Food for the Day After Tomorrow

How a seemingly odd use of leftover turkey has joined two families.
the day after Thanksgiving

What’s for dinner the day after Thanksgiving? When I was a kid, it was turkey sandwiches on rye bread that my father slathered in “Russian dressing” made by mixing ketchup and mayonnaise. I loved that stuff until I was well into my 20s. But for most of the last decade our Friday night dinner has been turkey hash and waffles.

The tradition came to us from my brother’s inlaws, who grew up a few blocks from one another in Norfolk, Virginia. “Recipe? You just cut up the leftover turkey, sauté it with some vegetables, wet it with stock, and pour it over the waffles,” was how Vicki explained it to me the first year. And, in fact, none of my Southern cookbooks have a recipe, and the only one Vicki could find when pressed came from a 40-page staple-bound pamphlet put out by the James River Garden Club.

I can’t say it sounded good to me the first year—too much like breakfast for dinner—but I was wrong. Banish syrup from your thoughts. Instead, think soft, rich stew against fluffy, tangy waffles. Imagine mopping up the sauce with the waffle bits.

Like all the best traditions, this one has adapted to our quirks. Vicki and her husband both remember hash made of turkey, onions, celery, and mushrooms, but my brother doesn’t like mushrooms, so out they go. And I love to make my mashed potatoes more exciting with Jerusalem artichokes and celeriac, so these usually wind up in the mix too. But some changes aren’t allowed. Trying to impress the woman I eventually married the first year she joined us, I carefully cut all the vegetables into a perfect, uniform brunoise (tiny dice). Vicki looked slightly baffled. “This, uh, isn’t fancy food,” she corrected me gently. “This is leftovers.”

We’ve settled into a groove the last few years. Turkey, onions, and celery remain the stars; other root vegetables play a supporting role. I’ve learned that too many carrots or parsnips make for too sweet a hash. The sauce gets thickened with just a little flour. Some years we add a little milk or cream to make the sauce richer, and every year we hunt around for interesting herbs (parsley, thyme, tarragon) to add at the end. The waffles are buttermilk. I can’t wait.

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