How To Cook Jersey Royal Potatoes – Don’t Shock The Tuber – or why I dare to disagree with Elizabeth David, Nigella Lawson, Nigel Slater and even Simon Hopkinson

“Baby new season Jersey Royals, served warm and buttered are exquisite draped in crème fraîche and dolloped with caviar.”

Sally Clarke, 30 Ingredients

How should you cook Jersey Royals?

Well – first off you don’t need to peel them, and second off, you put them in cold water and bring them to the boil – NOT the other way around.

And you can even roast them. Below I explain how to both boil and roast.

They’re wonderful just plain, with butter and a little salt (Maldon for choice – follow this link though for more choices on the salt), but, again, below, I also give some other creative ideas for what you can do with a Jersey Royal or two.

Other potato posts and information on Saucy Dressings

And at the bottom of this post there is some information about La Bonnotte potatoes which are even more delicate, even more prized, and, inevitably, priced accordingly.

Follow this link for a list of other waxy potato types.

For a whole host of other posts about potatoes follow this link.

To browse the rest of this site (there are posts on all kinds of surprising things) follow this link.

 

How to boil Jersey Royal new potatoes:

500g/1 lb 4 oz will just do for four as an accompaniment

  1. Gently wash off any soil and scabby skin in luke warm water (for heaven’s sake don’t peel – see below). A prep-a-lot would be a perfect tool for doing this quickly and effectively.
  2. Put them into plenty of cold water (having), and bring to the boil, NOT the other way around (again, see the notes below). Some chefs add a garlic clove to the water which apparently adds a subtle flavour. Personally, I like the flavour just as it is.
  3. Use lots of salt – this brings out their flavour (Hartley suggests cooking them in seawater if you happen to have any just to hand – or you could use Waitrose sea salt and seaweed). They don’t need pepper.
  4. Bring to the boil and simmer gently – about 15 minutes for mids (small potatoes) and as much as twenty for wares (the largest) – or you can cut your wares in half and cook for less time.
  5. Drain and leave to rest for a couple of minutes.
  6. Add a generous amount of butter (the butter will coat better when they have cooled a little).
  7. Add a few small sprigs of mint, and a little Maldon or other textured salt.

Further explanation about the method above

1. peeling or scraping Jersey Royal potatoes is unnecessary – for heaven’s sake, NO!

I’m not sure how I can be quite so bold as to disagree with Simon Hopkinson (the ‘chef’s chef) about skinning new potatoes, but I do. In his wonderful book Week In Week Out he describes sitting alone in the Grill Room of the Savoy

“patiently removing the skin from a plateful of cooked new potatoes with my table knife”

I’m afraid I think this was really an awful waste of his time. Jersey Royals, as I mention above, have a very thin, flaky skin. In the process of washing off the soil some of the scabbier bits of skin will come off, but in my view that is all you need to do. Simon Hopkinson continues his unnecessary torture:

“there truly is nothing worse than a new potato cooked with its skin intact. Just go away all of you who say ‘but all the goodness and vitamins of a potato lie just beneath its skin!’ This does not mean you have to leave it there to get to it”

But, because the skin is so fragile, by the time you have washed the earth off, it will not be ‘intact’. And, in any case, any tissue-paper thin strips of skin remaining will, in my view, only serve to add interest in terms of texture and flavour.

2. put Jersey royals in COLD water and bring to the boil, NOT the other way around

Now I am really sticking my neck out, and contradicting the advice of many other culinary heroes (Elizabeth David for starters… also Nigella Lawson and Nigel Slater… and then there’s Delia Smith, and Jamie Oliver).

Here’s the thing. As far as I can understand (it’s explained in Potato by Alex Barker and Sally Mansfield) the rationale behind the dropping-directly-into-bubbling-water method for new potatoes is due to the fact that they have a higher vitamin C content than maincrop. If they are left soaking, the theory goes, the goodness leaches out.

But it really can’t take that long to bring them to the boil, and I am following the advice and reasoning of William Church, the Director of Sales and Marketing at The Jersey Royal Company who explains, “the Jersey Royal is quite a delicate potato, especially early in the season. If you drop the potatoes into boiling water there is a chance that they may crack as it is a shock to the tuber (potato). It is therefore better to warm them up gently to boiling point”.

