The Channel Islands' climate, location and culture of artisan food production means that they benefit from a wealth of excellent ingredients and produce. Rosie Birkett examines a range and quality to enhance any menu. I could talk about Jersey seafood all day," says Mark Jordan, head chef of the Ocean restaurant at the Atlantic hotel, who is one of only two chefs on Jersey to hold a Michelin star (the other is Shaun Rankin).
Birmingham-born Jordan is passionate about his adopted home's bountiful produce, which, combined with that of nearby France, inspires his cuisine. The producers (see suppliers panel) he describes all have a carefully honed specialism - there's talk of a turbot farm in a war bunker, local beef the texture of butter, rich yellow cheese and eating fresh oysters knee-deep in the sea.
Of course, there's long been excitement surrounding the Jersey potato, which with its unique and earthy flavour causes a foodie maelstrom every year during the short season (January to March), and let's not forget the Guernsey cow, whose dairy products have made the breed world-famous. But it's only recently that the rest of the UK has started to discover what other ingredients the Channel Islands have to offer. Rankin's 2009 appearance on the BBC's Great British Menu did much for the profile of Jersey's food, and last year Jamie Oliver's Fifteen restaurant group ran a special Jersey menu, which used the island's crab, oysters, scallops and asparagus. Jersey even has its own local food producer collective, Genuine Jersey, whose members are all small, local producers and have to comply with certain terms.
Though on a much smaller scale, neighbouring island and fierce rival Guernsey shares a similar culture of local food production, with farms like Meadow Court (see suppliers panel) producing award-winning cheeses and high-quality beef. Christophe Vincent, the island's former only Michelin-starred chef who now heads up the Brasserie at the Fermain Valley hotel, uses the farm for all his beef.
"It's very good quality, slaughtered at the farm and matured for four weeks," he explains. "I use it for my signature dish of braised beef [see page 48] and it's got a unique flavour. For the fish, I use a lot of fishermen that come to my back door: it's all locally caught bass, John Dory, mullet, bream, cod, whiting, gurnard - and incredibly fresh. I'm spoilt for choice."
Being relatively small, fish and seafood are a big part of the gourmet offering of both islands, with Jersey benefiting from extremely high water quality thanks to its location in one of the world's third largest tidal ranges. "The waters are classed as Grade A, which is the cleanest you can get," says Jordan. "It's better for the fish because there's no pollution in the water, and scallops, ormers and mussels are clean and flavourful. It's also slightly warmer than the rest of the UK, which makes the seafood and fish grow quicker."
Brown, or chancre crabs are at the peak of season in the winter months between November and March, and the delicate and slightly nutty flavour of fresh crab is a favourite among chefs, who buy from local suppliers including the Fresh Fish Company (see suppliers panel). Local crab is plentiful, particularly in the winter months, and sustainable when fished using small boats, lobster and parlour pots, which have little hatches so that undersized crabs can escape.
"When I came to Jersey 20 years ago from London, I couldn't believe how much crab people were eating," says Tony Dorris, head chef of the Jersey Potteries.
"It seemed extravagant, but over here crab is much better value because it's a part of the day-to-day life. The fishermen have to sell it quickly because they have an abundance of it, and people absolutely love it. There's no way we could take it off the menu."
Local mussels, scallops and oysters are also cultivated in the bays surrounding the island, and benefit from the currents from the Gulf Stream that bring in excellent food and nutrients for growing molluscs. To this end, Jersey oysters are holding their own, even on French shores, thanks to their full flavour (see suppliers panel).
Back on dry land, while Jersey Royal potatoes have long extolled the virtues of the island's superior soil, for Rankin, it's the indigenous asparagus that is the star of the plate. He puts its unique flavour down to Jersey's premature seasons. "We're lucky because the season starts early, we've got great soil and everything seems to grow really well," he says. "The variety of asparagus they grow over here is slender, deep-green and really full of flavour. We get it at the beginning of May and it lasts about two-and-a-half months."
Jordan is also a fan of the more earthy produce on offer. "Salsify is great at the moment," he says. "It's a fantastic veg that goes well with meat and fish. We also grow local ceps on the island, which are fantastic. They don't have a big worm or maggot count and they don't seem to be sodden like the ones in England, because we have a warmer climate."
channel island ingredients
â- Sea bass
â- Jersey Royal potatoes
â- Jersey asparagus
â- Jersey honey
â- Jersey lamb
â- Guernsey beef
â- Dairy products from both islands
Producer Royal Bay Oysters - which supplies oysters to hotels and restaurants across the globe - was set up in 1973 and leases 26.8 hectares of inter-tidal foreshore in the Royal Bay of Grouville to cultivate Pacific Oysters (Crasspstrea Gigas).
The company has installed state-of-the-art equipment to enable it to purify 12 tonnes of oysters at any one time to meet local and EEC standards.
It also grows Noisette oysters, which are smaller than your average rock oyster, plucked from their beds at just 10 months, which gives them a sweet, tangy flavour and a unique colour.
At the Oyster Box in St Brelade's Bay, one of the 30 restaurants supplied by the producer, head chef Patrick Tweedie serves them as a light snack, plain or grilled with gruyere cheese, Worcestershire sauce, bacon or tomato.
Royal Bay OystersLa Rue de la Sente Maillard, Grouville, Jersey JE3 9BSTel: 01534 851781
Guernsey beef and cheese
Meadow Court Farm has a small beef herd of Limousin, Belgian Blue, Aberdeen Angus, Hereford and Guernsey cow cross-breeds, as well as a Guernsey dairy herd, which produces high quality milk of 5% butter fat and 3.7% protein. The farm's cheese has won gold and silver awards at the International cheese festival.
