Friday, May 04, 2007
The first Jersey Royal potatoes are coming into the shops. I could not resist last week, and paid £1 for one lb of them; but the price is coming down every day. My greengrocer will sell them until about mid-June; but the supermarkets will have them throughout the summer. How do they do that? Do they buy them in bulk, and store them? If so, it may explain why the greengrocer's usually have more flavour.
The behaviour of potatoes when boiled depends on the hardness and acidity of your water. Hard water helps to maintain firmness; but hard water is -- I think -- less acidic than is soft water, and acidity can maintain firmness too. What you should not do is salt the water: that does speed softening, and may compromise the firm, waxy texture that is one of the glories of a good Jersey.
To boil or to steam? If you have a large quantity of potatoes, boiling is easier, because a pile of them in a steaming basket will have uneven access to the heat. But steaming will retain more nutrients; and, because the steam is slightly acidic, may help to maintain firmness.
In spite of the above, I usually boil potatoes (new and maincrop), and I do it slowly. Harold McGee says that starting potatoes in cold water and raising the temperature gradually helps to reinforce their cell walls. It certainly produces the best results for me. I put them on to a low to medium heat, and maintain them at the gentlest possible simmer. The process may take 45 minutes.