 

Roasting new potatoes:

Both Jersey Royals and La Bonnotte are best cooked in the simplest way possible…. but… a heretical suggestion I know… it is also possible to roast ordinary new potatoes whole. Don’t peel them of course, simply wash off the soil,  coat in olive oil and a little textured Maldon sea salt, and roast for about 45 minutes, turning once.

For an extra middle eastern flavour you can add cumin, turmeric and Indonesian long black pepper (which has an appropriate earthy flavour) after the salt.

Or, add halved radishes five minutes before the potatoes are due out of the oven. Then on removal, snip over some spring onions, and add some shredded rocket or watercress.


“Sitting deep in the red hot ash below the grate is a long, shallow terracotta baking dish of potatoes, small as a thumbnail, and the luscious sage-smelling fat drips over them. From the pocket of her pinafore she takes a handful of dried wild fennel flowers, rubs them between her palms over the potatoes, and the maddening perfumes they send up cause sighs of longing from us.”

Marlena de Blasi, The Umbrian Thursday Night Supper Club

Reheating Jersey Royals

You can reheat Jersey Royals – this is best done for a minute or so in a microwave; or for a minute or so in boiling water. Alternatively you can roast them, as described above, but they will take about 20 minutes instead of 45 minutes.

More ideas for cooking new potatoes with other ingredients

  • or just crème fraîche and dill
  • A lovely idea from Lindsey Dickson’s  The Eating Tree instagram feed (@theeatingtree), serve the new potatoes with what she straightforwardly calls a green sauce with herbs – a heady mix of what she has to hand: parsley, basil, mint, garlic, red onion, anchovies (because, she says, these go wonderfully with potatoes), oil, cider vinegar (or whatever you have to hand), and Dijon mustard. Heaven!
  • or just a basic mustard vinaigrette
  • or a basic dressing of mint, olive oil and lemon
  • Alternatively pre-heat your oven to 180°C. Par boil the potatoes until just tender and drain. Cut some chorizo into chunks (use about a third of the weight of the potatoes). Mix with the potatoes, muddle with a little olive oil, slightly crushing the potatoes to break the skin – this will make them crisper – and season. Then bake in the oven for about half an hour. Excellent served with lamb.
  • Serve them smashed (slightly overboiled) with generous quantities of tarragon and chive butter and some spring onions snipped over.
  • or you could try steaming them, as suggested by MFK Fisher: 

“Having tutored me in vegetable love, Fisher then did something marvellous: she had me buying, boiling and buttering new potatoes. It was these words that did it: ‘Perhaps the most subtle I ever ate were in Sweden, when they were steamed quickly, right from the garden, on a bed of fresh dill, and lifted out like fragile eggs and served on hot plates with more chopped dill and sweet butter.’ Each one, she writes, was as round and plump as a cherub’s cheek. I did what she told me. I bought miniature new potatoes, small and round as ball bearings, from the Saturday market, steamed them and skirled them in butter and chopped dill. Buoyed by the success of it, I had more the next day, this time with butter-softened spring onions and grain mustard. And the next day: with chopped anchovies, mint, lemon and capers. Fisher concludes her thoughts on new potatoes with this: ‘Plenty of butter, freshly ground pepper, chopped herbs if one wishes, and there is a frabjous dish indeed.’ The day, the three days, that Fisher helped me over my fear of potatoes done in butter were frabjous ones. Callooh! Callay! A Jabberwock slain.”

Laura Freeman, The Reading Cure: How Books Restored My Appetite

  • Want other ideas for new potatoes and what to cook with them?  This link will take you to the search results for ‘new potatoes’ on Saucy Dressings.
     

Selecting, storing, freezing and buying Jersey Royals

Selecting your Jersey Royals – the fresher the better

The freshness of the potatoes is an important factor. Jersey Royals can be grown anywhere, so if Life Wasn’t Too Short, you’d probably be better off growing your own, nutty little morsels.

If you notice a sponginess, and the skin seems backlit with a pale green colour they are not ‘new’ potatoes, but ‘old’ ones. Exposure to light also increases alkaloid levels and turns potatoes green and can be harmful. It’s safer to toss green new potatoes out altogether.

