Put the Bang Bang in Your Leftover Thanksgiving Turkey

Get out of your Thanksgiving leftovers rut with this spicy, salty, sour, and numbing Sichuan-style bang bang turkey salad.


As with grief, there are stages of emotion that most of us experience when dealing with the Thanksgiving leftovers crammed into mismatched Tupperware containers and jenga'd into the fridge after the main event. There's the excitement and anticipation of the first handful of perfectly soggy, cold stuffing that you snack on late Thursday night, basking in the glow of the refrigerator light, standing in front of its open door, as you decide whether to make the first leftover turkey sandwich of the season or wait until the next morning.

Oh, and those first few turkey sandwiches are sublime. The years of tinkering and practice have paid off—you are the Borromini of bread and bird, turning out composed architectural masterpieces with signature flair, dazzling houseguests with gravy-soaked middle pieces of bread and the like.

Closeup overhead of a bowl of Sichuan-style turkey salad.

After the inaugural rounds of sandwiches and reheated mashed potatoes, you start to get a little leftover cabin fever. The best pies have been polished off, and all that's left is an extra-gloopy store-bought apple pie that one of your relatives brought over so they can say they didn't show up completely empty-handed.

And there are those relatives, the ones staying for the weekend, who are now starting to get under your skin. One of them finished off the last of the stuffing. And they wake up way too early. You can't look at another turkey sandwich. It's time to clear your leftovers cache, switch things up, and start fresh. It's time for Sichuan-style bang bang turkey salad.

Closeup side view of a bowl of Sichuan-style turkey salad.

This salad was inspired by a recent visit to our Serious Eats test kitchen from Fuchsia Dunlop, who is one of our favorite food writers and an authority on Sichuan cuisine. Fuchsia generously came and cooked some recipes from her new book, The Food of Sichuan, including her version of Bang Bang Chicken, a verified banger in the world of chicken salads.

Overhead of components for Sichuan-style turkey salad: dressing in a mortar and pestle, pulled roast turkey breast meat, chili oil, sliced scallions, and black sesame seeds.

Bang bang ji is a simple dish of poached chicken breast that is chilled, torn into bite-sized pieces, and dressed with a sauce made with Sichuan peppercorns, sesame paste, soy sauce, Chinkiang vinegar, chili oil, and a touch of sugar. The dressing's combination of salty, sweet, sour, nutty, hot, and numbing flavors is termed guaiwei in Sichuan cuisine, and it translates roughly to "strange flavor." It is confoundingly delicious, and the perfect foil to mild-mannered poached chicken breast, or even better, dry leftover Thanksgiving turkey.

Pulling leftover roast turkey by hand.

To make Bang Bang Turkey, I mostly follow Kenji's method from his Bang Bang Chicken recipe but did away with the sous vide poultry cooking (this version is for T-Day leftovers, after all), and start by pulling leftover turkey breast by hand into bite-sized pieces. While turkey breast is the closest equivalent for the poached white-meat chicken in the original dish, you certainly can use leftover dark meat here as well.

Pouring dressing into a bowl with pulled turkey.

The dressing is really the only bit of work for this recipe, and it comes together quickly with a mortar and pestle. For this version, I adjusted the ratios on the dressing slightly to make it a little more approachable for any houseguests you may be hosting for the holidays who aren't used to the numbing power of Sichuan pepper and the intense heat of sediment-rich chili oil.

Mixing turkey together with dressing and sliced scallions in a mixing bowl.

Toss the turkey with the dressing and some thinly sliced scallions, and plate it up, sprinkling sesame seeds and more scallions over top before serving. If you are in the company of people with a higher tolerance for heat, you can drizzle a little extra chili oil over the whole deal right before serving. This is a dish that will jolt everyone out of their leftover lethargy and numb the pain of going back to work after the long holiday weekend.

Drizzling extra chili oil over a bowl of Bang Bang Turkey.