/ Food & Drink

Charles Campion: what bird would Tiny Tim carry home today?

In Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Scrooge sends Tiny Tim to carry back a prize turkey for the Cratchit family’s Christmas dinner. Here’s food critic Charles Campion on the meat you should serve this Christmas.

Bob Cratchit had it easy. In the run up to Christmas he had to keep his nose to the grindstone and sit at his desk doing whatever it is that clerks did in 1843. He didn’t have to decide what to have for the Christmas meal – it would be gruel the same as last year.

But for the rest of us the arguments start early – should this be the year we have a goose? But delicious though it is, a goose is a bony bird and that means small portions for a family of half a dozen keen eaters.

The traditional turkey dinner

Then there’s the American interloper, the turkey. The last decade has seen a comeback from the Norfolk Black – great flavour, but this is a bird with big bones and a grudging amount of meat. Or there’s the bronze turkey, this one has a bit more meat on it and scores well in the flavour department.

Finally there’s the white turkey, a great, big, bosomy bird that delivers slice after slice of pristine white meat but can be short on flavour. These white feathered birds originally dominated the mass market partly because when plucked their white feathers left white stubs. Unlike the Norfolk Black which when plucked leaves a host of black specks to spoil the look of the breast.

The three bird roast

If the Cratchit family were doing the Christmas shopping nowadays Tiny Tim would probably be staggering home under the weight of a three bird roast.

Just about every permutation of birds that can be boned out has ended up reassembled as an all meat, easy to carve, special. These constructs are seriously solid and thus demand a good deal of care when cooking. Chicken, goose and turkey do not share a common oven temperature so everything usually ends up over-cooked ‘just to be on the safe side’. It’s also questionable whether you would ever choose to eat a slice of chicken, with a slice of goose, with a slice of turkey, and top the whole lot off with plenty of dodgy forcemeat.

Try doing your Christmas planning in reverse, after an afternoon over-eating and sofa snoring what will you fancy mid-evening when you are recovering? How about a rare roast beef sandwich on crusty bread with a smear of English mustard? That’s why this is the year when you should have roast short rib of beef for Christmas lunch. You can be confident that the Cratchits would have opted for beef if they had any say in the matter.

Merry Christmas, Charles Campion

This guest contribution by the food critic Charles Campion was originally written for Which? Conversation in 2014.

Sophie Gilbert says:
22 December 2014

We’re (just the two of us) having boeuf bourguigon because it’s easy to make and you can eat it over a couple of days and it gets more delivious each time you heat it up again. Apart from the carrots and onions that go in it, you can have it with many sorts of veg you can add to the plate, or you can adapt it as you along and make it more southern and stick tomatoes and black olives in, yum. We always have it with baby tatties. To make the meal special we’re having smoked salmon as a starter, 13 desserts (Provencal tradition, highly symbolic, not about stuffing yourself ;0) ) and champagne. Merry Christmas, everyone!


Sophie, I’d come round just for the desserts!

Turkey I can live with once a year, goose seems far too expensive. Chicken is a nice but ordinary dish – like your turkey, make sure it is well cooked. But I could eat duck breast on Christmas Day, with its own gravy, a plum or orange sauce in preference to the others quite happily, if it wasn’t for the tradition. But what a senseless waste to mix all those up in a single roast.

I prefer Boxing Day when we give a choice of rare roast beef, pork and gammon – or some of each.


Well anticipated comments from Sophie and Malcolm 11 months before the convo was written.


I thought Charles’ piece from last year deserved to be republished this year – from the great comments it’s had this year, I think I was right.

PS. We’re having beef this year!


Brisket, perchance?


I’m afraid Tiny Tim was not sent by Scrooge to the Dickensian equivalent of the Co-op for the Turkey: it was an unknown boy “in Sunday clothes”.


And far from ‘staggering’ TT was crippled and so would have had to limp back, dragging the thing along the ground.

But apart from the pedantry, it’ll be Chicken for the two of us and Beef for the boys.


If Tiny Tim had lived today he would probably have ordered his turkey online and had it delivered.


Anyone who planning to have chicken or other poultry needs to be careful about food poisoning: https://www.food.gov.uk/news-updates/campaigns/campylobacter/fsw-2014
Most people know to cook poultry thoroughly but may not realise the risk of cross contamination of cooked food (and food that is eaten raw) with even small amounts of raw meat juices. Stuffing is best prepared separately rather than cooked in a bird.

It does not help that all the supermarkets are still selling contaminated chicken, and some are worse than others. The Co-op and Waitrose did best in the most recently published figures, but not so well in earlier tests.

I’m not sure what I will be having this Christmas because I will be staying with friends. Home-made Christmas pudding is the highlight of the meal for me.