/ 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.

“It does not help that all the supermarkets are still selling contaminated chicken” because campylobacter is a problem that no one yet knows how to eliminate. Vigorous efforts seem to be being made to reduce its prevalence. A magic solution does not seem to be available, just a number of smaller “interventions”.

It has been around, presumably, in birds and some other animals for as long as we’ve been eating them. Proper cooking eliminates the risk, it seems. Or if concerned, buying frozen chicken minimises the risk. The choice is always not to buy chicken (or duck, or turkey etc…..) if you are not confident in dealing with it. Education is the key. perhaps shops could do more to point out the need to avoid cross-contamination in the raw state, as well as giving cooking time and temperature.

It was a timely reminder, Malcolm.

I have yet to encounter a ‘three bird roast’, which Charles mentions in his introduction. Is this a chef’s speciality, another example of processed food, or a bit of both?

You may need to get out more, sir. I have often encountered “pre-fornicated” three bird roasts in the likes of Iceland. However I have never bought one, from there or anywhere else. I guess they are available in other stores too.

DerekP Did you encounter a nice healthy nut roast on your extensive travels sir. Also widely available in most stores and restaurants 🙂

Quite possibly. However, I’m a carnivore myself, so, when shopping, I tend to pay less attention to the vegetarian options. But, during long periods of incarceration in nice hotels, I’ll usually try out the vegetarian options sooner or later.

To avoid any possible cause of complaint – it has to be made clear that DerekP probably intended:
”Fornicated as an adjective is still used in botany, meaning “arched” or “bending over” (as in a leaf)”

😡 In that case I’ll have the beef. 🙂

If a 3 bird roast is not to your taste, then why not try a 6 bird roast – Ocado £150 serves 15-18. Components, presumably from the outside in, are turkey, cockerel, duck, guinea fowl, partridge, and quail. Cook the stuffing separately.

However, I imagine only the “lucky” ones will get all six birds when the carver gets to the middle of the concoction.

A Capon or two used to be popular Christmas day fare but you hardly ever hear of this fowl nowadays. I can’t describe it without giving the profanity filter massive indigestion.

I have had a couple of Christmas dinners so far, both in quite prestigious establishments, and in neither case were the Brussels sprouts satisfactory – far too hard and in one case like ball-bearings. I was wondering whether chefs today are so full of themselves they can’t be bothered to try their own efforts, if only to make sure they yield to the knife.

Is there an ‘official’ list of “all the trimmings”? I usually feel short-changed when eating out.

I’m looking forward to Pheasant again this year; just fine for two with all the vegetables, the befores and the afters.

I discovered a bottle of good Sherry in the back of a cupboard recently and so enjoyed it I am planning to have some on Christmas morning; a box of mince pies turned up the other day and they were very delicious so I’m off to Lidl on Monday morning to get some more in to have with the Sherry. The run up to Christmas is the most enjoyable part in my opinion, getting lots of different foodstuffs you can never find during the rest of the year, and enjoying the odd tipple or twain.

Ho! Ho! Everybody – have yourselves a merry old time. If you haven’t got one yet, treat yourself to an avatar – it’ll help you stand out from the crowd.

And best wishes for the festive furlough to our esteemed editor, the writers, experts and contributors, the moderators, tweakers and graphics designers, and everyone else who makes this website happen.


The interesting point is in industrial farming the chickens are grown so quickly that capons and hens “harvested” from 5 weeks old taste the same. In France the castrated cucks are grown on and are a speciality and expensive. Also in Italy.

dt, i am confused as to whether you mean “cooks” or “c***s” (if this is ** I am referring to male chickens). I do agree that slower-grown meat has more flavour and in the old days a capon was a very tasty bird. I would prefer it to turkey in many ways but not big enough for a family Christmas dinner.

I personally prefer turkey and chicken cold (or at least only just warm) rather than hot from the oven.

Will it be turkey or will it be pheasant?
Whatever you choose, may it be pleasant
You might even have duck
If you push your luck!

Will it be champagne, white or red wine?
It may depend on whose coming to dine
Will it be pudding, mince pies or cheese
It could possibly be all of these!

But on Xmas day, when you’ve had your fill
Please spare a thought for those who will
Not be here to join the celebrating
And loved ones left with hearts still aching.

A very happy and peaceful Christmas to everyone.

Beryl, that’s delightful. I hope you’ll forgive me, but you’ve inspired…

How to avoid Food poisoning – a Limerick

When I saw that fine poem by Beryl
I wondered if I (at my peril)
Could pen a quick ditty,
Quite brief but not witty.
So I’ll try a tame Lim’rick (not feral)…

When choosing your Chrismassy bird
“Take care!” is advice often heard,
Lest bugs that secrete
Themselves in the meat
Leave you shaken and def’nitely stirred.

Preparing your poultry is fun;
All you need is a scalpel and rum.
(Oh, there’s hot running water,
Fresh napalm to slaughter
The bugs), and the rum when you’re done.

When you first choose the bird do make sure
It’s dead, lest a chase round the store
Should ensue, as you lunge,
With intent to expunge,
The miscreant avian’s caws.

Set the oven to “ultra-hot roast”;
Shove the bird in then scrub ‘till a ghost
Would be less white than you,
(And dirtier, too),
Then serve it while you nibble toast.

I think Beryl’s contribution is more seasonal but I’m delighted to learn that one family at least is well versed in the potential problems with Christmas poultry.

Thank you both for bringing merriment into the sometimes over-critical world of Which? Convo.

………………..to compliment the nut roast! Love the humour Ian.

Congratulations, you have unearthed a longstanding secret. I am not widely known as Beryl which is the name I use to preserve my anonymity on Which?Convo!

I am fortunate enough to be visiting close relatives on Christmas Day so no bird cooking for me this year, the condition being I take one of my special sherry trifles along with me 🙂

” … what bird would Tiny Tim carry home today?”
+ As has already been pointed out, it wasn’t Tiny Tim who brought home the meat in Dickens’ original – but poet’s licence and all that.
+ Ebby Scrooge would no longer hide his light under a bushel [About 35 L] he’d employ a P A Coy to highlight his generosity, with his eye on a Gong.
+ Tiny Tim had refused to comply with ATOS-DWP’s assessment declaring him fully fit to undertake work as a ‘Night-soil’ operative. The Rt Hon. IDS’s Great G grandfather personally seized the meat, declared it State property, and immediately sold it back to the original supplier at 1/2 the price he’d sold it for.
+ Because of the ATOS-DWP ruling, the newly privatized NHS re-possessed Tiny Tim’s crutches
+ Food banks had been declared to be State property, closed down and the contents sold to an Oligarch.

Tiny Tim’s family facing starvation, declared him the Weakest Link, and ate him.

This comment was removed at the request of the user

I am very happy to report our 3 pheasants are safe and well and spending the day in our garden. So glad they managed to escape the dinner table today.

😀 😀 😀

My daughter lived in a village in Dorset next to a farm. Shooting took place in the season and it broke my heart to see the lovely creatures perish just to satisfy homo sapiens.