the day after or turkey 2.0

Thanksgiving weekend is full of opportunity to be creative with leftover turkey. Nothing beats the simplicity of a day-after turkey sandwich (make sure to include a slather of cranberry sauce and a bit of stuffing), but it’s fun to see the creativity that an abundance of turkey inspires. Soup is a no-brainer, but I’ve also seen leftover turkey stuffed into tacos, chilaquiles, hash, stir-fries, bolognese, ravioli, frittatas, and scrambles. The possibilities are endless.

My mother-in-law had her own idea of how to serve up yesterday’s bird. When I wandered through her kitchen shortly before lunch, I saw what looked to be chicken pieces frying in a pot of bubbling oil. Fried chicken sounded good and seemed in line with the country cooking we usually eat when visiting. My first bite proved me wrong, though, as the “chicken” meat fell apart in my mouth. Turns out we were eating fried turkey balls. And they were good.

turkey croquette

A nicely browned coating of whole wheat soda crackers surrounded a filling of turkey chunks, chopped fresh parsley, and a creamy white sauce. These salty, savory treats wouldn’t be out of place as an appetizer (accompanied by a creamy curry or herb-flecked buttermilk sauce for dipping) at a casual or even high-end restaurant. They threw me at first, but fried turkey balls are no stranger than the deep-fried pickles appearing on menus everywhere.

inside the croquette

Looking for more detail, I learned the recipe had been adapted from one for Chicken Croquettes found in 1962’s Favorite Recipes of American Home Economics Teachers, Meats Edition. (Have I mentioned my mother-in-law is a retired home ec teacher?) Fried turkey balls are simply a spin on old-school chicken croquettes. (What’s old is new again!) They were fun to eat, as are most finger foods. They also balanced textures well with a crispy-and-light shell and creamy-yet-substantial inside. The filling is all about the turkey, but gets a flavor boost from a shot of black pepper and touch of fresh herbs.

I’d never declare myself a fried food fan, though I thoroughly enjoyed my mother-in-law’s take on leftover turkey. And from the looks of the empty platter at lunch today, I wasn’t the only one sold on fried turkey balls.

How did you serve up your leftover bird? (For you Australian readers, note that The Melbourne cooking classes are available in sit-down and hands-on formats, with intimate classes being the best way to learn and have fun. Click here to learn more.)

Turkey Croquettes (a.k.a. Fried Turkey Balls)

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup turkey (or chicken) stock
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons salt
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons pepper
  • 2 cups diced cooked turkey
  • 1 teaspoon dried parsley (or 1 tablespoons chopped fresh)
  • 2 large eggs, divided
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice (optional)
  • 1 to 1 1/2 cups crushed soda crackers or dried breadcrumbs
  • Vegetable oil, for frying

In saucepan, melt butter over low heat. Add flour; mix until blended. Slowly stir in stock. Season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, until thick and creamy. Stir in turkey and parsley. Remove from heat.

In bowl, beat 1 egg; stir into chicken mixture. Return to heat; cook 1 minute longer. Cool. Shape mixture into balls.

In shallow bowl, whisk together remaining egg, the milk, and lemon juice, if using. Place crackers or breadcrumbs in separate shallow bowl. Roll turkey balls in egg mixture, then crumbs. Fry in 375°F oil 2 minutes on each side or until golden brown. Drain on paper towel; transfer to warm oven while frying remaining balls. Makes 12 servings.


There’s a rhythm to the kitchen. After a few evenings of full-on home-cooked meals, the refrigerator holds leftovers that need to be eaten. This means cooking takes a back seat to “meal assembly” for the next few evenings. Instead of serving the same thing multiple nights in a row (meatloaf AGAIN?), I have a better shot at getting the family to eat things a second time around when the leftovers are re-assembled. Take tonight’s supper.

If that leftover meatloaf wasn’t eaten soon, it was headed for the trash. A half-loaf of mulitgrain French bread was leftover from the weekend and a small casserole dish of leftover pizza sauce was taking up freezer space. Sounded like the makings of pizza bread to me.

After slicing the bread horizontally in half, I brushed the cut sides with olive oil. The bread then toasted at 300°F for a few minutes while I quickly browned slices of the meatloaf. The bread was topped with thinly sliced fresh mozzarella and the meatloaf. This returned to the oven to melt the cheese and warm all ingredients.

While the pizza bread warmed in the oven, the (leftover) pizza sauce was stirred into a sauté of thinly sliced onion and colored bell peppers. I spooned this bell pepper-tomato sauce alongside the pizza breads and called it supper. (The sauce went on the side as I figured my girls would at least try the sauce if it was on the side. If it went over the pizza bread, they’d most likely turn their cute little noses up at the whole dish.)

Leftover (frozen) green beans added a bit more veggie to the meal and also ensured my girls would eat vegetables, seeing how they’d be passing on the bell pepper-tomato sauce after their token bite. Tonight’s meal will not go down in my family’s “greatest meals of all time” memories. Just the same, we enjoyed a fun–if basic–meal with good flavors. It had the whole-grain carb, protein, dairy, and lots of vegetable. And there’s now room in the refrigerator for when the kitchen rhythm picks up again.