David Chang Finds Inspiration For Thanksgiving Leftovers In Classic Family Recipes - Exclusive Interview

Founder and head chef of Momofuku, David Chang is the go-to chef for Asian-American cooking. The chef has already won six James Beard Awards, GQ's Man of the Year and Bon Appetit's Chef of the Year, has two Netflix documentary series, a New York Times bestselling cookbook and memoir, as well as his own studio, Majordomo Media. What could possibly be left for the celebrity chef to do? Conquer the NFL. 

Chang has teamed up with Prime Video and the gang at "Thursday Night Football" to highlight the interesting restaurants and chefs that define the various NFL communities of each city they visit. The chef tells us that the text chains between him and the rest of the TNF team are long and involved threads about where they should go to celebrate each game, its players, and the devoted fans. This Thursday, he's going to have a different agenda because, for the first time in NFL history, the Thursday night game is going to be on Black Friday.

While plenty of people will be heading to the stores for those awesome deals, hardcore football fans will be watching the Miami Dolphins play the New York Jets, and Chang will be right there, between plays, advising us what to eat, and specifically how to turn those Thanksgiving leftovers into the perfect game-watching snack. He sat down with us to discuss those recipes, his favorite game day bites, and his time-saving tip for two classic Thanksgiving sides.

David Chang has his mom to thank for these crispy thanksgiving roll-ups

How did you come up with the idea for the Thanksgiving Roll-up?

My Thanksgivings growing up were the best, because it was literally a smorgasbord of the most delicious things. There's so many aunts, and they would bring this crazy potluck, and whoever was hosting it, they'd also make a ton of stuff. Of all the delicious things, and my mom would make a lot of delicious things, the thing that we all universally loved were these shrimp rolls. She would mince shrimp up and there was a little mayonnaise, a little celery. I don't even know what was in there. We loved the texture of it. 

I've tried to make them before, but over the years, sometimes with the leftovers, it's more like, "How do I do something that scratches the nostalgia?" I don't get to see them, and we don't get those family get-togethers anymore. We haven't in years. Everyone's moved on, and a lot of people have gotten older and are no longer with us. Last year, I made them for my family, and that was a nostalgic treat. To me, it scratches this itch of nostalgia. [It's also] similar to shrimp toast, which is always so delicious. 

I always want to do something different with the leftovers, other than the sandwich and other than making a turkey soup or turkey pot pie, which is almost like every year. You look at the things that you never get to use. Leftovers after 72 hours gets to be a little bit dodgy, especially since it's food that has been sitting out for some time, too. I want to use as much of it as possible. You start thinking about it — stuffing gets eaten almost immediately, by far, because it's always the winner. [It's the same thing with] mac and cheese. 

You start going down the line. It's usually the sautéed green or whatever you have that's a vegetable, that's not a root vegetable, and mashed potatoes, because for whatever reason, people aren't into leftover mashed potatoes. I'm not making a shepherd's pie, as much as I love it. At least for me, it's always been those leftovers. What do you do that's a little bit different? I wish that these could fit more of those mashed potatoes in there, but in reality, you could put turkey, you could put ham, or you could put anything in there, even sweet stuff.

Use the microwave to make gravy and mashed potatoes

Why is the microwave the best way to make gravy?

If you're making gravy, in the timing of it all, it's probably the last thing that's being made. You need the drippings and the fonds and everything from the turkey. If you think about the time and space and your mise en place in your kitchen, even if it's a very large kitchen, most of everything is going to be covering your stovetop. Where are you going to cook your gravy? It is a holding zone. You don't even think about it, but you're like, "Oh, yeah, I got this and that and ... you know what I mean?"

The oven space is a constant fight.

It's a constant fight, and that's what no g***amn publication talks about. It's never realistic. It's always giving you some bulls***, glamorous spread, but it's not realistic. 

