Let’s be honest: leftover turkey recipes rarely inspire delight and elation so much as a feeling of obligation and ennui. Not this year! This year you know better. This year you’re making Monte Cristo sandwiches with your leftover turkey. I mean you are, aren’t you? A Monte Cristo sandwich is no mean feat: a deep-fried sandwich that is at once crunchy and chewy and wickedly tasty. And you put jam on it! But before we get to the sandwiching, we need to make sure your turkey is safe to eat.
Thanksgiving Leftover Safety
You did everything right to make sure your turkey was safe to eat the first time: you properly thawed your turkey, you cooked it properly with a probe thermometer, you let it rest to come up to temp and reabsorb juices. But did you do everything needed to keep it safe for later?
Food industry standards for serving meat dictate that meat be held at or above 135°F (57°C), and if you served your turkey meat in a chafing dish or other heated vessel, that’s good. But if, like most people, you served your turkey on a platter on the table, you have to think more about the Temperature Danger Zone (the TDZ). The TDZ is that range of temperatures wherein bacteria multiply rapidly, jumping into unsafe numbers in a relatively short time–from 41 to 135°F [5 to 57°C].
To be safe, food industry professionals try to get through the TDZ as quickly as possible when cooking or cooling foods. When cooling, the goal is to get from 135°F (57°C) down to 70°F (21°C) within two hours, and the get down below 41°F (5°C) within the next 4 hours.
By putting your turkey on the table, you have basically begun cooling it, and you need to be aware of how long it takes. A sliced turkey will almost certainly get down to room temperature in 2 hours, so you have no danger there, but be sure to get it into the fridge in enough time that it will cool all the way within the next four hours. Check to see that you’ve hit the food-safe range by spot checking the meat with a Thermapen-Mk4® Basically, don’t let the turkey sit out all day.
If you follow proper cooling techniques, you don’t have to worry about how you reheat your food. You can eat it cold, or warm it slightly, or cook it until it’s hot without any worry. If you let it sit out all day, you will need to dook it all the way to 165°F (74°C) for a full 15 seconds to make it safe to eat. If that is the case, for this sandwich, you should pre-cook the turkey in a microwave until it reaches 165°F (74°C).
Monte Cristo Sandwich
Now that we know our turkey is safe to eat, we can make one of the world’s great sandwiches: the Monte Cristo. This sandwich, composed of ham, swiss cheese, turkey, and mustard, is a play on the French Croque Monsieur sandwich but with the great American twist of deep-frying it and serving it with jam. Who isn’t going to be excited about that for leftovers?
➤ Monte Cristo problems
The Monte Cristo is not a chefs-only treat, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t difficulties that need to be overcome. The hardest part of making a Monte Cristo is the battering and frying. If these aren’t done correctly, the sandwich turns into an oil-soaked sponge of regret and disappointment. If it is done correctly, it is a joy.
To avoid oil-soaking the sandwich, we need two make sure of two things:
- we need a batter that is thick enough to cling to the bread and really coat it
- we need to cook the sandwich at a hot enough temperature that it will not need to sit in the oil for too long
The bread of the sandwich is a sponge, and if it comes into contact with the oil, it will absorb an unpalatable amount of it. A thick batter will help prevent that contact from occurring. While it may be appealing to use a thin tempura-style batter, that affords little protection, especially around the edge of the sandwich where the meat and cheese are exposed. We need something that is roughly the texture of pancake batter to protect our sandwich from the oil. That way, it can coat the exposed edges of the Monte Cristo, as well as the flatter, bready parts.
Oil temperature is key to proper frying, which is why recommend using our ChefAlarm® or other leave-in style probe thermometer when deep frying. Frying at 350°F (177°C) will give us oil hot enough to get the job done quickly. Quick frying minimizes the opportunity for creating an oil-sponge. It also actually lessens the danger of burning our sandwich, because we won’t be tempted to turn away.
The ChefAlarm is great for this because we can be alerted to a high or a low temp in our oil, which will help us keep a much more accurate eye on the frying. We’ll set our high-alarm at 350°F (177°C) to tell us when the oil is ready for frying. Once it’s at temp, set the low alarm for 320°F(160°C). We do this because adding the sandwich to the oil will cause the temperature to plummet. This makes sense, as we’ve added a colder foreign object and are venting heat in the form of steam.
We will increase the heat under the pot when we add the sandwich, but if we hear the low alarm, we’ll know we need to really crank it to try to get that temp back into a good cooking range. After we take the sandwich out, we’ll let the oil come back up to 350°F (177°C) before adding our next sandwich. Watch your temperature display closely to learn to better steer your fry.
Monte Cristo Sandwich
Adapted from The Chunky Chef:
- 8 slices of bread (good quality bread will make a tastier sandwich)
- 8 slices Swiss Cheese
- 8-12 slices deli turkey, or thinly sliced leftover turkey
- 8-12 slices ham
- Good mustard
- 1 cup flour
- 1 egg
- 1 Tbsp baking powder
- 1 Tbsp sugar
- tsp ¼ salt
- 1 cup of water
- powder sugar for dusting
- jam for dipping
- Line a baking sheet with paper towels and top with a wire cooling rack.
- Add 1-2 inches of vegetable or canola oil to a large heavy-bottomed pot. Attach your ChefAlarm and heat the oil over medium heat until 350°F (177°C).
- Slice your leftover turkey across the grain. Slather one slice of bread with mustard, top with turkey, top with slices of cheese, top with ham, and finish with another slice of bread slathered with mustard.
- To keep the sandwiches from falling apart, use toothpicks to secure their corners. Stick the toothpicks in at angles to hold the pieces together.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the egg, flour, baking powder, sugar, salt, and water. Whisk until smooth. the texture should be that of thick-ish pancake batter.
- When the oil comes fully to temperature, dip secured sandwich in the batter, making sure to coat all sides and carefully lower sandwich into the hot oil. Turn up the heat under the oil to make up for temperature loss and fry for several minutes per side, or until golden brown. Monitor the temp on your ChefAlarm, adjusting the heat to make sure the heat neither dips too low nor spikes too high.
- Remove sandwich from oil and place on the prepared cooling rack. Cut the sandwich in half immediately before serving, and dust with powdered sugar. Serve with jam for dipping.
With a little bread, ham, batter, oil, and some thermal precision provided by your ChefAlarm, you make Thanksgiving leftovers that people will look forward to all year. And because you took care of the turkey the right way, you know that you will be serving up food that is as safe as it is tasty.
ServSafe Coursebook, 6th edition, National Restaurant Association
Monte Cristo Sandwich on The Chunky Chef