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Jersey Royals Inspire British Summer Potato Frenzy

The Most Popular Potato Salad in Finland. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clarissa Hyman

The Most Popular Potato Salad in Finland. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clarissa Hyman

It might be raining, hailing or even snowing, but when Jersey Royal potatoes arrive in the shops, everyone knows it’s the unofficial start of the British summer. There’s always a mad dash to get the first batches of marble-sized Royals, thanks in part to a flurry of intense marketing not unlike that accorded to Beaujolais Nouveau.

Iconic Jersey Royal potatoes can only be grown in Jersey, the largest of the Channel Islands that sit between England and France, and they boast a Protected Designation of Origin logo as proof of authenticity. Each Jersey Royal can be traced to its field of origin. Shallow-eyed with a fragile, golden skin and creamy yellow flesh, the chestnut-flavored taste of a true Jersey Royal is immediately distinctive.

Jersey is a singular place, a Channel Isle not even in the Channel, proud of its convoluted constitution and relationship with the British crown, its ancient independence and parish individualities. It’s an island as pretty as a postcard, yet with an air of suburbia. It’s an Englander’s dream of social order and old-style courtesies, but also une petite France — a little bit French — with roads signs in French and Jersais Norman names for places and people. It’s France without tears — and without the French.

The island’s steep, south-facing slopes, light and well-drained soil, and mild climate make it ideally suited for early potato crops, but sadly it is not uncommon to hear sighs of nostalgia that Jersey Royals are not what they used to be.

The island has only about a half-dozen commercial customers for the crop — the giant chains that buy 90 percent of the harvest. This creates particular pressures. Very few farmers use the traditional seaweed fertilizer known as vraic anymore; the use of artificial pesticides and fertilizers is high and most fields are covered with perforated polythene to force the potatoes ever earlier (a source of some environmental controversy).

Few farmers take the trouble or can devote the labor to hand planting and harvesting the steepest slopes, or côtils, which catch the morning sun like the best vineyards. However, if you can find them, these traditionally cultivated Jerseys will always stand out from the norm.

Local farmers also scorn the supermarket-led trend for “Baby” Jersey Royals — the earliest of the early are not always the best. A degree of maturity is needed to bring out the full, nutty richness, and many islanders prefer to eat their Royals later in the summer.

Jersey Royals: Where to find them, how to cook them

Jersey Royals are always clearly marked in the shops. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clarissa Hyman

Jersey Royals are always clearly marked in the shops. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clarissa Hyman

The dense but not overly waxy nature of these potatoes makes them best suited for boiling, frying, gratins and salads, because they do not disintegrate when steamed or boiled. The potatoes are best cooked with the skins on to preserve nutrients and flavor, and they only need a quick wash — scrubbing breaks the papery skin. At their finest Jerseys are true luxury ingredients, simply served with butter, mint and flakes of sea salt.

Indisputably, though, the best way of sampling the potatoes is via the island tradition of roadside farm stalls, where money is left in an honesty box — and no one abuses the system. As one islander explained to me, it is the best way of knowing you’re eating potatoes that night that have been picked the same morning. Slathered in sunshine-yellow Jersey butter, they’re rightly named: a royal feast, and a reminder that heaven can wait.

Here are three recipes that showcase what makes Jersey potatoes so special. Ninety percent of Jersey Royals are exported to the United Kingdom, but if you can’t get your hands on any, these recipes also work well with other varieties of firm and waxy new potatoes.

Posh Potatoes to Impress the Neighbors

Posh Potatoes to Impress the Neighbors. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clarissa Hyman

Posh Potatoes to Impress the Neighbors. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clarissa Hyman

These are retro favorites making a comeback. Instead of baking the potatoes, you can boil them, but the slightly crunchy skin that comes from baking them is rather good.

Prep time: 40 minutes

Cook time: 30 minutes

Total time: 1 hour, 10 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

3 to 4 cups small new potatoes

1/2 cup sour cream

Small jar caviar, salmon or herring roe

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 400 F (200 C).

2. Place the potatoes on a lightly greased cookie sheet and bake for 30 minutes.

3. Cut each potato lengthways in half and let cool to room temperature.

4. Spoon a little sour cream onto each half and top with some caviar or roe.

5. Serve straight away.

The Most Popular Potato Salad in Finland

This is a simple but extremely delicious way to prepare new potatoes that originated in the Karelian region of Finland.

Prep time: 40 minutes

Cook time: 30 minutes

Total time: 1 hour, 10 minutes

Yield: 2 to 3 servings

Ingredients

4 tablespoons butter

2 cups small new potatoes, boiled in their skins

Sea salt and black pepper to taste

2 large hard-boiled eggs, chopped

Fresh dill to taste

Directions

1. Melt the butter in a pan, then add the potatoes, salt and pepper. Stir carefully to coat the potatoes. If the potatoes seem too big for a mouthful, cut them in half.

2. Stir in the eggs and transfer to a serving dish.

3. Sprinkle with dill and serve either warm or chilled.

Pretty Pink Prawn and Potato Salad

Pretty Pink Prawn and Potato Salad. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clarissa Hyman

Pretty Pink Prawn and Potato Salad. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clarissa Hyman

This is a refreshing and light salad for summer days. Make sure the potatoes are nutty and well-flavored to get the full effect..

Prep time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Cooking time: 30 minutes

Total time: 2 hours

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

4 cups Jersey Royals or waxy new potatoes (peeled and/or chopped to your preference)

1 to 2 avocados, peeled and chopped (sprinkle with lemon juice to stop browning)

3 tablespoons mayonnaise

Half a small cucumber, peeled and sliced

Several radishes, thinly sliced

1 cup peeled, cooked small shrimp

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

1. Mix all the ingredients in a serving bowl and toss to mix well. Serve with a bowl of mayonnaise or a yogurt dressing on the side.

Main photo: The Most Popular Potato Salad in Finland. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clarissa Hyman 



Zester Daily contributor Clarissa Hyman is an award-winning food and travel writer. She is twice winner of the prestigious Glenfiddich award among others. A former television producer, she now contributes to a wide range of publications and has written four books: "Cucina Siciliana," "The Jewish Kitchen," "The Spanish Kitchen" and "Oranges: A Global History." She is based in Manchester, England, and is the vice president of the UK Guild of Food Writers.

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