Ah, Christmas. So much fuss is made about the big day and the even bigger lunch. Yet, for me, it's the following day's food that I probably love the most - the wonder that is Christmas leftovers.
I embrace those less formal meals and snacks we tuck into on the in-between days of Christmas and New Year while watching Elf for the 67th time, or catching up on the Strictly Christmas special. Those sarnies crammed with leftover roast meat and trimmings, the leftover veggies fried up for Boxing Day brunch, and the inventive uses for that few slices of stollen or the leftover Christmas pud (because who has ever eaten a straight-up plum pudding outside of the 25th December?).
Reducing food waste is sky high on my list of priorities, and I find it highly gratifying to spin those sad and lonely leftovers into exciting new dishes, in turn seeking out the time before I have to go and do yet another food shop (because haven't we all spent quite enough money this month already?).
And so, here are my own personal favourite ways to use up those Christmas foods, all foods that have become as much a part of our family's Christmas food traditions as decorating the tree while listening to Mary's Boy Child or making my late Auntie Joan's pudding recipe…
Ways to use up Christmas leftovers
1. Bubble and squeak
Of course, bubble and squeak is for life, not just for Christmas, but, while I make it now and again throughout the year, Boxing Day morning is the only time we have it for breakfast. Traditionally made with cabbage and spring onion, the Boxing Day variety is prepared with whatever veg is still lurking in the aftermath of yesterday's feast – sliced up sprouts, red cabbage, even carrots, all smashed together with the leftover potatoes.
I tend to add a little paprika to give some vibrancy, and always top with a lovely fried egg – splashing out on some high-quality organic eggs with bright orange yolks for the occasion (or even a duck egg, may I be so bold). Leftover pigs in blankets reheated go down a treat alongside, as do roasted vine tomatoes, and I always add a dash of Tabasco before tucking in.
Get the recipe: Bubble and squeak
2. Winter slaw
There is almost always leftover red cabbage in the fridge and I love to make a good winter slaw with it, adding all kinds of other festive veg remains. Mix shredded cabbage with shredded carrots and spring onions and add mustard, mayo, and wine vinegar for a tart kick and a drizzle of honey for sweetness.
We tend to have a glut of Stilton and other blue cheeses at Christmas, so crumbling a little through the slaw, along with some crushed leftover nuts – walnuts work particularly well here – turns your slaw into a complete meal rather than an accompanying side.
It can also work brilliantly to accompany some leftover ham, turkey, or chicken, and with a hunk of crusty bread. A vibrant, fresh flavoured antidote to all that heavy food, to rev up a sluggish system. It might even galvanise me to go out for a run…
Get the recipe: Red cabbage slaw
3. Boxing Day pie
I do love a Boxing Day pie to use up the leftover turkey. It's a no-rules affair, so all the leftover veggies are welcome in the mix – carrots, peas, leeks – as well as the all-important mushrooms. You could also throw in your leftover ham.
After the calorie overload of the day before, I like to keep my pie at least a little bit lighter, using a filo pastry instead of a big heavy crust – crumbling it over the top a la Joe Wicks recipe. I tend to switch out the double cream for créme fraîche as well and add a spoonful of Dijon mustard for a bit of punch. Then I serve it with leftover sprouts, wilted spinach, and steamed green beans.
Get the recipe: Joe Wicks chicken pie
4. Turkey sarnies
Yeah, yeah, SO obvious, who needs to be told how to make a turkey sandwich? But not all turkey sandwiches are made equal. I find myself on an annual mission to rival the iconic Pret Christmas sandwich (that will forever evoke memories of its capacity as a hangover cure the day after an office party, am I right?). My secret weapon? Mango chutney. Trust me, it works.
If you're not a cranberry sauce fan (I'm not), this Indian spin adds sweetness that complements the all-essential stuffing, breast meat, and a dollop of my festive slaw. Crispy onions work a treat, too. Pop it all in some fresh squidgy white bread – a Farmhouse loaf is perfect, nothing too fancy, buttered – and add salt and pepper.
