The Leftovers: Transforming Your Thanksgiving Turkey into Turkey Gumbo

Panzano’s Elise Wiggins shares her recipe for turkey gumbo

Elise Wiggis recipe for Turkey Gumbo is a mouthwatering way to transform your Thanksgiving leftovers. Courtesy Annette Slade

Elise Wiggis recipe for Turkey Gumbo is a mouthwatering way to transform your Thanksgiving leftovers. Courtesy Annette Slade

Ah, Thanksgiving. It’s that one day each year when families snap, crackle, pop and sometimes explode. Oh, come on: We all know it’s the calamities that we remember most. Still, despite the disasters (and inevitable turkey stupor that results in a communal food coma across the country), there’s a definite upside to the holiday: leftovers.

And while there’s nothing wrong with a turkey sandwich, we turned to Elise Wiggins, executive chef of Panzano, for her take on turkey gumbo, a family recipe with moxie, pluck and traditional Southern swagger.

“Our Thanksgiving gatherings are always loud and fun, and because everyone in my family is competitive and loves to cook, we all make a dish, and then we use the leftovers to make a gumbo,” says Wiggins, who was born and raised in Louisiana, the state where the thick soup originated. Making gumbo, she says, “is just what we always did, and it’s so incredibly delicious that it’s become part of our post-Thanksgiving repertoire.”


There are secrets—lots of secrets— to making a perfect gumbo, Elise Wiggins reveals, referring to her list of the 10 GUMBO COMMANDMENTS. Only after vowing to abide by these commandments can you then proceed with her recipe.

Thou shalt use a thick cast-iron skillet to make your roux.

Thou shalt properly measure your oil and flour for the roux so that they’re equal weights: one cup of vegetable oil to 7.7 ounces of flour.

Thou shalt never, ever use a whisk! Use a roux spoon, which is wooden and has a flat edge; it helps you move the roux so it doesn’t burn.

Thou shalt cook your roux on medium heat. Don’t rush it; otherwise you will only burn yourself … and your roux.

Thou shalt take your time making your roux, approximately the time it takes to drink two to three beers or, if beer isn’t your thing, 45 minutes to an hour.

Thou shalt not stop stirring the roux (make someone else fetch your beer). The failure to continuously stir your roux is like riding a bike blindfolded. Trust me: It’s not going to end well.

Thou shalt cook the roux until it’s the hue of dark brown sugar—kind of like me in the summertime. h Thou shalt use your roux immediately to make the gumbo or it will burn.

Thou shalt use gumbo ingredients that are in season.

Thou shalt frequently taste the gumbo as it cooks. As my daddy would say, “Gotta see if it’s fittin’.”

Elise Wiggins prepares her turkey gumbo. Courtesy Annette Slade

Elise Wiggins prepares her turkey gumbo. Courtesy Annette Slade

Serves 6-8

3 pounds leftover turkey wings (from a
12-pound turkey)
2 sprigs fresh thyme
4 stalks celery, washed and chopped
3 carrots, washed, peeled and chopped
1 large white onion, peeled and chopped
1 garlic bulb, peeled and smashed

1 cup canola oil
7.7 ounces all-purpose flour
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 small yellow onion, finely diced
1 green bell pepper, finely diced
1 red bell pepper, finely diced
2 stalks celery, finely diced
¼ cup scallions, chopped
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons Cajun seasoning (Wiggins
recommends the Tony Chachere’s brand)
1 teaspoon ground white pepper
1⁄2 teaspoon crushed red chile flakes
1 1⁄2 pounds leftover turkey breast, cut into 3⁄4-
inch pieces
1 1⁄2 pounds andouille sausage, sliced into
½-inch thick coins
3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
Kosher salt to taste
Cooked Cajun rice or jasmine rice, for serving

MAKE THE STOCK: Bring ingredients and 1 gallon of water to a boil in a large stock pot. Reduce heat to medium; simmer 4 hours, then strain stock and keep warm.

MAKE THE GUMBO: In a heavy cast-iron skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat and sprinkle in flour to make the roux. Cook roux on medium heat and stir constantly for 45 minutes to an hour, or until the roux is the color of a reddish dark brown sugar. Add garlic, onions, celery and bell peppers; cook until soft, 10-12 minutes. Add reserved stock, andouille sausage, turkey breast, Worcestershire sauce, chile flakes, white pepper, cayenne pepper, scallions and salt. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until gumbo is thickened, about 1 hour. Serve with rice.

ONE MORE TIP: Buy a fresh turkey and wet- or dry-brine it. “Turkey is inherently dry, so brining it helps to retain the moisture,” Wiggins says.

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