Turkey Risotto with Saffron and Preserved Lemon

Making risotto with the remains of the holiday bird is tradition in our family.  Thanksgiving or Christmas, turkey or goose.  No matter.  One decent risotto polishes off all the goose leftovers, but turkeys tend to be a bit more generous, with enough leftovers for sandwiches and a risotto, like this week’s Turkey Risotto with Saffron and Preserved Lemon, and maybe even a soup (e.g. Turkey Soup with Baby Bok Choy and Rice Stick Noodles). 

For the last half dozen years we’ve had Thanksgiving dinner at Rialto.  Jody has to work, so rather than postpone the feast until she gets home, we simply eat late in the service, when she can sit down with everybody else.  But while our kids have acquiesced in eating at their mom’s restaurant, they’ve drawn the line in two areas–they want pumpkin pie made in our kitchen (no pumpkin mousse, ice cream or sabayon) when they get home and, like all of their friends, they want leftovers.  We oblige.  Sometime we’ll even bring home a turkey carcass in order to make our own stock.

You can easily make stock using a chicken, turkey or goose carcass.  After dinner, put the carcass (all stuffing removed) in a large pot with a couple of carrots, some celery, an onion, a tablespoon of whole black peppercorns, a bay leaf and, if one is available, a bundle of thyme sprigs fastened with twine.  Cover with cold water.  Bring to a boil, then lower to a bare simmer.  If you think of it, skim off any scum that forms on the surface.  The stock will be done before everyone goes to bed, assuming everyone perseveres against a tryptophan induced haze for at least three hours after eating.  We set the pot of stock, safely covered, outside to cool.  The next morning we skim off the fat (we give away goose fat to friends for Christmas).  If you’re just hanging out this morning, instead of storming the gates of Target, you can easily start a stock after breakfast and it will be ready a little after lunch – 3 hours is usually enough time.

If you don’t have preserved lemons on hand, then one of your New Year’s resolutions should be to make your own, otherwise buy them inexpensively at Whole Foods.  If you’re too busy with Black Friday to even consider food shopping, substitute a bit of grated lemon for the preserved lemon.  In either event, be grateful.  Enjoy.  Ken

Turkey Risotto with Saffron

and Preserved Lemon


  • 6 cups homemade turkey or chicken stock (or high-quality low-sodium canned chicken broth)
  • ½ teaspoon saffron
  • 3 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped into ¼-inch dice
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 1½ cups Arborio rice
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • ½ pound cooked turkey meat, preferably dark meat, trimmed of skin and fat, coarsely chopped into ½-inch pieces
  • 2 tablespoons chopped preserved lemon skin
  • ½-1 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes or  Aleppo pepper (see the note with the harissa below)
  • 1 cup freshly grated hard sheep’s milk cheese
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro or flat-leaf parsley with a few celery leaves
  • 1 tablespoon mild harissa–be careful as harissa is often very spicy.   Reduce the quantity if you can only find regular harissa and reduce or eliminate the hot red pepper flakes.


  1. Heat the stock to simmer and keep warm while making the risotto.
  2. Crumble the saffron into a small bowl and pour ½ cup warm stock over it.
  3. Heat the extra virgin olive oil in a risotto pan or a large, deep-sided saucepan over medium heat.  It’s important to use a pan with a heavy bottom that conducts heat evenly, otherwise the rice will burn when you’re cooking the risotto.  Add the onion and cook until tender and translucent, about 6 minutes.   Add the garlic, and cook until it just becomes fragrant, only a minute or two.  Stir in the coriander.
  4. Add the rice and cook 3 minutes, stirring so the fat coats all the rice. Season with salt and pepper.
  5. Add the wine and cook, stirring frequently, until most of it has been absorbed. Begin adding the stock, ½ cup at a time, stirring frequently, making sure that nothing sticks to the bottom of the pan.  If you find that the stock is absorbed instantly, or you have to stir violently to prevent the rice from sticking and burning, then lower the heat. Wait until most of the stock has been absorbed before adding the next half-cup.
  6. Continue adding the stock ½ cup at a time.  After 20 minutes, add the turkey meat and the preserved lemon.  If you’re using hot red pepper flakes, add them now.  Continue to add stock and cook for another 10 minutes or so.  Stop adding stock when the rice is creamy and tender, but there’s still a slight amount of resistance as you bite into it.  Don’t worry if there’s still stock left—you may not have to use it all.  The total cooking time for the rice is about 30 minutes.
  7. As soon as the rice is finished stir in the saffron stock, ½ cup of the cheese, herbs and harissa. Season with salt and pepper. The texture should be creamy and slightly runny. Add ¼ cup stock or water (if you’ve run out of stock) just before serving. Spoon into warmed large shallow bowls or use warmed plates. Serve immediately, offering the remaining cheese on the side.

