Turn Leftover Turkey Into Easy Chintan Ramen

Turn your leftover Thanksgiving turkey into a light and clear ramen broth.

Vicky Wasik

Everyone has their own rituals for Thanksgiving leftovers. Some people make sandwiches, others make quesadillas, and still others make the mistake of making waffles out of stuffing, thereby forgoing the unique pleasure of eating fridge-cold stuffing doused with microwaved gravy: wet, dry, hot, and cold, all at once, singing squishing in your mouth.

There are also those fine souls who take it upon themselves to do a bit more with what remains of the holiday table, like my mother-in-law, who will pop the turkey carcass in a big pot to make turkey stock minutes after the big meal is done. That stock will then be turned into a hearty turkey soup with carrots, celery, and whatever other vegetables that are still in the crisper, along with maybe some noodles or rice to bulk it up. These people are holiday heroes: Having just cooked a full spread for you, they proceed to immediately make you another meal and press upon you Tupperware containers of soup to take home, too, so you'll remain uncomfortably full for the foreseeable future.

I'm not going to suggest you do that. But I am proposing something similar, something that will require significantly less effort and just a little bit more forethought: turkey ramen.

Now, if you do feel like being a holiday hero, you should give Kenji's recipe for a turkey paitan ramen—that is, ramen with a cloudy, emulsified broth—a try. It requires a little more effort than putting together a pot of soup, so it'll certainly scratch any itch for an all-day, post-Thanksgiving cooking project, if you suffer from that itchy affliction. But if you want a process that's relatively more relaxed and still produces a bowl of holiday-themed ramen, then you should give this recipe for a shoyu chintan turkey ramen—that is, a clear-broth ramen seasoned with soy sauce—a try.

Fair warning: This recipe requires you to do some Thanksgiving Day scrounging. Yes, I am asking you to barter with whoever is cooking the turkey to save you some rendered turkey fat (you need about half a cup—although you can use rendered chicken fat or schmaltz, too). Yes, I am asking you to stash three medium-sized or four or five small raw Brussels sprouts somewhere safe. Yes, you will need to claim dibs on at least four slices of leftover turkey breast and around four pounds of the leftover turkey carcass, although three-and-a-half pounds will do.

If you can swing all that, the only other things you'll need to make some very easy and satisfying turkey chintan ramen are a no-cook tare you can make a week ahead of time, some noodles, which you can make yourself or buy at the store, and a few scallions.

Ramen, Stripped Down

This recipe for a super-simple turkey ramen is modeled on a recipe devised by Mike Satinover, a.k.a. Ramen_Lord on Reddit, who now regularly runs ramen pop-ups in Chicago and across the country. Inspired by a bowl of shoyu ramen he had at the very highly regarded Toy Box in Tokyo, he came up with a recipe for a stripped-down chicken-based ramen in which the main star is chicken: The broth is made just from chicken, with no added vegetables. The oil added to the bowl is just chicken fat skimmed from the broth, with no added aromatics; and the tare, or seasoning, is just a blend of soy sauces, a little mirin, and that's it.

It is a very easy recipe, but it also happens to be very, very delicious, and I can't recommend it enough. Make it when it's not Black Friday—you won't regret it.

So when I decided to do a simple ramen made from leftover turkey from Thanksgiving, I figured I'd employ that same stripped-down approach, and I discovered it works quite nicely with turkey, too. In light of its simplicity, there was very little room for experimentation beyond fiddling with the tare, but fiddle I did, and I found that more complicated tares—tares made with things like kombu, dried scallops, dried shrimp, katsuobushi (cured, smoked, dried, and shaved bonito), and niboshi (dried infant sardines)—messed with the straightforward turkey taste of the combination of the broth and the oil, so I settled on a no-cook tare that's a blend of two soy sauces, tamari, and mirin.

I typically avoid recommending that people buy expensive Japanese soy sauces, since I find Yamasa Organic Marudaizu soy sauce, the kind my family uses in Japan, to be perfectly suitable for most things, and I think Kikkoman will serve in most applications in a pinch. However, because this ramen relies solely on the soy sauce to do a ton of heavy glutamate lifting to give it a nuanced flavor profile, I do suggest you try to find some good soy sauce to blend with whatever soy sauce you regularly use (and I also suggest that you start regularly using Yamasa because it's good!).

Good soy sauce is made from whole soybeans, as opposed to the soybean mash leftover from extracting soybean oil, and is naturally fermented with wheat, water, and salt to produce a quite salty liquid that has a more rounded, more complex flavor, which only extended periods of fermentation can produce. In contrast, many industrially produced soy sauces are made using chemical hydrolysis, skipping the fermentation process—and the complexity of flavor it provides—entirely.

Serious Eats HQ is located just above a large Japanese grocery store, and I've come to prefer Kishibori Shoyu as the "fancy" soy sauce I blend into my tares; it is a little pricey, and you should both refrigerate it and use it up quickly, since it has no preservatives other than salt and, once opened, many of its volatile flavors will dissipate quickly over time, but it has wonderful depth of flavor.

That being said, if all you can get your hands on is Yamasa or Kikkoman, they will work fine, either singly or as a blend, too. And just as higher-quality soy sauce will produce a better tare, so will using higher-quality tamari, which is a soy sauce made with little to no wheat, and mirin. But again, using what you have available is okay.

To make the broth, I put whatever turkey bones I have in a pressure cooker, cover them with an ample quantity of water, and cook it all under pressure for just an hour, after which I let the pressure naturally release. This produces a pretty clear broth that has plenty of turkey flavor; if you'd like to make an even clearer broth, you can use the cooking temperature and time outlined for a stovetop chintan broth here. It will take about five to six hours, but it's an entirely hands-off process.

Once the broth is cooked and strained through a fine-mesh strainer, you're pretty much ready to ramen—no need to skim the fat, as the roasting process should have rendered much of it out, and the relatively little that leeches into the broth will just add to the turkey-ness of the bowl. As outlined in our guide to building a bowl of ramen, put two tablespoons of tare and a tablespoon of turkey fat in each warmed serving bowl, add a grind of black pepper and sliced scallion whites, pour in boiling broth, add noodles, and top it all with a slice of turkey breast and scallion greens.

Noodles being lifted out of bowl of turkey ramen

But to give the bowl a little more Thanksgiving flair, I cribbed a topping from Kenji's paitan: charred Brussels sprouts leaves. Cabbage is always a good ramen topping, and the little charred Brussels sprouts leaves are a very close approximation of stir-fried cabbage. And, finally, because both the broth and tare lack the faint acidity provided by katsuobushi, I added a few drops of apple cider vinegar to each bowl.

And there you have it: a light, refreshing reprise of the Thanksgiving meal in ramen form.