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.