This is a garlic shoot, from the center of a garlic clove.  We’re about to enter winter garlic season.  Always remove the shoot from the center of the clove.  If you include it with the rest of the chopped garlic it will add a bitter flavor.

Jody Notes:  

Full disclosure:  making risotto in real time for a blog post is a pain in the neck.  Risotto doesn’t wait for the many interruptions of the camera.  By the time it gets to the bowl, the rice is overcooked  and the grains separate from the creamy broth.  If you look closely you can see.  Oh well… 

If you do want to get your risotto started and then stop it part way, do it within the first 15 minutes.  You’ll have more wiggle room for recovery and the chance for al dente rice in a creamy bath.  

When it comes to Thanksgiving turkey dinner, I’m a traditionalist–roast bird, simple bread stuffing, lots of vegetables and cranberry-orange chutney  (recipe from the Ocean Spray bag).  It’s my mom’s spread, and in fact, it’s pretty much what we served to over 300 happy people at Rialto yesterday.   

But then I want to do something sexy with the leftovers.  This combination of Mediterranean flavors is fabulous with the rich flavor of dark turkey meat.   If you don’t get to this recipe with your Thanksgiving turkey, save it for another time.  Turkey thighs are available all year.  Just season them with salt and pepper and roast until tender.  Then shred the meat.  Make a quick broth for the risotto with the bones.  

Click on a picture – go ahead!

37 thoughts

  1. This almost makes me wish I had leftover turkey. We had turkey meatballs with cilantro — easier for me and my family loved them. The Seared Brussels Sprouts from last week were a HUGE hit. Ken, I roasted them in the oven with a little extra olive oil as you suggested — perfect. An instant classic.

    • Great! Thank you. It’s always nice to hear when something hits the target. We went through two batches of Brussels sprouts here with the dipping sauce BEFORE Thanksgiving. Something to keep in mind for the future–we really like turkey thighs. They’re easy (salt, pepper, evoo/butter–60-90 minutes at 425 degrees, depending on size), so just about anything that depends on turkey leftovers can be accommodated to turkey thighs as soon as you take the meat off the bone. Good luck. Ken

  2. I love the idea of going from traditional–that’s me at Thanksgiving–to sexy with the leftovers. Move over turkey soup–or at least step to the back of the line. And thanks for the link :) Happy day after Thanksgiving to the Rivard-Adamses.

    • You too, Sally! Oliver has to work at ABC Kitchen both Thanksgiving and Christmas :-( so Jody and Roxanne are driving to Brooklyn on Saturday to help make Thanksgiving dinner with Oliver and his roommates. Ken

    • Hi, Ayako–Oh, yes, quite a few people eat out on Thanksgiving–for convenience, because some people don’t like turkey and they want some other choices, or because, sadly, you see people that wouldn’t–except for the force of the holiday–ordinarily eat together. Rialto served several hundred people. (For the record–I had lamb chops, since I’d just eaten been eating turkey thighs and risotto a few days earlier, plus we now have lots of turkey leftovers.) Ken

      • Ah, OK, that’s like some of us who take advantage of the new year holidays (definitely the most important and festive holiday season in Japan) to get away together as one family (the most popular destination being Hawaii) if only to avoid bigger family obligations. ^^

      • Haha! Ah, yes, the holiday family gathering. I can’t speak for Japan, but in the US and Europe, theyr’e times so fraught with the potential for conflict that there exists an entire genre of films organized around the them of holiday family reunions. Hawaii sounds good! Ken

    • Hi, Sara–Glad to hear it. Homemade stock is so neglected, and it’s an incredible treat! I hope as you read this you’re not heading out the door to join the mobs of shoppers (unless you really like that sort of thing). Happy post-T to you too. Ken

      P.S. Are you going to be at the Boston food bloggers thing on Dec. 20th? It would be fun to actually meet.

