This from-scratch Turkey Tetrazzini is an easy way to turn leftover turkey into a cozy comfort food dinner. You can make it with leftover ham or rotisserie chicken too, and even turn it into a freezer meal for later!
I love Thanksgiving dinner, but I can pretty much take a repeat of turkey and gravy on a plate maybe twice more before I start getting antsy. (Unless I’m having this sandwich. That’s another story entirely.)
For brunch and lunch, my heart belongs to the Monte Cristo Sandwich, or a Turkey Panini. But, come the weekend nights, when I’ve been outside in the cold putting up Christmas decorations, I want something extra cozy for dinner.
Enter: Turkey Tetrazzini. It’s comfort food at its finest, and tastes nothing like the Thanksgiving feast.
This pan of deliciousness combines shredded turkey meat with a rich parmesan béchamel sauce, linguine, sautéed mushrooms, peas, and a splash (or more) of sherry. Baked until bubbly with buttery, parmesan Panko breadcrumbs on top, you’ll find yourself wanting to roast a turkey breast just so you can have Tetrazzini later.
Also, in case it isn’t clear from that description: if you’re looking for a way to eat lighter after the holiday, this isn’t it! <cue laugh track>
What is Tetrazzini?
Tetrazzini is a pasta dish made with a parmesan cream sauce and wine or sherry. The protein in the dish varies between chicken, turkey, and seafood versions, such as shrimp or tuna. I’ve even had Tetrazzini made with ham, and it’s delicious.
Most Tetrazzini recipes are baked as a casserole with a breadcrumb or crumb-and-cheese topping, though stovetop variations are common as well.
Is Tetrazzini Italian?
Simple answer: No. Tetrazzini is an American dish, though it’s pretty universally agreed that it was named for famous Italian soprano, Luisa Tetrazzini.
The dish originated in the early twentieth century from either Chef Ernest Arbogast of the Palace Hotel in San Francisco, and/or Chef Louis Paquet at the Hotel McAlpin in New York City. Accounts vary.
History is unclear about whether Madame Tetrazzini gave the chefs her recipe, or simply enjoyed their preparations so much that they named it for her.
Making Tetrazzini with Leftover Turkey (Or Chicken, Or Ham)
When I’m making Turkey Tetrazzini, I like to use the leftover turkey breast meat. You can definitely make it with leg or thigh meat, but I tend to have so much breast meat left over after the holiday, it’s what I’m using up when I made this dish.
It’s also a fantastic way to use a roasted or rotisserie chicken in the wintertime. I always seem to have remnants of a chicken sitting in the fridge!
Many recipes call for dicing the meat. I like to roughly shred it. The longer pieces of turkey or chicken mingle with the strands of linguine well, and make it a more cohesive bite than diced chunks.
In all honesty, there’s no right answer here. Diced or shredded, use whichever you prefer and fits your poultry best! The only time I do dice the meat is when I’m using ham, which, by nature, dices far better than it shreds.
Tips for Making the Best Tetrazzini
Turkey Tetrazzini is an easy dish to make, but there are a few tips that will ensure that you’ll have the most delectable dinner on your plate.
- Don’t overcook the pasta. You want to bring the linguine just to al dente when you boil it. It’s going to soak up some of the sauce and continue cooking a little when it bakes. If you make it too soft to start, it’ll turn mushy in the casserole.
- Don’t think that it looks “too saucy” when you pour it into the casserole dish. My only beef with some Tetrazzini recipes is that they’re incredibly dry after they’re baked. Just like a creamy macaroni and cheese, the sauce is going to thicken up both as it bakes and after it comes out of the oven. It should look “saucy”, as in the photo above. Saucy is good.
- For the best flavor, use cremini mushrooms. You can absolutely make Tetrazzini with sliced white button mushrooms sauteed in butter. They’re delicious. For a fuller, more mushroom-y flavor in the dish, look for cremini (baby bellas) at your market. They complement the turkey and parmesan cream sauce so well.
- Add the peas frozen. I love fresh peas, but use frozen in this dish. They’re perfect. Don’t even defrost them. They’ll cook to a not-too-soft texture as the casserole bakes. (That said, if you have leftover peas from a holiday dinner, feel free to add those in!)
- Season to taste. I use my favorite homemade or boxed chicken stock in this recipe. I prefer chicken stock to broth, as it tends to bring a deeper flavor to the dish, but either is fine. Commercially, salt content varies by brand. I’ve been conservative with the salt quantities in the recipe to allow for this, so add your salt to taste when making the sauce.
Making Tetrazzini for Freezer Meals
Want to stock your freezer for easy weeknight dinners during the winter? Tetrazzini is a great choice. You can either freeze it as one big casserole, or portion it out into smaller servings.
To freeze, wrap the buttered baking dish in foil before baking and pop it in the freezer. When ready to make it, defrost the Tetrazzini and bake as directed. To defrost, I pop it in the refrigerator the night before.
I like to leave the Panko off of the Tetrazzini when freezing, and mix it up fresh to top the defrosted casserole. It only takes a couple of minutes, and ensures the crispiest breadcrumbs.
Turkey Tetrazzini (or Chicken)
- 7 tablespoons unsalted butter , divided
- 1 pound cremini mushrooms , sliced
- 1 cup diced shallots or onion
- 2 cloves garlic , chopped
- 1 teaspoon fresh thyme
- 1/3 cup all purpose flour
- 2 cups whole milk
- 2 cups chicken stock
- 1.5 cups heavy cream
- 2-3 tablespoons dry sherry (depending on how much you want to taste it)
- 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano , divided
- 3/4 cup frozen peas
- 3 cups shredded cooked turkey breast (or chicken)
- 1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley
- 1/2 cup unseasoned Panko breadcrumbs
- 12 ounces linguine , snapped in half and cooked until "al dente"
- kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Butter a 4.8-qt (13x9) casserole dish.
- Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a large pot over medium-high heat, until foaming subsides. Add mushrooms with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and cook until liquids are released and mostly evaporated, about 5 minutes.
- Add shallots and cook for about 3-4 more minutes, until mushrooms are beginning to brown. Stir in garlic and thyme and cook for 1 minute, until fragrant. Remove mixture from pan and set aside.
- Melt 4 more tablespoons of butter in the empty pan. Stir in flour and cook for 2-3 minutes. Whisk in milk, stock, cream, sherry, nutmeg, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Continue cooking, whisking, until the sauce is smooth, glossy, and coats the back of a spoon, about 5 minutes.
- Whisk in 3/4 cup Parmigiano Reggiano until smooth. Remove from heat and fold in sautéed mushrooms, peas, shredded turkey, and parsley. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Stir in cooked linguine and pour into the prepared casserole dish.
- Melt the remaining tablespoon of butter, stir in Panko breadcrumbs, the remaining 1/4 cup of parmesan, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Sprinkle breadcrumb mixture on top of the Tetrazzini.
- Place dish on a baking sheet and bake for 25 minutes, until bread crumbs are browned and sauce is bubbling. Watch the breadcrumbs, particularly around the 15-minute mark. If they're starting to brown too quickly, shield the top of the dish with a piece of foil.
- Serve hot. The sauce will thicken further as the tetrazzini stands and cools.