An In-depth Look at What are Capers and How to Use Them

What are Capers
You must have seen bottles of pickled capers preserved in brine or vinegar in supermarkets. So what are capers and how do you use them? Capers are edible flower buds and they are used for making a number of sauces and salads.
You must have come across capers in the gourmet food section of the supermarket. They are usually sold in glass jars, preserved in a brine and vinegar solution. Capers are used in Mediterranean as well as Moroccan cuisine and they work well in salads, sauces and pastas. Capers are the green flower buds from the Capparis Spinosa bush. Capers are actually immature buds that are picked from bushes and are used as seasoning in many dishes. The caper bush grows extensively in the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern region and so it is most often used in their native cuisine. Capers are also cultivated in Spain, Cyprus, Sicily, Greece and France. When the capers are freshly picked, it does not have any tangy or zesty flavor but it is somewhat bitter. But after sun drying them and then brining, it develops a sharp flavor which can impart a certain savoriness to a dish. Capers comes in a variety of sizes, from peppercorn sized ones to ones that are as large as olives. Smaller the size of capers, the more valuable it is regarded to be.

All about Capers

Capers are usually picked by hand and so requires a lot of manual labor. The caper buds have to be picked at a certain time of the day and when they reach the proper size. Capers are about the size of corn kernels when they are plucked from the bushes but rapidly shrink on being sun dried. For a city dweller, finding fresh capers can be challenging, so it is best to stick to the pickled capers found in the market.

After the capers are picked and sun dried, they are then pickled in a mixture of brine and vinegar. Sometimes capers are pickled only in salt and these are sold as salted capers. Pickling the capers gives them a unique piquant taste, similar to that of pickled olives. They are dark green to olive green in color and range from 7mm to 14mm in size. The smaller the size of the caper, the more expensive it will be. In taste they have a pungent, peppery and lemony flavor. During the pickling process, capers release mustard oils, which is what gives them the unique pungent flavor. This makes them an excellent ingredient for making sauces, gravies and salad dressings. It is mostly used in Sicilian cooking and Italian food. The sharp piquant flavor of capers harmonizes the richness of a creamy pasta sauce.

How to Use Capers
Let's have a look at what type of dishes capers can be used in. The most important thing to remember about capers is that you should use them sparingly. As they have a very sharp and distinct taste, it can totally overpower the dish. Another important thing to remember while using salted or brined capers in a dish is to first rinse them thoroughly under running water. If this is not done, the dish will end up being too salty and vinegary in taste.
  • Capers are best used in salads with fresh salad leaves like endives and watercress.
  • They can also be used in salad dressings and vinaigrettes for imparting a unique flavor to your salads.
  • A great way to have capers is to use it as a marinade for fish, meat and poultry.
  • Grilled fish brushed with a marinade of capers, olive oil, anchovies, salt and pepper will taste very delectable.
  • Try using a handful of capers as pizza toppings and then enjoy this delicious gourmet pizza.
  • Capers are one of the essential ingredients in sauces like tartar sauce and rĂ©moulade sauce.
If you do not care for the taste of capers, but your recipe calls for it, you can use capers substitute like pickled olives, nasturtium seeds and green peppercorns that are pickled in brine or vinegar. Some dishes which are a bit on the bland to taste can be instantly jazzed up by adding a handful of capers. If you want to add a distinct sharp and piquant flavor to your dish, then there is nothing better than adding capers.