  3. I always have a jar of preserved lemons as well as saffron at home! I wasn’t in charge of the turkey this year, so I guess it was put into sandwiches or the traditional tetrazzini. But I will definitely try this recipe next time I have leftover chicken! Which is bound to be sometime soon!

    • Aaaarrrgggh! Our mistake – add with the preserved lemon in step 6, right after stirring in the turkey. Good luck. (The 1/2 – 1 tsp measurement depends on how spicy you want it. Did you see the note about harissa? I think that’s why Jody skipped them in the steps.) If you’re using harissa for the first time, I’d eliminiate the red pepper. Sorry for the confusion. Ken

    • Thanks, we had a great holiday–and on Saturday Roxanne and Oliver drove down to Brooklyn to make Thanksgiving dinner for Oliver and 10 of his closest friends, who had to work on Thursday. They had a great time. I’d like the details on your dinner the next time we cross paths. Ken

  4. Just finished making this, and it was absolutely delicious! I’ve never attempted risotto before, but it seems to have come out just fine. A question on the preserved lemon, though: the stuff from WF is meyer lemon slices in olive oil, and there was not 2 Tbs of skin in there, so I just used 2 Tbs of everything in the jar. It seems to be a little heavy on the lemon flavor in the final dish.

    • Hmmm, by slices, do you mean halves or, perhaps a half cut into the shape of flower. Meyer lemons, eh? The preserved lemons I’ve bought have always been the big bumpy kind; also Meyer lemons are much sweeter than the ordinary kind, so I can where at least part of your “heavy on the lemon” flavor is coming form. At a minimum you should have had the skin of at least a whole (regular) lemon, usually two. Cookbooks generally instruct you to scrape away the soft interior and the pith and just use the skin–I often use the pulp as well as the skin, but it can be more overtly lemony, as you’ve just discovered. We didn’t mention go into this because we assumed everyone we just use the skin, as instructed, and it adds one more arcane detail that we’d just as soon people new to risotto not worry about (although we would talk about it in a post about preserved lemons). One final question, just to be sure we’re talking about the same thing–the PLs I buy are sold in deli containers, like olives, and sit in the cheese section, generally near the olives, roasted red peppers, etc.; they’re not something in grocery in a glass jar. Anyway, I hope on balance you’ve found something new to add to your repertoire. Ken

      • that explains a lot about why it was so lemony! When I was at WF, I asked them where the PL were, and they took me to the aisle where jars of peppers were. These PL are in olive oil, and look more like a mash of lemon slices, with pulp and some skin on them. Next time I’ll look in the deli section. And this risotto is definitely in my repertoire now.

  5. Last year I made the turkey pho as you advised and it was a real winner. This year I was at my folks’ house, so no leftovers this year. I’m tempted to roast a turkey just so I can make this rissotto! You also reminded me that it’s time to make preserved lemons again, so thank you.

    • Hi, Megan–I love that soup, especially this time of the year. I’m glad to hear you make your own preserved lemons. We’ve been thinking about doing a post on them. As for the risotto, just roast some turkey thighs: 400 degree oven, s/p, evoo, roughly 90 minutes, depending on their size. Eat some, use the rest for risotto. :-) Ken

  6. Looks amazing, so glad to have something to do with all those leftovers! I did not win the fight to make the Brussels sprouts with Korean dipping sauce as an alternative to the traditional ones, but those are on the menu this week instead. Thanks for the beautiful food.

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