, close the oven again, and cook it for another 15 minutes or so to crisp up the stuffing.
It's done. Haul it out of there, make a face at it like you just found out it got suspended from school for pooping in its locker, shake your head sadly, and then scoop out portions with a spatula and serve them with lots and lots of beer. It's actually quite delicious, if a bit sad and asinine.
Got any leftovers leftover? Great! You should still be able to ...
How About Just Eating a Plate of Thanksgiving Food, Dumbass?
For fuck's sake.
This column ran originally on November 23, 2012.
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Albert Burneko is an eating enthusiast and father of two. His writing appeared in Best Food Writing 2014 by DaCapo Press. Peevishly correct his foolishness on Twitter @albertburneko, or send him your creepy longform hate-missives at firstname.lastname@example.org. Image by Sam Woolley.