Another spin I enjoy is turning it into a festive bành mí, the famous Vietnamese-French fusion sandwich that I ate daily as street food on a trip there this summer. Pack turkey (also applies to leftover roast chicken or beef) and festive slaw into a baguette and add fresh red chilis, Sriracha sauce mayo, and any leftover paté – another festive treat that we always have still lurking in the fridge come Boxing Day.
Get the recipe: Vietnamese turkey sandwich
5. Panettone bread and butter pudding
My mum used to make bread and butter pudding after Sunday dinner when I was a child but I've never really ever thought to make it myself – except for at Christmas when I whip up a festive, Italian spin on one with that panettone I bought when was drawn in by the fabulous packaging, but it's now Boxing Day and no one has even touched it.
We'll always have leftover brandy cream to throw in there too for a slightly boozy twist, and I sometimes add some crumbled leftover nuts as well – pecans work especially well. Serve with a dollop of good-quality vanilla ice cream.
Get the recipe: Panettone bread and butter pudding
6. Mince pie/Christmas pudding ice cream
There has never, in the history of time, been an occasion when all of the Christmas pudding was eaten. I'd go out on a limb and say this is the same situation in your house, too. But it is not going in the bin (did I mention how much I hate food waste?).
My favourite use is to add it to homemade ice cream. This also applies to leftover mince pies or stollen, crumbled in, or to festive gingerbread or lebkuchen, lightly smashed with a rolling pin in a freezer bag (though don't turn them into complete crumbs).
Ice cream isn't something most of us tend to bother making for ourselves when it's so simple to buy a tub, but it's super easy and a great skill to master. And while it's still packed with cals and sugar, it's a little lighter and fresher as an antidote to all those hefty flavours we've been packing in of late.
Get the recipe: Mince pie ice cream
How long are Christmas leftovers good for?
Meats and leftover veg should be good for two days, providing you've put it in the fridge within a couple of hours of finishing your meal. If you freeze your leftovers, they are safe to eat for up to three months.
Desserts like trifle with fresh cream should also be eaten within two days, while sweet foods like mince pies and Christmas puddings will last longer and you should be able to eat up to New Year – check the packet if shop-bought for the use-by dates.
Generally, if anything looks or smells funny, it's time for the bin – don't risk it, you don't want to see in the new year with food poisoning.
How do you store Christmas leftovers?
Once cooled, put leftover turkey and other meats in the fridge within two hours. If you're not planning to eat them within two days, put the meat straight in the freezer, sliced or chopped, and stored in bags in portion sizes, so that you don't have to defrost more than you need for next use.
Store cooled vegetables and leftover desserts in the fridge too, or freeze and eat within three months.
What leftovers should not be reheated?
Rice is a surprising culprit for food poisoning because it contains a bacterium called Bacillus cereus – cooking should kill the bug but it can live on in spore form and so should not be stored for more than 24 hours before reheating.
The same goes for seafood and chicken – keep in the fridge and eat no more than 24 hours after reheating until piping hot. Eggs should never be reheated.
Lara Kilner is a writer and editor with two decades of experience in national newspapers, magazines, and websites. She writes about food, and lifestyle among other topics. She has had the privilege of interviewing a whole host of celebrity chefs from Jamie Oliver to Rick Stein, from Raymond Blanc to Paul Hollywood, from Prue Leith to Nadiya Hussain. In her spare time, Lara loves to cook for her family and friends.
Why not make a Christmas crumble to use up your leftover pudding, or make the most of your leftovers with our Boxing Day buffet food ideas? We also have a selection of leftover turkey recipes and leftover pork recipes and, for those foods you just don't find a use for, learn about foods you didn't know you could freeze.
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Lara Kilner is a writer and editor with two decades of experience in national newspapers, magazines, and websites. She writes about food, lifestyle, travel, health and wellness, and entertainment, and regularly interviews celebrities and people with interesting life stories and experiences. Her foodie content has included interviews with Jamie Oliver, Rick Stein, Queer Eye’s food expert Antoni Porowski, the Hairy Bikers, Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall, Raymond Blanc, Andi Oliver, Paul Hollywood, Prue Leith, and Nadiya Hussain.
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