“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 I give some other creative ideas for what you can do with a Jersey Royal or two.
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.
How to boil Jersey Royal new potatoes:
500g/1 lb 4 oz will just do for four as an accompaniment
- 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.
- put them into plenty of cold water (having), and bring to the boil, NOT the other way around (again, see the notes below)
- 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.
- 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
- drain and leave to rest for a couple of minutes
- add a generous amount of butter (the butter will coat better when they have cooled a little)
- 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 reasoning behind the dropping-directly-into-bubbling-water method for new potatoes is due to their 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.
More ideas for cooking new potatoes with other ingredients
- Jersey Royal potatoes go particularly well with flagellated feta.
- Feeling rich? Do as Sally Clarke suggests and serve them draped in crème fraîche and dolloped with caviar. Feeling poor? Exchange the caviar for lump fish roe.
- 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.
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’.
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.
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?
This post is dedicated to William Church, with thanks for his help.