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5 chefs share creative ways to transform Thanksgiving leftovers, the best part of the feast

How Thanksgiving almost didn’t happen in the South

Thanksgiving is a nationally recognized holiday celebrated each year in November, but for a period of time in American history, the South resisted the celebration.
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Thanksgiving is a nationally recognized holiday celebrated each year in November, but for a period of time in American history, the South resisted the celebration.

There are other ways to use Thanksgiving leftovers than eating them cold from the fridge at 2 in the morning.

That’s fine, of course, but you can do better. We can all do better.

The land beyond the food coma is a wondrous, delicious place, a sprawling canvas of carbs calling out for creative inspiration. Therein lies redemption for bone-dry turkey, second chances for gummy potatoes, new life for the heroes and villains of the Thanksgiving feast.

Most sequels stink, driven by money-grabbing cynics turning out hollow husks of the original.

But every so often, the next chapter deepens the story, revealing more truth and humanity within the characters we love. The day after Thanksgiving, that truth gets covered in gravy.

We’ve asked some of the most creative chefs in the Triangle for a few tips and tricks for reinventing Thanksgiving.

Beth Little John, Player’s Retreat in Raleigh

“One time I took the leftover bones and made a ramen broth,” said the Raleigh chef. “I got some ramen noodles and diced up the roasted sweet potatoes and bits of turkey, took the turkey skin and crisped it up in the oven and made Thanksgiving ramen. It was pretty awesome.”

Matt Kelly, Durham chef and restaurant owner

Kelly is the owner of Mateo Tapas, St. James Seafood and other Durham restaurants.

“Turkey gumbo and the inevitable turkey sandwiches. Also the leftovers taste just as good or even better the next day, kind of like the Sunday sauce. My mom used to make turkey soup, in the style of chicken soup, and turkey and dumplings, which was my favorite as a kid. I don’t dare try to make them. She makes the best dumplings.”

Kim Hunter, Umma Foods in Raleigh

Hunter owned Kimbap in Raleigh but now runs a food truck and teaches dumpling classes.

“We have a pretty big family, so I can’t remember the last time we had many leftovers. But if anything, there’s turkey left. One thing I would make is a turkey congee, the rice porridge. You could use the gravy, the turkey drippings in the porridge liquid, put some scallions and an egg on top.

“You know, I think I’ll make that this year.”

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Justin Burdett, Crook’s Corner in Chapel Hill

Burdett, from Asheville, works at Crook’s Corner. In January, he will become the third chef to lead the restaurant, replacing longtime chef Bill Smith, who will step out of the kitchen full time after more than 25 years.

“As far as transforming leftovers, one of the things I think is great is taking cranberry sauce — it needs to be fresh cranberry sauce, not the canned kind — adding a lot of hot peppers and making a kind of cranberry chutney,” he said. “I do the cranberry sauce with some orange and cinnamon and then add a ton of jalapenos. It goes really well with a triple cream-style cheese. That creamy unctuousness and the acid and heat play well together.

“I also like a roasted Brussels sprout gratin, taking the roasted Brussels sprouts and putting them in a baking dish with some Parmesan and a little cream. The sprouts are already cooked, but you add some pecans, pomegranate seeds, some blue cheese, it turns into a little casserole.”

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Coleen Speaks, owner of Posh Nosh Catering and Hummingbird in Raleigh

Speaks’ Hummingbird restaurant and cocktail bar is celebrating its one-year anniversary on Black Friday.

“I always make my gumbo. I probably eat too much gumbo as it is; I always make it at Halloween and on Thanksgiving you just have that giant carcass. That giant carcass screams gumbo to me. So I make a turkey gumbo, with bits of the turkey and andouille sausage.”

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Drew Jackson; 919-829-4707; @jdrewjackson
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