10 Tips for Creating YOUR Perfect Thanksgiving Leftover Sandwich
For those who love food, the overtly food-centric Thanksgiving is the Everest of holidays. As delicious as Thanksgiving dinner is, it is often just a preview for the main attraction: the leftovers, and more specifically, the leftover sandwich. Because it only happens once a year (or less if you aren’t hosting!), the Thanksgiving Leftover Sandwich deserves a little special attention.
1. Trust YOUR gut
Don’t get too caught up in the photos. As delicious as this sandwich looks, it does not represent what this author or Outdoor Dreams believes to be the “perfect” Thanksgiving leftover sandwich; more than anything, it was constructed to look delicious and get your attention. When the time comes, remember that this is YOUR sandwich and that there are no rules or guidelines that you must follow. Always trust your gut!
2. Can’t wait for lunch?
If you add an egg, it counts as breakfast. The secret of brunch spots everywhere: all you have to do is add an egg and a dinner meal is suddenly appropriate for eating before noon. It has worked for steak and eggs. It is working for the now-trendy brunch burgers. And it can work for your Thanksgiving Leftover Sandwich.
3. Selecting bread
The whole point of making a leftover sandwich is to make use of what’s already available to you, so it seems antithetical to the entire endeavor to go out and buy bread. Most likely you will and should use whatever bread is already in your home.
But if you’re not doing that and need to acquire bread, the primary thing to understand is that you don’t want bread that’s too dense and heavy. You’re going to put a lot inside this sandwich, so you need something strong enough to hold up, but you’re also in it for the turkey and fixings and not the bread itself, so a thick, dense roll is probably the wrong choice. Consider a couple of moderate slices of a tangy, crusty sourdough or even rye, whose spiciness complements the sweet and savory flavors of Thanksgiving.
4. Add a Crunch
Thanksgiving dishes, especially when reheated, all tend to be soft and, let’s face it, mushy. Because of this, it’s important to add a little texture to your sandwich to avoid a sloppy mess.
Toast Your Bread
The simple and easiest way to add a crunch to your sandwich is to toast your bread. Use a toaster, broiler, panini press or crisp your sandwich in a pan; no matter your method, you will welcome the texture upgrade.
Mashed potatoes are great, but if you combine them with an egg and pan fry them, they turn into something even better: crispy, golden potato pancakes. The added texture will majorly upgrade your sandwich.
Refry the Skin
What you worked so hard to roast to golden perfection yesterday is now wet and rubbery from a night in the fridge. Frying it in a pan or crisping it again in the oven will bring back this delicious crunchy element.
5. Cranberries are a must!
This is the closest thing to a rule on the list. Cranberry sauce is such a good condiment for leftover sandwiches that it’s a wonder we don’t use it all year long yet. Spread it in a thin, well-distributed layer, it’s tart and sweet and fruity and moist without overpowering or sogging down the rest of the sandwich. If you want to jazz up your cranberry sauce, consider the following:
Mustard on its own can be very overwhelming on a Turkey sandwich. With a few additions, you can make a quick cranberry mostarda—which sounds way fancier, right? To taste, combine leftover cranberry sauce, a little whole grain mustard, dijon, a pinch of cayenne and some grated orange zest. The mustard cuts the sugary cranberry sauce, while the cranberries mitigate the intensity of the mustard. You’ll still get the sweetness that goes so well with turkey, just with a little heat and complexity.
Much like the mustard, consider mixing your cranberries with mayonnaise for a creamy addition to your sandwich.
“Hot” Cranberry Sauce
“Hot Honey” is all the rage at trendy restaurants. There is no reason you can’t do the same thing with your Cranberry sauce. Add a little heat to your Thanksgiving Leftover Sandwich by mixing red pepper flakes or your favorite hot sauce in with your cranberries.
6. Freshen things up
Thanksgiving is, without question, a very heavy meal that features dense dishes. When making your Thanksgiving Leftover Sandwich, lighten things up a little with a fresh element or two.
Add some greens
There is a reason why lettuce is a staple in so many great sandwiches. Lettuce and other greens will add a crisp, crunch to the sandwich and help to break up heavier flavors and balance out the richness. Instead of lettuce, consider more flavorful greens like arugula or mustard greens.
Add some fruit
This becomes necessary for anyone who doesn’t like or runs out of cranberry sauce. If you have any apples leftover from making pie, top your sandwich with a few thin slices. As with the lettuce, the apples with add a crisp and help to break up the heaviness of your sandwich. The sweetness from the apple will add an additional element, especially if you have decided to forego the cranberry sauce.
A little good fat to go with all the buttery Thanksgiving fats. Avocado provides a welcome, creamy addition to almost any sandwich. Consider using instead of mayo.
7. Consider only 1 Starch
Please do not consider this — or any of these — a hard-and-fast rule so much as a guideline, but trust that I’m looking out for your best interests here. So many of the best Thanksgiving sides are starchy, like stuffing and mashed potatoes and candied yams, and I 100% understand the temptation to just pile them all on your sandwich. But you’ll regret it: They throw off the all-important starch-to-meat ratio, and you risk finding yourself biting into a dense wall of pure carbohydrate.
8. Be Smart with the Gravy
Obviously, you’re going to want gravy on there, because gravy’s the main thing that makes Thanksgiving turkey good. But be careful! Too much gravy will soak your bread and ruin the structural integrity of your sandwich. If gravy is a must for your sandwich, consider the following tips:
Degrees of Separation
Always make sure there’s a dry ingredient between the bread and the gravy. A simple example of this rule would be the bottom slice of bread, turkey, gravy, stuffing and the top slice of bread. In this example, the turkey and stuffing separate the gravy from both layers of bread.
Thanksgiving “French Dip”
Instead of putting it directly on the sandwich, you can always put gravy in a bowl for dipping the whole sandwich.
The “Moist Maker”
Friends fans will appreciate the reference and, the truth is, Ross had a fantastic idea! Pile all your favorite Thanksgiving leftovers between two thick slices of bread—with one gravy-soaked slice (a.k.a. the moist maker) in the very center. This is an especially great idea if you’re making your sandwich to go.
9. Heat things up
Before getting into warming techniques, know that heat is not a must. Sometimes a cold sandwich is exactly what you’re looking for (and it’s quicker to put together). That said, if you prefer a warm sandwich, here are a few helpful tips:
Warm Every Element Separately
There is nothing worse than biting into a warm sandwich only to discover that the middle is cold. It’s a “first world problem,” but a problem none the less. To avoid this, warm each element separately before adding them to your sandwich.
Butter the Bread
It’s not a Thanksgiving food if there’s no butter involved, right? Whether you are pan-frying your sandwich, throwing it on a panini press or putting it under the oven broiler, make sure to butter your bread first. Olive oil and mayonnaise will also provide that golden crispness if you’re out of butter.
If you’re heating your sandwich using an oven broiler, lightly toast the bread before adding any ingredients. Then, after adding all of your leftover ingredients, give your sandwich another pass under the broiler.
10. If all of that is not enough, just add some cheese!
Cheese can be the perfect addition to any sandwich. When adding it to a Thanksgiving Leftover Sandwich, it’s important to select a cheese with enough flavor to stand out against all the different leftover flavors. A less flavorful cheese will get lost in your sandwich, adding calories and little else. Consider a quality sharp cheddar or swiss or a winter cheese like Gruyère or Comté. Whatever you select, be sure to melt it under the broiler for a couple of minutes for the ooey-gooey finish.
You know what a good sandwich looks like. You know what a good sandwich tastes like. Follow your instincts and enjoy; Thanksgiving is a celebration and so its glorious leftover sandwiches.