Repurposing leftovers from the holiday meal that keeps on giving…
I love celebrating Thanksgiving for many reasons:
Savoring a wonderful meal in thanks to the harvest: Check!
Spending a relaxing day off in the company of people I love: Check!
But one of my favorite things about Thanksgiving is that it usually comes with tons of leftovers. In fact, I might be one of the only people in the world who prefers Thanksgiving leftovers to the initial meal itself.
Leftovers mean I can have pie for breakfast, should I be so inclined. Leftovers mean less cooking down the road, lest I feel extra lazy or have an extra-busy day. And leftovers mean less mental outlay, even when repurposing ingredients, since part of the work is already done.
Although I love all the flavors of Thanksgiving, I’ll admit, after a couple of days, I get bored. This is where the most mental expenditure comes into play—transforming leftovers into something completely unique to the first meal, piquing renewed interest, and stretching the Thanksgiving meal just a little bit further.
Turkey soup is a natural for using a slew of leftover meat. Not only is it easy, but soups are a great way to use the small bits of meat still clinging to the bone, and a hearty soup or stew is always welcome during the colder months. I do love an old-fashioned, homestyle soup with onions, celery, carrots, and mild herbs, but those flavors can seem too similar to the Thanksgiving meal, so I prefer to save that type for another time.
To keep things fresh and exciting when repurposing food from Thanksgiving, I like to prepare dishes that are a bit more exotic: bold spices, ethnic flavors, herbs I didn’t use in the Thanksgiving meal, and the like. Which brings us to this chowder, the inspiration which came from fond childhood memories.
I grew up on a little island in Canada. Life in a water-locked tourist destination was different from a lot of the “outside” world. Funky and artsy, low-key and slow-paced, with a lot of focus on the land, self-sufficiency, and tight-knit communities. But aside from the expected serenity, island living also comes with its fair share of everyday details that most mainland folk could never fathom.
One of the biggest: ferries.
We relied on the ferry system—essentially an extension of the highway structure—for practically every aspect of our lives. We didn’t venture to the mainland often, so for me, the ferry ride to Vancouver was one of the most exciting parts of any getaway. As an impressionable, sheltered child, this massive ferry was like a cruise ship full of excitement. It had a gift shop! It had an arcade! It had a cafeteria!
And it had this tomato-based clam chowder, which I absolutely LOVED.
I will admit, the ferry was not exactly known for its excellent food. They used powdered eggs, and I’m pretty sure most dishes began frozen or in a can, including this soup.
But it was special to me, because no other restaurants nearby served this much lesser-known tomato-based chowder, and when I did see it somewhere, it never tasted quite as good. But, since our trips to the mainland happened only once or twice a year, the annual tradition of “Ferry Clam Chowder,” as I called it, was truly special. It wasn’t that the soup was so great (trying it again, many decades later, confirmed that for me). It was the role it played in the infrequent event.
Perhaps this history is why I much prefer a Manhattan-style chowder to a creamy New England. I find it lighter and more flavorful, and more suitable for any season.
Last year, I decided to try to recreate it using leftover Thanksgiving turkey. I began experimenting and came up with this homemade version, with all the rustic flavors from my childhood favorite—with a few tweaks, of course.
I used leftover turkey gravy as part of the base, for more flavor and to make the most of my leftovers; but any poultry broth will suffice. Those of you who have been reading my blog for some time know I’m always flexible with ingredients, especially in something like soup. However, my time in culinary school made me a bit of a purist; according to my favorite instructor, “If a chowder doesn’t contain potatoes, it’s just soup!”
I used a dash of umami-rich fish sauce in the broth, for depth of flavor, but also as an homage to the original. (Don’t worry, it doesn’t make the chowder taste fishy.) Last, I added corn as a tribute to my other childhood favorite, corn chowder.
The results were pretty spectacular; an excellent way to transform leftovers into something completely different.
Turkey-Corn Chowder – Manhattan Style
Makes 6-8 big bowls
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 40-45 minutes
2 strips bacon, diced
1 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 small green pepper, diced
3 Yukon gold or red potatoes, diced
2 teaspoons dried thyme
½ teaspoon oregano
¼ teaspoon dill
1 large pinch crushed red pepper flakes
1 bay leaf
1-28 oz. can diced tomatoes
4 cups leftover turkey gravy, poultry stock, or a combination
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 cup corn kernels
About 2–3 cups shredded leftover turkey
1 small handful parsley, chopped
Salt and pepper, to taste
- Dice bacon and cook in a large heavy soup pot until crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Retain fat in pot.
- In reserved fat, sauté onion, garlic, and celery for about 5 minutes. Add potatoes, green pepper, and herbs. Season well with salt and pepper, and sauté everything for a couple more minutes.
- Add tomatoes, gravy or broth, and fish sauce to pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Add turkey and corn. Simmer until all vegetables are tender, about 25 minutes. Add parsley.
- Taste and adjust salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper to your liking.
Image from Briana Goodall.