Yep, they sure ting-le your taste buds.
Food a bit flat? Life a bit boring? Add a few capers and liven things up.
Capers are the pickled or salted green flower bud of a shrub commonly found in the Mediterranean. They develop capric acid during pickling, and this, coupled with the added salt and their slight bitter edge gives the minerally salty tang most of us associate with capers.
Capers packed in salt retain a better texture and are not as sharp, maintaining a hint of the sea and a slight bitterness.
The shrub grows prolifically in warm climates, particularly in Spain, Italy and France, where it is to be found climbing over crumbling stone walls or any available sunny spot. Capers are picked daily by hand then dried in the sun before being layered in barrels with salt, or pickled in wine vinegar. The buds vary in size, and the smaller ones, which are the most difficult to harvest, fetch the highest prices. Non pareilles, small capers from France, are highly sought after as are those grown on the Italian island of Pantelleria. Larger capers are usually cheaper.
Aficionados extol the virtues of capers packed in salt for their unadulterated flavour. When buying them check that the salt is pure white, not tinged with yellow or grey, which indicates a lack of freshness. Wash off loose salt then soak the capers in warm water for about 15 minutes. Drain and rinse again. If the capers still taste excessively salty, soak them again. Pat dry with paper towels before using. Capers packed in salt stored in a cool dark pantry will last for at least six months, but often much longer.
Capers in brine
Drain capers before use, then rinse under running water and pat dry with paper towels. Once opened, capers in brine are best stored in the fridge, where they will last for many months. A white film on top of a jar of capers in brine is harmless; rinse it off.
The fruit of the shrub is also pickled and sold as caper berries. The berries are full of seeds, crunchy and minerally to taste, and are often served as part of an antipasto mix. Do not substitute them for capers are they are too big and their taste somewhat stronger.
How to use
Capers are used as a condiment, sprinkled on salads or cooked dishes, or fried and used as a garnish. They’re added to sauces and dressings, and to fish dishes, mixed into meatballs and sprinkled over pizzas – add them wherever you want a piquant tang!
Capers go with…
Capers really come into their own with fish – their whiff of the sea adds much to seafood dishes, adding a little tang, a little salt, a little piquancy.
They’re also good with fatty meats, their sharpness keeping the richness in check.
And try them in sweet and sour dishes with rabbit, chicken, and pork.
Add them to ratatouille or caponata, or other vegetable stews to give them a lift.