New was, without question, the operative word this week.
There was new beer, with Oxman, a chocolatey, treacly brown ale, brewed in England using Irish oats, by those nomadic brewers from the Brown Paper Bag Project and launched, in both bottle and cask forms, in L. Mulligan Grocer’s on Wednesday; there was the new and beautifully shot quarterly food magazine, Feast, launched by Donal Skehan, celebrating seasonal foods and sensational producers; there was the stylish new video recipe series, Forkful TV, launched by Aoife McElwain of I Can Has Cook; there was a new perspective on an old drink (not to mention an awful lot of bottles) at a gathering organised by wine writers John Wilson and Raymond Blake to celebrate World Sherry Day; there was the announcement of the first tour by new enterprise, Irish Food Tours – set up by chefs Zack Gallagher and Wendy White Kavanagh – which will give participants a real taste of Kilkenny on the weekend of July 5th (details here) with visits to local food producers and cultural sights, and bookable now at what I reckon is a very reasonable all-in cost for meets, eats and sleeps.
A lot of newness to be going on with, then.
Most notably, from my point of view though, there were new potatoes.
Specifically, I had new season Irish potatoes sent my way by Dublin-based produce suppliers, Country Crest. Given the god awful slowness of the growing season this year, I have to admit surprise at local new potatoes making an appearance in May at all, even with crops grown under glass, as these first-of-the-season spuds would have been.
Of course I was happy to get them, in their hip, supermarket-ready 1kg box – which, lovely though it was, made me nostalgic for the honesty and heft of a 10kg sack. But sacks that size are no longer the norm when it comes to purchasing potatoes in Ireland (as demonstrated by Country Crest’s new season offering – available until the end of August in Tesco stores – and which, I’m told, will come in not-very-hefty 1kg and 2kg boxes and 1kg and 2.5kg bags). Prices, starting at €1.99 for a 1kg box, seem hefty enough though, but it has been well reported that difficult growing conditions, both last year and this, have meant a significant rise in potato prices across the board.
And what of the spuds themselves? I can’t tell you for certain what variety they were, as the box, pretty and all as it was, did not provide this detail (which is unfortunate, as it’s something that I very much like to know). Upon making further enquiries, Country Crest said that, while they use new season Queens in July and August, they start with Home Guard and Premiere varieties in May and June (from this, I inferred, Poirot-like, that my potatoes were of the Premiere kind). They were mixed in size, though mostly very small, quite earthy in flavour and creamy in texture. I was quite happy to eat them – and you can see exactly what I did with them below – but I’d be lying if I said they came anywhere close to the experience of having your own new spuds straight out of the ground. That, to be fair, is always hard to beat.
New Potato Salad with Mint, Lemon and Garlic
When presented with the first new spuds of the year, I find it hard to get past the idea of simply serving them boiled and dressed with salt, butter and possibly some freshly chopped mint. To be honest, what you’ll find below doesn’t really stray too far from that idea: boiled new potatoes are tossed with melted butter along with some garlic, thyme and lemon; when that has soaked in and you’re ready to serve, mint, parsley and chives are added, et voilà, you have yourself some newly minted spuds.
- Makes around 4 servings of salad & takes approx. 30 min to put together
- 1kg small new potatoes
- salt for boiling the potatoes
- 4 tblsp butter
- 1 large clove garlic, minced
- 0.5 tsp fresh thyme leaves
- 4 tsp lemon juice
- 0.5 tsp lemon zest (or more to taste)
- coarse salt to taste
- freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 2 tblsp mint leaves, finely chopped
- 2 tblsp flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
- 2 tblsp chives, finely chopped
You’ll also need:
- A large saucepan for boiling the potatoes and a small frying pan for the dressing.
- Scrub the potatoes and leave the skins on. Bring about 1.5l water to the boil in a large saucepan over a medium-high heat. Add about 2 tsp fine salt and the potatoes. Bring back to the boil, cover, lower the heat and boil gently until the potatoes are just fork tender, around 15 minutes or longer, depending on size. Remove from the heat, drain and cover the saucepan with a tea towel to absorb the steam from the potatoes.
- Place a small frying pan over a medium-low heat and add the butter. When the butter has melted, add the minced garlic and the thyme leaves. Fry for about a minute or so, taking care not to let the garlic burn. Remove from the heat and add the lemon juice.
- Cut the still-warm potatoes into bite-size chunks and toss with the butter mixture, lemon zest and coarse salt and black pepper to taste. When ready to serve (either warm or at room temperature), toss with the chopped mint, parsley and chives and add more lemon zest if you think it needs it.
- Of course there are lots of things that you could add to this, like chopped spring onions or dried chilli flakes or whatever else takes your fancy.