Thanksgiving Leftovers: Kung Pao Turkey

Thanksgiving is almost as much about the leftovers as it is about the main event. Turkey and stuffing go on sandwiches, cranberry sauce becomes pie filling, and potatoes are fried into pancakes. The trick with leftover turkey is to find a way to add juiciness, like by tossing it into a soup or by pairing it with cranberry sauce on a sandwich.

This year I went in a different direction, letting the leftover turkey soak up a marinade and then wok-searing it with garlic, ginger, chilies, and Sichuan pepper. The bold flavors and searing heat from the wok gave the turkey some fresh bounce, and some caramelized onions and Chinese black vinegar added a little sweetness to contrast the heat from the chilies. I didn’t have any leftover veggies, but if I had I would have thrown them in too.

Thanksgiving dinner at my mother’s, which yielded many fine leftovers.

Kung Pao Turkey (with leftover turkey)

About 1 pound leftover turkey
3 tablespoons soy sauce, divided
3 tablespoons shaoxing rice wine (or dry sherry), divided
3 teaspoons corn starch, divided
4 garlic cloves
1/2-inch piece of ginger
1/2 medium red onion
A small bunch of chives or scallions
1 tablespoon Chinese black vinegar (or regular rice vinegar)
1 tablespoon sesame oil (or any neutral oil)
3 (or more) whole Thai chilies
2 teaspoons Sichuan peppercorns
1/4 cup peanuts (optional)

1. Cut the turkey into bite-sized cubes. In a bowl, combine 2 tablespoons of soy sauce, 2 tablespoons of shaoxing rice wine, and 2 teaspoons of corn starch. Add the turkey cubes, season with black pepper, and stir to combine. Let the turkey marinate for at least 20 minutes.

2. Whilst the turkey is marinating, prepare the other ingredients. Slice the garlic, onion, and chives or scallions. Finely chop the ginger. Chop up any leftover vegetables you may want to use. In a bowl, mix together the remaining soy sauce, shaoxing rice wine, and corn starch with the black vinegar and 2 tablespoons of water. Have everything ready and close to the stove before you turn on the heat.

3. When the turkey is ready, heat a well-seasoned wok or deep saute pan over high heat. When it is hot, add the sesame oil with the chilies and Sichuan pepper. Stir for 30 seconds and then add the onion, garlic, ginger, peanuts, and chives, reserving some chives for garnish. Stir-fry until the onions are translucent, about 2 minutes.

4. Add the turkey to the wok (with any leftover vegetables you may care to use). Let it cook for about 2 minutes, stirring once in a while to give the turkey a nice sear. Give the sauce ingredients another stir and pour them in, stirring while the sauce thickens. When everything is heated through, remove to a bowl and garnish with the remaining chives or scallions. Serve at once with rice or noodles.

Total time: 30 minutes
Makes 3 servings


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  • That looks Amazing! What a brilliant idea. Usually I feel like the leftover ideas are played out and a little desperate. This I would make on a regular night…in fact, I may do it this week! Soooo good. Scallions, ginger, chilis, sesame. You are speaking my language here.

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