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Prairie Fare: Be Thankful for Leftover Turkey

Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Food and Nutrition Specialist Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Food and Nutrition Specialist
Be creative with leftover turkey.

By Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist

NDSU Extension Service

The first time I made Thanksgiving dinner many years ago, I was a little nervous.

Unfortunately, despite my planning, the day did not pan out the way I had hoped.

I thawed the turkey in the refrigerator. At 16 pounds, my turkey required about four days of refrigerator thawing. The turkey had a couple of frozen spots, so I finished the thawing under cold water. So far, so good, I thought to myself.

The day before Thanksgiving, I prepared several side-dish items and refrigerated them. I wrote a timetable so everything would be ready simultaneously. I set the table, too. I felt like a conductor orchestrating this event.

On Thanksgiving morning, I hoisted my turkey out of the refrigerator and put it in the waiting baking pan. Unfortunately, the star of my dinner was too large for the pan. I had no other options, so I pushed the bird in the pan and placed it in a 325-degree oven.

The poor bird was hugging its chest with its wings. I’ll just bake it longer, I thought to myself.

After about four hours, my home was filled with the aroma of roasted turkey, the potatoes were mashed, the green bean casserole was piping hot and all the other goodies were ready. Everyone was waiting.

My bird looked glorious with its golden brown skin. See, I thought to myself, I didn’t need a larger pan.

Then I lifted my turkey onto the serving platter. Its wings were no longer clutching its chest, and its sides were no longer in cramped quarters.

I think I clutched my chest in panic when I noticed the pinkish flesh along the sides. I poked it with a meat thermometer. Let’s just say the juices did not run clear.

I measured the temperature. At 120 degrees in the anemic areas, it was far below the current 165-degree U.S. Department of Agriculture internal temperature recommendation for poultry. At the time, 180 degrees was the minimum internal temperature recommendation.

“Can’t you microwave it?” a family member suggested.

“How big do you think my microwave is?” I replied.

I dragged the undercooked bird onto a cookie sheet, losing much of the juice along the way. Lying on its back, with its wings askew and pale skin, my turkey appeared as though it was heading into a tanning parlor.

My hungry guests waited by the oven.

We eventually had turkey that day, but it was pretty dry and had crunchy wings. I made extra gravy and reheated all the food. No one complained. My family is a wise bunch.

However, to this day when Thanksgiving rolls around, I have been asked, “Do you have a big enough pan?”

As I recall, we had many leftovers. Along with the Thanksgiving Day feast, most people enjoy leftover turkey and trimmings. Americans each eat about 17 pounds of turkey a year.

Turkey is an excellent source of protein. The color of the meat gives us a clue to its nutritional content. Dark turkey with the skin has the most fat and calories. White meat without the skin has the least amount of fat and calories.

Use leftover turkey within four days or freeze in recipe-sized amounts. Be creative with your leftovers. For the best quality, use frozen, cooked turkey within four months.

If you are tired of turkey sandwiches, try this novel way to make use of turkey leftovers. Serve with brown or white rice for a quick meal.

Turkey Vegetable Stir-fry

1 Tbsp. canola oil

1/2 tsp. salt

2 thin slices ginger root, minced

1 peeled and minced garlic clove

2 c. turkey, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1/2 tsp. sugar

4 c. chopped vegetables, fresh or frozen

Stir-fry sauce of choice

Heat frying pan. Add oil and heat on high temperature. Add salt, ginger, garlic, turkey and vegetables. Stir-fry about 1 minute to coat with oil. Adjust heat to prevent scorching. Add sugar. If the vegetables are tender, stop cooking at this time. If the vegetables are firm, add 1 to 2 tablespoons of water, cover and cook for two minutes or until tender. Add sauce if desired and heat for about 30 seconds. Serve immediately.

Makes four servings. Each serving has 310 calories, 5 grams (g) of fat, 16 g of carbohydrate and 4 g of fiber.

(Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and associate professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.)

NDSU Agriculture Communication

Source:Julie Garden-Robinson, (701) 231-7187,
Editor:Rich Mattern, (701) 231-6136,
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