Whether they're from Cornwall or Jersey, new potatoes require a gentle touch to reveal their delicate and unique flavour, says former Sienna chef-proprietor Russell Brown
The fields are small, many steeply sloping, and enclosed with traditional Cornish stone hedges. The view stretches across the water to St Michael's Mount. Rain has made the soil heavy, and lifting the first crops of Cornish Earlies isn't easy.
Nothing much has changed in the method of lifting, grading and packing the potatoes since I earned some cash doing just that 30-odd years ago. It is still an industry based very much on manual labour. The steepest fields have to be planted by hand and, although the potatoes are machine-lifted from the soil, they are still picked up, sorted and bagged by teams of workers.
Farm sizes in Cornwall have increased dramatically over the years, but Philip Pryor is farming a huge acreage. In total, he has around 2,000 acres with 1,400 acres given over to new potatoes. Unlike Jersey, with its single variety of new potatoes, the industry in Cornwall uses a number of different types: Arrow, Maris Peer and Charlotte are a few.
Other regions associated with new potatoes include Jersey for its Jersey Royals (known as International Kidney when grown elsewhere), Comber Earlies from Ireland and Ayrshire Earlies from Scotland.
Boiled or steamed with lashings of top-quality salted butter is the obvious (and some would argue, best) way of serving new potatoes, but there are alternatives. Roasted, fried or braised, or in a potato salad, soup or curry can all work well. Keeping the flavours light and simple will allow the flavour of the potatoes to come through. Cream, wild garlic, truffle, bacon, chives and onion all go well with new potatoes. In Italy the combination of pasta and potato is not unusual - pasta alla Genovese combines green beans, potatoes and pesto, and potatoes are often used as a ravioli filling. New potatoes should be simmered rather than boiled, and although mint is traditionally added to the water, this can overpower the flavour of the potato itself.
Luke French at restaurant JÁ¶ro in Sheffield is serving new potatoes cooked in a roasted yeast emulsion with black truffle, apple and garlic, and Ben Prior at Ben's Cornish Kitchen in Marazion is using Cornish Earlies in a classic dish of turbot with asparagus and hollandaise.
Buying and storage tips
- Buy unwashed potatoes if possible and wash when required.
- Store at cool temperatures between 5Â°C and 10Â°C - too cool a temperature causes the starch to convert to sugar.
- Choose the right variety for your recipe - most new potatoes are waxy as opposed to floury.
- Keep potatoes in the dark to prevent them from turning green.
Tunnel-grown Jersey Royals are available as early as February, but these forced potatoes are expensive and lack the flavour of the outdoor crop.
The main season for British new potatoes usually runs from late May until mid-August, but a lot depends on the weather.
Favourites include the ubiquitous Jersey Royals, Cornish Earlies, Pembroke New and Ayrshire Earlies. Check with your supplier to see what's local to you.
Expect to pay between 60p and 90p a kilo, depending on size and grading.
New potato and wild mushroom tartlets
Makes 6-8 tarts
- 700g rough puff pastry
- 6 banana shallots, finely sliced
- 2 cloves of garlic, finely sliced
- 1tbs good cider vinegar
- 300g wild mushrooms, washed and trimmed
- 450g new potatoes, cooked and sliced into 4mm rounds
- 90g mascarpone, seasoned
- 30g grated Parmesan
- 1tsp picked thyme
- 1 egg yolk for wash
- Maldon salt and fresh black pepper
Roll out the puff pastry to around 5mm thick. Cut into six or eight squares or rectangles. Lay on a flat sheet and chill for 30 minutes.
Once chilled, use the point of a sharp knife to score a line 1cm in from the edge, cutting halfway through the sheet. Chill until required.
Sweat the shallots and garlic in a heavy-based pan covered with a lid. Once tender, remove the lid and increase the heat to caramelise well. Once caramelised, deglaze with the cider vinegar and cook out. Allow to cool. Sauté the mushrooms, seasoning well, then allow to cool.
Build the tart by spreading the shallot mix within the border, add a layer of potato, season, and then dot with the mascarpone. Add the mushrooms, sprinkle over the Parmesan and then the thyme.
Brush the pastry border with egg wash and then bake at 180Â°C for approximately 20 minutes. The pastry should be cooked through, risen and golden, and the filling should just be starting to crisp on the edges.
New potato soup
Makes 8 starter portions
For the soup
- 1 banana shallot, sliced
- 1 clove garlic, sliced
- 500g Maris Peer new potatoes or similar
- 1 sprig of thyme, tied in muslin
- 30ml olive oil
- Water to cover
Sweat the shallots and garlic in olive oil until they soften. Wash and thinly slice the potatoes then rewash. Add the potatoes to the pan and cook for five minutes. Cover with water, add the thyme and cook until tender. Remove the thyme, squeezing the muslin well. Blitz, pass and season. If necessary, adjust the consistency to that of heavy double cream.
For the confit potatoes
- 400g Maris Peer new potatoes or similar
- 1tsp Maldon sea salt
- 1 clove garlic, peeled and smashed
- 4 sprigs of thyme
- Light olive oil
Wash the potatoes well and scrape. Slice into rounds 4mm thick and mix with the salt, garlic and thyme. Place in a heavy pan and cover with olive oil. Bring to a gentle simmer, stirring occasionally to stop the potatoes from sticking.
Cook for around five minutes until the potatoes start to soften, then remove from the heat and allow them to finish cooking in the residual heat.
If the potatoes are tender before the oil is cool, drain the oil off and retain. Recover with the oil and chill until required.
- Wild garlic or rocket pesto
- Wild garlic or chive flowers
Warm the potato slices in a little emulsion and drain well. Place the slices in a bowl and quenelle a teaspoon of pesto onto one piece of potato. Scatter the flowers around and drizzle with a little oil. Pour in the soup or serve in a jug poured at the table.
Over the next few months I will be featuring wasabi, English apricots and sweetcorn in my column.
Do let me know how you use these products on your menus and what your seasonal favourites are. Email recipes, dish suggestions and photographs to firstname.lastname@example.org
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