If you love your potatoes, your mash, your roasties and your chips then now it is the season to celebrate. The first or early potato crops are being lifted in Cornwall and the South West, but for the real connoisseur, there is only one option, the Jersey Royal. Now you lucky folk can get them on every high street in Britain, every good greengrocer, every supermarket sells the tastiest potatoes you will try. Quite often at a better price than on the island of Jersey itself. So I hold my hand up here, I live on the island, I could always just go dig up a bucket load I guess if the farmers didn’t guard them so highly.
Right now across our fertile fields you can see acres of plastic sheets covering the wonderful Jersey main season potato crop. The earliest and hardiest growers would have been planting in November for the early season potatoes. Visitors to the island are often amazed by the land that is turned over to potato growing, virtually vertical pockets of soil on rocky outcrops are planted carefully suspended by ropes. The potato harvest lasts from early April through to June depending of course on the climate conditions. The above average temperature of the island, its easy draining soil and the use of the abundant local seaweed as a fertiliser all helps to shape the flavour of this perfect potato. The islanders would swear to the fact the secret is all in the use of abundant amounts of the pungent seaweed.
We need however to go back to 1878 ( Fear not this is only a minor historical digression and an essential part of our tale ) for the origin of the Jersey Royal or to be more precise the Jersey Royal Fluke and its unique taste. A pair of abnormally large potatoes were purchased and later cultivated by Hugh de La Haye becoming the forerunners of the modern jersey potato industry. Today at its peak 1500 tonnes a day are exported during the season’s peak and the Jersey Royal enjoys EU protected origin status. For more information please visit the Jersey Royal website.
So what do I suggest you do with the lovely little tubers, on the island they are consumed simply served in a bowl with golden Jersey butter. I have a taste for freshly boiled Jersey Royals with some cold smoked Jersey butter and coarse sea salt if I’m feeling a little culinary inclined. You can serve them with Spring Lamb, they as you would expect excellent with simply grilled fish, but here is my favourite, a nice early summer recipe to look forward to, healthy, full of flavour and texture and very easy to make.
Roasted Jersey Royal, Chickpea and Sweet Red Pepper Salad serves 4
The wonderful sweet flavour of the potatoes is complimented by the rosemary, the slightly smoky charred peppers, the salty olives and the crunch of the chickpeas all bound in a simple but fragrant vinaigrette.
500 gr Early season Jersey Royal potatoes, thoroughly washed
2 large sweet red peppers
100 gr ripe On-the-vine Cherry Tomatoes
A small tin ( around 100 gr ) of Chickpeas, washed and drained
8 tablespoons quality Olive Oil
2 tablespoons Sherry Vinegar
1 teaspoon Clover Honey
1 teaspoon Dijon Mustard
1 small Chilli, seeds removed
A large sprig of Rosemary
A small bunch of Flat Leaf Parsley, washed and picked mixed salad leaves
Sea salt and freshly ground Black Pepper
A heavy-duty plastic food bag
Preheat the oven to 375F / 190C / Gas mark 5. Place your peppers in an oven proof dish and bake until the skins to blacken. ( You can achieve the same results under a grill or salamander in a shorter period of time ). In a medium sized saucepan place the Jersey Royal potatoes and cover with cold water. Add half a teaspoon of salt, place on the hob and bring to the boil, simmer gently for five minutes. Remove from the heat and drop into a bowl of ice-cold water. Drain thoroughly and place in an oven tray. Toss with two tablespoons of the olive oil, one crushed clove of garlic, the rosemary sprig broke up into pieces and plenty of salt and pepper. Roast for thirty to forty minutes until the skins are crispy.
Meanwhile, place the charred peppers in the food bag, seal and allow to cool. As the peppers cool the self-generated steam will loosen the blackened skins. When cool remove from the bag and place on a chopping board and using a small sharp knife scrape off the skin. Do not worry if you cannot remove it all a few blackened pieces add a smoky flavour to the salad. Remove seeds and any membranes and slice. Slice tomatoes in half.
Wipe a medium sized glass bowl with the second piece of garlic that has been cut in half. In the bowl dissolve a good pinch of the salt into the sherry vinegar then add a good grind of black pepper, the honey and mustard. Whisk in the oil. Immediately before serving toss the chickpeas, tomatoes, pepper slices and parsley in the dressing. Place over four bowls of mixed salad leaves drizzling with any remaining dressing, top with crisp roasted potatoes and enjoy.
Pictures courtesy of the States of Jersey.