Tips for using Thanksgiving leftovers in bento lunches

[From the archives: If you're in the U.S., I hope your Thanksgiving was great! If you have a lot of leftover turkey, please give the shigureni a try. It works with dark or white meat. Originally published November 2007.]

thanksgivingleftovers.jpgHappy Thanksgiving to all U.S. readers! After today's feast you'll probably have quite a lot of leftovers. Here are some ideas for re-purposing those leftovers for future bento lunches, beyond just using them as-is, which is okay but not that exciting.

In general, you should try to get the leftovers wrapped and into the fridge as soon as possible for the sake of safety, though I know the urge to just flop down in a horizontal position is strong. You can divide it up for longer term storage if necessary later.

The sides

  • Vegetables can be chopped up finely and included into egg dishes such as tamagoyaki, or sautéed with rice for a veggie-rich fried rice.
  • Mashed potatoes can be used to make quick pan-fried korokke (croquettes): make the cold mash into patties, maybe mixed with some of the chopped up leftover vegetables (if you made corn, corn-korokke is a classic), dip into flour, beaten egg and panko breadcrumbs, and shallow-fry in oil until browned and crisp.
  • You can do the same with mashed up sweet potatoes - sweet potato korokke are delicious, especially if you have made them very sweet Southern style - they become rather like a little dessert. Or, bake the mashed-up sweet potatoes in small aluminum foil cups in a toaster oven until browned on top. You can treat pumpkin pie filling in a similar way.
  • Stuffing can be made into sort of crispy stuffing-burgers: form cold stuffing into mini-patties, and fry on both sides until crisp. Add some spicy ketchup if you like.

The turkey

  • The white meat I think is really best for using as-is, sliced for sandwiches and salads, since re-cooking it can really dry it out. Try to keep it moist (assuming it was moist to start with!). If you freeze it, divide into single-portion size packets for ease of use. (One of my favorites is a turkey white meat, stuffing and cranberry sauce sandwich, which is made even more decadent with a generous layer of cream cheese. Try it on sourdough bread!)
  • The dark meat has endless possibilities. For storing, chop it up if you can so you can pull it out and use it right away. You can add it to stir-fries, fried rice and so on. Or, use it in the following recipe...

Recipe: Turkey shigureni

Shigureni is a classic method of cooking meat in a savory-sweet ginger filled sauce. The ginger helps to preserve the meat somewhat, so this can be stored in the fridge for up to a week. It's usually made with beef or pork, but is quite good with the dark meat of turkey too.

Per 2 cups of chopped up or roughly shredded turkey meat, use:

  • 1 small piece (about 1/2 inch / 1 cm long) fresh ginger (or more if you like ginger), julienned into thin bits
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons sake
  • 1 tablespoon mirin
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon sesame seeds (optional)

Heat up a frying pan; add the oil and ginger. Sauté until the ginger is a bit limp.
Add the meat, and toss around. Add the sugar.

Add the liquid ingredients. Let cook down, stirring frequently, until the liquid is almost gone, and what remains is a bit syrupy. Toss in the sesame seeds and stir around until they're evenly distributed.

Store, cooled and well covered, for up to a week in the refrigerator.