Have you ever enjoyed capers on bagels or chicken piccata? Chances are, you’re familiar with this little green powerhouse. But do you know what they actually are and how to utilize them properly?
Capers are small, pea-sized buds from the Capparis spinosa plant that grows throughout Europe and Asia. To preserve them, capers are pickled in either brine or salt.
They Are salty
Capers, also known as Capparis spinosa flowers, come from the Mediterranean shrub Capparis spinosa. Harvested before they have the chance to bloom, these tiny buds are preserved in salt or vinegar for flavoring with either salt or vinegar.
They’re an indispensable pantry ingredient that pairs perfectly with sour flavors like sour cream and mayonnaise, lemon juice, or white wine vinegar. You’ll find them in classic dishes such as chicken piccata and Nicoise salad.
You can purchase them from a store or grow them yourself. They are grown in various countries such as Asia, the Middle East, North Africa, Italy, Turkey, and California.
Capers come in various sizes, the smallest known as nonpareil. These smaller caps can be used for garnish or finishing touches while larger varieties offer more flavorful bites that work best when added to soups or sauces.
Before use, they’re usually soaked in water and rinsed to soften their salty flavor. You may also fry them to add crunchiness to meals like this Smoked Salmon Pasta with Capers and Eggplant recipe.
Add some capers to your dishes for a vibrant, zesty flavor that will enhance any dish. They are especially great in salads or as a topping on bagels.
Their briny flavor cuts through the richness of butter-heavy dishes and can complement creamy pasta. You could even stir a few tablespoons of capers into tuna salad or deviled eggs to add an extra layer of freshness and salty goodness.
They Are Tangy
Capers have a distinct taste due to glucoraphanin, an ingredient present in their bud that gives them their distinctive piquant flavor. When broken and crushed or pickled, this nutrient is released and used for making various dishes like seafood or pasta more sour or acidic.
Capers are traditionally grown in Mediterranean countries like Spain, Italy, and Morocco but can also be found in Asia and Australia. According to Dino Borri – global vice president of Eataly North America -, quality can vary significantly by region due to soil and microclimate conditions.
In the United States, capers are typically sold in jars alongside olives. Look for a jar that is pale olive green without any debris inside and be sure to store it in your fridge immediately after opening.
At your grocery store, you’ll find two varieties of capers: those dried and packed with salt or those brined and jarred in vinegar. Both are delicious, but vinegar-packed capers tend to be softer and milder tasting than their salt-cured counterparts.
If you plan to preserve your capers in vinegar, rinse them before adding them to a dish and drain them afterward. Rinsing will remove any residual vinegar and some of the saltiness.
Capers make for an excellent garnish ingredient, as they complement tomatoes, eggplant, fish, and other dishes. They taste especially refreshing when combined with citrus for a tangy and savory taste that enhances dishes.
They Are Crunchy
Capers possess an irresistibly unique flavor profile. Crunchy, salty, and briny, they add a salty, vinegary kick to almost any dish.
Citrus fruits are a staple ingredient in many Mediterranean, French, and Italian dishes. They add freshness and acidity to salads, soups, sandwiches, eggs, cream cheese – the list goes on!
The caper plant (Capparis spinosa) can be found throughout the Mediterranean region, particularly in France, Italy, Spain, Greece, Turkey, and Morocco. It features a flower bud that is picked before blooming into an edible fruit known as a caper berry.
A caper berry is about the size of an olive and attached to a long, cherry-like stem. Inside are small seeds similar to kiwi seeds.
Pickled capers make an excellent garnish for Bloody Marys and Martinis. You may also find them dried in oil before eating; simply dip the capers in the oil for extra flavor!
Some capers are fried before preservation, which enhances their flavor. When quickly sauteed in hot oil, these crunchy nuggets become even tastier.
They have an acquired taste, and while some people adore them, others find them unappealing. Personally, I keep them on hand in my pantry and use them on nearly everything I cook.
Capers can be eaten raw, but are typically cooked. Not only do they add a salty, savory twist to salads and other vegetables, but they’re also great in creamy pasta or scrambled eggs for an added layer of flavor!
They Are Versatile
Capers are an adaptable and straightforward ingredient that can be used in many dishes. Their salty, tart flavor makes them ideal for adding flavor to salads, soups, and other dishes alike.
They come in various sizes and can be dried or brined to preserve them. You may also fry them, which adds an irresistible crispiness and crunch to your dish.
When purchasing capers, size should be taken into consideration. Nonpareils, which measure approximately 1/4-inch across and come from southern France (you’ll also see them labeled French nonpareils), tend to be the smallest variety and tend to be more expensive than other sizes due to their delicate flavor profile.
Surfing, measuring 7mm to 8mm in diameter, are more common and cost-effective than other sizes. They’re great for adding a fresh, salty twist to recipes like tartare or salad Nicoise. Fines (11mm-13mm in diameter) and grusas (14mm or larger) require more searching but their unique flavor may make it worthwhile.
If you can’t locate capers, try substituting other ingredients with similar flavor and texture. Green olives make an excellent substitute for capers, as do pickled nasturtium seeds, cilantro seeds, and dandelion flower buds.