If there's one thing we as a nation of immigrants can agree on, it's that the week following Thanksgiving promises some of the finest feasting the calendar has to offer. And in a year where retail outlets are ramping up the raw consumerism before the turkey's had a chance to go cold, why not start planning now?
From simple fried eggs over stuffing to a more elaborate shepherd's pie (see recipe, this page), the kitchens of Wilmington will be cranking out numerous re-configurations of the Thanksgiving bonanza over the coming days. But if there's one item that rises above the rest, it's the all-inclusive leftover sandwich.
The post-feast sandwich is such an institution that an entire business model has been built on it. The soon-to-open Capriotti's Sandwich Shop (3501 Oleander Drive, opening mid-January) takes the idea so seriously that they feature not one, but two heroes adorned with turkey and cranberry sauce.
For the ultimate indulgence, Great Harvest Bread Company (5327 Oleander Drive) even sells sliced loaves of stuffing-seasoned bread, taking leftovers to the next level.
Interestingly, the leftover sandwich has near-universal appeal, regardless of cultural background. Mailyn Carignan, helping out in her family's store, the pan-Asian emporium Saigon Market, recalls growing up in a home in which her Vietnamese mother might serve egg rolls with the turkey. But sandwiches would always follow.
Tatyana's European Delights co-owner Tatyana Zarubin, who has embraced Thanksgiving with open arms since arriving in the U.S. with her husband, Sergey, felt an immediate sense of familiarity when introduced to the holiday.
"I remember our first Thanksgiving. We got here 20 years ago, we didn't know anybody," Zarubin said. "One American family invited us, and it was very good. They had a full table and we thought, 'Oh my God, it's almost like a Russian holiday.'"
Thanksgiving echoes a traditional autumn harvest feast held in October in their native land, which is Kazakhstan on today's maps, but was very much the Soviet Union when the Zarubins were living there. Their spread is a hybrid of cultures, with Russian-style salads and salty fish sharing table space with the bird. Cranberry sauce is replaced by a sinus-clearing but equally crimson condiment of grated horseradish and beets called hren.
But when it comes to leftovers? You guessed it.
"What else can you do with leftovers? Turkey sandwiches," Zarubin said, stating the obvious.
Creating a monster
As popular as the adopted leftover traditions may be, leave it to an American to reverse-engineer the Thanksgiving feast to fit another world's palate.
Jay Muxworthy, the inimitable brawn behind Flaming Amy's Burrito Barn, introduced the "Churkeychanga" a few years ago. If the name conjures an image of Thanksgiving dinner wrapped in a flour tortilla and deep-fried, you'd be quite perceptive. Add to that a slathering of jalapeno-laced gravy and a side of cranberry salsa.
The Churkeychanga's three-week run through the month of November climaxes the Wednesday before they close up shop for the holiday. During that stretch, the Flaming Amy's kitchen, which normally worries about things like grilling chicken breast and prepping a rainbow of salsa flavors, gets a Mayflower makeover.
"They're so popular that every day we're either cooking stuffing or potatoes or gravy or turkey," Muxworthy said. "Yesterday we cooked all of them just to keep up, and we're already out of potatoes."
In the wake of that whimsical stab at filling a seasonal menu vacancy, Muxworthy has unleashed a monster on Wilmington's dining public, and he's struggling under the demand.
"We can't keep up with them this year. The first day we sold 75," he said, breaking into a laughter that isn't exactly maniacal, but plays for the same team. "To be honest, I regret doing it because, basically, now I have to cook Thanksgiving dinner the entire month of November for hundreds of people."
Constantly barraged with phone calls confirming the Churkeychanga's availability, Muxworthy is looking forward to a break from the beast this Thursday. While the restaurant occasionally hosts a meal for 50 or so friends, relatives and orphaned employees who can't make it home for the holiday, this year the Muxworthy compound will be headquarters for a low-key family affair featuring a deep-fried but otherwise traditional turkey feast.
As for the leftovers, Muxworthy plans on leaving the tortillas at the shop.
"Honestly, my favorite thing is open-faced turkey sandwiches with gravy. Love it."
Thanksgiving Leftovers Shepherd's Pie
Butter a nine-inch pie dish and pack in about three cups of stuffing to form a shell.
Layer with slices of cranberry sauce, cooked turkey, green bean casserole or other leftover vegetables.
Dribble with a half-cup of gravy, and mound a layer of mashed potatoes on top, smoothing to form a shell over the contents of the pie pan.
Bake for 30 to 40 minutes at 350 degrees or until potatoes are golden.
Tatyana's Turkey Soup
1 turkey carcass
2 quarts water
2 tbsp butter
1 onion, diced
1 celery rib, diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
1 potato, peeled and diced small
1 cup small-shaped pasta
1-2 cups chopped, cooked turkey
Salt and pepper
If Tatyana Zarubin has the time, she'll interrupt the sandwich routine with a soup that uses every last scrap of the turkey carcass.
Start by making a stock from the carcass -- cover with the two quarts of water and simmer for three to four hours.
Pick all remaining meat from bones, strain and reserve stock.
In a pot, melt the butter and saute the onion, celery and carrots until tender. Add reserved stock, bring to a boil and add pasta and potatoes, simmering until tender -- about 12 minutes.
Add chopped turkey and cook until heated through, another three to four minutes.
Season soup to taste with salt and pepper.
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