Throughout April, I’ve been yearning for Jersey Royal new potatoes. In usual conditions, the season starts at the end of March but the ‘Beast from the East’ has delayed them by a month. I visited the island of Jersey a few years ago where I met dedicated farmers who would get up, in the middle of the night, to wrap their precious potatoes in fleece, if there was a chill. This year, fields remained covered till late spring.
I was struck by the amount of work that goes into growing Jersey Royals. Each and every one of these tiny spuds is chitted, sorted, graded, planted, ploughed, by hand, on steep slopes or ‘cotils’, where it is impossible to use machinery. Each cotil is intimately known by the farmers; which ones suffer from frost, where the soil is dry or wet, sandy or loamy. The yield is often very low which is why they are known as the champagne of the potato world.
The flavour is in the skins, a slight coppery flavour, evoking newness and freshness. Their distinctive taste comes from the fact that they are mulched with seaweed or ‘vraic’.
It’s an important crop for Jersey: fifty percent of the export market is comprised of royals. They command a premium price, but the UK is pretty much the only market, although the French are being worked upon. (The skins might be a stumbling block to gaining popularity in France; I once cooked new potatoes, leaving on the skins, for Parisian friends who were horrified by this practice.)
Other seasonal vegetables include sprouting broccoli, tipped with purple florets, artichokes and cheery green peas. Don’t forget neglected vegetables from the sea – samphire.
Jersey Royal Potato Salad
The easiest way to achieve nude spuds is to rub off their skins with a clean tea towel after they are cooked. When wild fennel is in season, use the flowers to decorate the salad.
500g Jersey Royals
3 heaped tbsp full fat crème fraîche
1/2 bulb fennel, finely sliced, include fronds
Handful of samphire (often available at fishmongers)
Zest of 1 lemon
Boil the potatoes, skins on, in a salted pan of water. Once tender, drain and slip off the skins. Very tiny potatoes keep whole; larger ones, cut in half. Add the creme fraiche while the potatoes are still hot, ten add the finely sliced fennel and the samphire. Finally scatter some lemon zest and season to taste. Can be served lukewarm or cold.
Waxy potatoes, for instance Charlotte or Yukon Gold or my choice here, the red-skinned, yellow-fleshed Ruby Gem, work very well shallow-fried.
3tbp olive oil
500g potatoes, sliced 1/2 cm thick, skins on
200g sprouting broccoli, separated into florets
50g fresh or frozen peas
2 cloves garlic, minced
A handful of artichoke hearts in oil, sliced in half
1 preserved lemon, finely diced
Pour the olive oil into a frying pan, once hot, add the sliced potatoes. They will take at least 10 minute to cook, add the broccoli after 5 minutes, then the peas, garlic and finally the artichoke hearts and preserved lemon. Season to taste and serve hot.
Mousseline with Truffle
Chef Joel Robuchon famously transformed humble mashed potato into a Michelin-star experience. His technique is time-consuming but worthwhile for a velvety rich purée.
- Use La Ratte or waxy potatoes.
- Baking rather than boiling the potatoes dries out the flesh for a fluffy interior. To further dry them, you could bake them on a bed of coarse salt, a technique used for another great dish – the Canary Island style ‘papas arrugadas’.
- Use a special sieve called a ‘tamis’, a potato ricer or fine sieve. On no account use a blender or food processor, which turns mash into glue.
- Use half as much butter as potato, so weigh the potato once baked and peeled.
- Continually beat in the cold butter otherwise the butter melts and the dish becomes greasy.