A truly fresh new potato is a thing of wonder. As Dorothy Hartley, writing in the early ’50s in her seminal work Food in England, puts it:

“These are so delicious direct from the soil that it is worthwhile for any gardener to grow a few early ones, even if there is no room for the main crop. They will grow well in the sandy soil of seaside bungalows – or any odd scrap of land, as it is not a heavy crop you want but an early one. For main crop you need space; but for a few ‘earliest’ you chiefly need enterprise”

So no excuses then. In particular if you happen to own a seaside bungalow….

How to store Jersey Royals

All potatoes turn their starch to sugar when temperature is reduced and they turn gloopy, so never keep them in the fridge – a cool, dark place is best.

Can you freeze Jersey Royals?

Not ideally – but, if you find you have many left over after cooking and you feel you must freeze, when you unfreeze, slice, mix with a generous slug of olive oil and some sea salt, maybe some herbes de Provence,  and fry. You’ll find the skins slide off (because they’ll have turned gloopy – see ‘storing’ above), but just cut the skins into the sliced potatoes.

When are Jersey Royal new potatoes in season?

The season runs from the end of March to July. Do not bother with the forced ones which may appear as early as February.

More background on Jersey Royals

A bit of history

Jersey’s soil is light and well-drained, and seaweed (known as vraic) collected from the beaches during the autumn storms used to be used as a fertiliser – a tradition dating back to the twelfth century. It is still practised today, but the process is now mechanised.  About 2,000 tonnes of vraic is spread every year.

The story of the origin of the Jersey Royal tells of a Jersey farmer, Hugh de la Haye, who organised a big end-of-ploughing celebration (these celebrations were known as La Grande Charrue – and a famous one still occurs in Carhaix in Brittany, now morphed into a music festival at which the likes of Franz Ferdinand, Vanessa Paradis and Elton John perform).

But I digress. At the rather different celebration in 1879 the main event was a huge potato with fifteen eyes. De la Haye had it chopped into fifteen pieces, an eye a piece, and planted them. One came up, an unusual kidney shape, and a very thin flaky skin, which he named the ‘Jersey Fluke’. It might have been a fluke, but it was a big success – the great-granddaddy of today’s Jersey new potatoes. The additional ‘royal’ descriptor is unofficial, coming into use towards the end of Queen Victoria’s reign when imperialism was rampant and everything became dubbed ‘royal’.

Cultivation today

Now Jersey Royals are cultivated by about fifty farmers on the island wherever the soil presents itself. Some of the coastal fields (côtils) are so steep they have to be hand ploughed using a winch cable. There are three sizes, ware, small ware, and mids (the smallest).

The Jersey Royal has designation of origin protection from the EU in the same way that Stilton cheese and Scotch whisky does. Most (99%) are exported to the UK because mainland Europeans prefer even waxier potatoes. Nothing to fear from Brexit then.

Jersey Royal potatoes
Collecting seaweed in Jersey to fertilise the potatoes.

La Bonnotte potatoes

As I’ve mentioned, Jersey Royals are quite delicate but if you want something even more fragile you have to buy La Bonnotte potatoes – a snip at around €70 per kilo – and the most expensive potatoes in the world.

La Bonnotte potatoes come from Noirmoutier, an island to the south of Brittany (whereas Jersey is just to the north of the promontory of Brittany). The tuber is so delicate that it remains attached to the stem and has to be picked rather than torn.

When are La Bonnotte potatoes available?

Mid-May.

This post is dedicated to William Church, of The Jersey Royal Company, with thanks for his help.
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Mick Benfield

I have found, over the last few years that both Jersey and Cornish new potatoes (which I have diligently scraped for the last 70 years) have gone disgusting, under the skin is a light brown staining the origin of which I cannot find, which I’m not prepared to serve to my family. So I now have to peel both types. When it comes to fertilising the Jersey Royals the farmers of Jersey will find that removing the taste from their one product does not work and unless they return to the proper way of growing they will lose their customers. A few years ago they decided leaving the spuds in the ground for 2-3 weeks longer equals bigger potatoes which weigh more and therefore give a greater profit margin that didn’t work did it? I would ask the potato farmers of Jersey one question “Why on earth would you expect me to pay £1.50 for 500 grams of a prime product only to get plain, ordinary trash?”

Mick Benfield

Agreed but despite living in south Cornwall (about a mile and a half from the sea) I find that the emmets do get upset when I try to nick a little seaweed from the beach. I think that I’ll wait until the autum and take my trailer down so that I only have to make one trip.

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