All meat is hung for up to three weeks, depending on the breed, and slaughtered on-site, and calves are used for rose veal.
It also grows its own cereals, which go into the dairy herd and is working towards becoming self sufficient.
Meadow Court FarmRoute Des Blicques, St Andrews, Guernsey Tel: 01481 236771
Jersey Turbot is a family-run business started in 2000 by former deep-sea fisherman Dave Cowburn, who transformed a former Second World War German gun emplacement and bunker at St Catherine's in the east of the island.
About 6,500 turbot are housed in the bunker at any one time, ranging from tiny 50p-sized fish to four-year-old turbot weighing several pounds.
The fish are reared in tanks within the bunker tunnel and fed on organic fish food. Once they are three years old and weigh about 2lbs - the most popular size - they are ready to be sold.
Jersey TurbotLes Viviers de St Catherine, St Martin, Jersey, JE3 6DD Tel: 01534 868836
Diane Best is one of Jersey's main sheep farmers and the only lamb producer under the Genuine Jersey umbrella. She was one of the first to reintroduce lambs back on to the island when she started rearing them more than 20 years ago, before which there hadn't been sheep in Jersey for 30-odd years.
Now her free range flock includes Hampshire Down, Shropshire and Clun Forest breeds, and is reared traditionally without growth promoters or routine antibiotics and is grazed on pasture clear of herbicides, pesticides and chemical fertilizers.
The lambs are slaughtered at anything from five to 10 months and Best brings in a private butcher for the butchery, after hanging the carcasses for eight days for flavour.
Diane BestLe Pavillon, La Rue des Vaux de l'Eglise, St Martin, Jersey JE3 6BFTel: 01534 855789
Brown, chancre crabs are now at the peak of season. The family-run Fresh Fish Company buys its crabs from small, local boats which catch it on a daily basis, mostly using parlour pots. Louis Jackson and his team cook the crab en-masse every day, to keep it fresh, because once crabs are off the boats they start to eat their own meat and deteriorate in quality.
Established in 1999, with initial plans to supply local fish to hotels and restaurants alongside the Fresh Fish Company Fish Stall, which is situated right alongside the fish landing pier at Jersey Harbour, the business now supplies several Michelin-starred restaurants in Oxford and London.
Local fish and shellfish are refrigerated and delivered within 18 hours.
Fresh Fish CompanyUnit 5, Victoria Pier, St Helier, Jersey JE2 3NB
Tel: 01534 736799
Manor Farm owners Julia and Darren Quenault created the cheeses off the back of originally being dairy farmers, and developed them with the help of chef Mark Jordan, who they supply exclusively with beef from their small herd. Their cheeses, which include a blue cheese, are made with the rich Jersey milk.
Classic Herd's farm shop sells dairy products which are all made on site. These include milk, double and clotted creams, and award-winning soft cheeses like Classic Brie.
Manor FarmLa Route de Manoir, St Peter, Jersey JE3 7DD Tel: 01534 485562
â- For more information on Genuine Jersey producers, visit www.genuinejersey.com
creamy shellfish risotto with baby cress
â- 1,100ml shellfish stock
â- 250g risotto rice
â- 150g white crab meat
â- 1 cooked lobster tail, diced
â- 100g brown crab meat
â- 250ml double cream
â- Small tin of sweetcorn
â- Juice of half a lemon
â- Mixed baby cress
Place the shellfish stock into a saucepan and bring to the boil, add the risotto rice and cook for four minutes. Strain the rice from the liquid and place on a tray in the fridge to cool quickly. The rice can be held like this for one or two days.
Pour away half the stock and place the rest back on the heat, add the brown crab meat and mix well. Add the chilled risotto rice. Simmer it while stirring until all the stock has been absorbed - about 10 minutes.
Add the double cream, stir and bring back up to a gentle simmer. At this point add the diced cooked lobster, the sweetcorn kernels and lemon juice. Check the seasoning and consistency of the rice - it should be nice and loose and creamy. If it is too firm, add more double cream.
Spoon a generous portion of risotto into each bowl and arrange baby cress on top. Serve piping hot.
Mark Jordan, Ocean restaurant, Atlantic hotel, Jersey
braised brisket of guernsey beef, woodland mushrooms
â- 1kg beef brisket
â- 500ml red wine
â- 50ml oil or 50g clarified butter
â- 200g roughly chopped carrots
â- 200g chopped shallots
â- 1 spring thyme
â- 1 bay leaf
â- 750ml veal stock
â- 100g girolles
â- 100g horn of plenty
â- 100g ceps
â- 100g chanterelles
â- 60ml olive oil
â- 30g butter
â- 1 clove of garlic
â- 1 shallot, finely diced
â- 10g flat parsley
Marinate the beef in red wine for 24 hours. Sear the meat on all sides in oil or butter. Take it out of the pan and reserve. Sweat the carrot and shallot mirepoix in the same pan, deglaze with red wine, reduce and add the veal stock. Return the beef to the pan, add the herbs and a little salt. Simmer in a very low oven for 4 hours.
When this is cooked, pass the sauce through a sieve and reduce it. Pan-fry the mushrooms in different pans in olive oil. Sweat the shallots and garlic in butter, add the mushrooms and the flat parsley and serve with the sliced brisket.
Christophe Vincent, Fermain Valley hotel, Guernsey