Usually, if you're going to make gravy, you're in a rush. Guests are there. If you timed it right, your turkey's resting, and you've been able to strain off everything and get all those soups and fonds off. If you're able to microwave a roux, equal parts flour to butter, cook that out, maybe 90 seconds to two minutes, and then you stir it around and make sure it almost looks like a pie crust to some degree, very pebbly. I add my turkey broth and I mix that up, and then I cook that in the microwave for another two, three minutes, and then I stir that up. 

You would think that the pebbles would become lumps. You have to use a whisk, but it really does smooth out. Honestly, I don't know the technical science aspect of it, but it was always shocking to me. If I make a béchamel this way, there's no lumps, and I can make a gravy in under six minutes. People can make fun of me all they want. I don't give a s*** because, I'm telling you, it's legit the best way. The other best way, unequivocally, is cooking your mashed potatoes in the microwave.

There's no way you're going to beat the speed of doing it, and also the cleanup. I peel my potatoes, I chop them up, and I don't even season them. I put them in the Anyday for 10 minutes. I have a masher. I mash my potatoes, I add my butter, and I add my cream. If I wanted to, I could infuse that on a separate thing with rosemary, garlic, thyme, but I don't. In a restaurant, yes. At home, I'm trying to make it salty and tasty. I can serve it right away in the bowl that I cooked it.

For me, mashed potatoes, if you make it, and if you do it right, at home, that's a three to four-pot thing. It's more messy than it needs to be. If you take away the speed of it, and you take away the fact that you can use almost nothing to do it — you do need a potato masher, that's about it — on pure flavor, it's going to be better and more potato flavor than a traditional way. I'm going to cook the whole thing in 10 minutes. There's nobody that's going to beat this. I guarantee it.

Chang sticks with traditional dishes for big holiday get togethers

Since we're talking Thanksgiving leftovers, what is your favorite dish for the holidays?

It's always stuffing. Last year on "Recipe Club," Dave Arnold came on as a guest and he made a recipe that is his mom's recipe, and it sounds insane, but it is, unequivocally to me, the best stuffing recipe I've ever tried. You should look it up online. It's white bread, some sausage, and its key ingredient sounds insane: canned mandarin oranges. It's the only stuffing I'll ever make forever.

Now that you're working with the NFL, what's your favorite dish to make for game day or Super Bowl?

I want something that is as low maintenance as possible. Another recipe we've been doing is a quick stir-fry with those noodles. I want to make things that are in-house. I do not want to go grocery shopping. I don't even want to leave my house. I want to cook what's in-house. Those are the dishes that I'm always looking forward to. Inevitably, I'll make a pot pie. I'm not the biggest fan of turkey, but all the products that you can get from a turkey are better than the bird itself. When it's Super Bowl, it's going to be much more of your traditional fare — wings, nachos, stuff like that.

Classic ingredients are always the best choice

What's an underrated canned item that you always keep in your pantry?

The one that I go through the most is Bianco's, his canned tomatoes, and the thing that I use more than his canned tomatoes is his pizza sauce. It's the perfect thing. I don't think it's properly labeled. Yeah, it's good on pizza, but it's the sauce that I put on — it's a perfect amount for half a box of pasta for your kids. It's so good. His pizza comes in these [15]-ounce black cans. It is my secret weapon. It can flex into a lot of different things, including pizza, but it's a lifesaver for me at home.

What would your last meal be?

My last meal would probably be my mom's short ribs. Korean Galbi-jjim. 

I miss my mom's cooking a lot. She never gave recipes out. I've [had] people that say, "This is my mom's recipe." It doesn't taste the same, because she gave people red herrings.

What was your most memorable meal of 2023?

The best thing I had was this pollo de caldo in Mexico City. Of all the delicious things — and Mexico City, to me, feels like it has the eating atmosphere of Tokyo — that was the best thing I had to eat all year, a bowl of chicken soup with tortillas and chili.

Chef Chang will be sharing his Crispy Thanksgiving Roll-ups and several other recipes on Prime Video on Black Friday when the New York Jets take on the Miami Dolphins.

This interview has been edited for clarity.