As well as sharing tips and reviews, I want to take the chance to delve into some of the heroes of my food life and to learn a little more about them. A food hero might be an ingredient you always turn to for a tasty, satisfying meal and which give a recipe ‘your’ twist or a fabulous food influencer who has taught you some killer dishes and challenges how you think about food!
This first food hero post focuses on the former and probably a food hero closest to my heart – the Jersey Royal new potato. No Jersey bean (for those not born here that is someone born on the island) can fail to have a soft spot for these little spuds. But just how ‘royal’ is it?
What is so special about a Jersey Royal?
Royals are a small potato with a thin, papery skin that, unlike the average new potato, can be removed with a light scrape. The real jewel of its crown though is its subtle nutty flavour and for many a taste of Royals is the harbinger of the warmer seasons.
Jersey may be sononomous with the Royal potato now but rewind to the mid 19th century and no one had even heard of them. At that time farmers grew a wide range of potatoes; but when one farmer, Hugh de la Haye found a large potato sprouting lots of eyes (the shoots from which a new potato plant will sprout) he cut it into numerous pieces and planted them in his field. On harvesting, one crop produced small kidney-shaped potatoes which became known as the ‘Jersey Royal Fluke’ and they began to be sold in English markets in the 1880s.
The Jersey Royal is considered so special it has been given a ‘Protected Designation of Origin’ by the EU so that no new potato, other than those grown in Jersey to exacting standards, can be called a Jersey Royal.
How are they grown?
A large number of Jersey’s farmers grow potatoes and Royals make up a significant proportion of the food exported from the island to the UK. The farming methods for some crops are still fairly traditional with picking often being done by hand due to the steep rake of many of the fields (often known as cotils) and the plants being fertilized by vraic (seaweed).
When should I eat them?
They are at their best in April to June when the distinctive flavour is at its seasonal peak. My nan was a particular fan of ‘Mids’, the tiniest pearls of Jersey Royals. They require a time commitment to prepare but the flavour in a small Royal is hard to beat.
How should I eat them?
The beauty of a Jersey royal is its subtle flavour, so simplicity is usually the best way. First of all always buy them dirty, advanced washing reduces a Royal’s flavour and freshness (as well as their nutritional content) so commit to a few minutes of cleaning to get the best taste.
If you are on island I’d encourage you to make the most of our roadside honesty stalls where you can grab a bag of the freshest Royals just out the ground, leaving your money in the honesty box.
Personally I scrape off the skin with a small vegetable knife (please don’t use a potato peeler) or, if you prefer, once cleaned just drop them in a pot and then simply boil in salted water for approximately 15 minutes with a a good sprig of mint. Once cooked, douse in melted butter and enjoy.
Royals hold their shape but not overly waxy so they are ideal for boiling, frying and salads. If you are lucky enough to have lots of Royals floating around and you want to try them in other guises, then here is a pick of the best Royal recipes:
- Royals with four dressings from Anna Jones : enough to keep any family of fusspots happy
- Warm salad of Royals with goat’s cheese, pine nuts and fresh figs from Neil Rankin: a great inspiration to use up some leftover Royals.
- Potato and Pig Hash from the British Larder: a perfect brunch