What Are Capers and Caper Berries?
What are capers? What are capers made from?
Capers are the dried immature flower buds of the caper bush that grows in Mediterranean countries. The little green buds are either pickled in a vinegar brine, or salt-cured. Both brined and salt-cured capers are sold in jars and can be used interchangeably.
These tiny buds have a big, pungent, tangy taste. You'll sometimes see capers scattered over a bagel with lox. Beyond brunch, capers are useful whenever you want to add a whack of brine to your cooking: Their complex salty flavor is shaded with mustard and lemon. Add them in small amounts as a condiment to brighten up savory dishes with a mellow, buttery flavor.
Classic Mediterranean dishes with capers include Chicken Piccata or Veal Piccata, Caponata, Pasta Puttanesca, and Tonnato Sauce. Capers are also added as a garnish to Carpaccio or bagels with Smoked Salmon and Cream Cheese. See more of our favorite caper recipes below!
For such tiny things, capers offer a decent dose of fiber and Vitamin K. And at two calories per bud, capers are a relatively healthy way to perk up flavor.
Where Can I Find Capers?
Capers flourish throughout their native Mediterranean, but the main exporters are Turkey, Morocco, and Spain. You might also find Italian capers on a gourmet grocery shelf. Capers can be dry-cured with salt or wet-cured in a salty vinegar solution. The latter are more affordable and much easier to find: Slender, vinegar-filled jars are usually stocked in the pickle section.
When shopping for capers, look for bottles with little sediment. Tender buds vary in size from small as a pea to big as a marble. The smallest capers, which are the size of a small pea, are called non-pareil capers. Conventional wisdom holds the smaller capers are better, but many cooks prefer the stronger flavor of the slightly larger buds. After opening, a jar of capers should be stored in the refrigerator where it will keep for at least a year or longer.
How Do I Use Capers in Cooking?
Capers are not typically added during cooking but at the end, or towards the end.
It is often recommended to rinse brined capers before using to remove the vinegar overtone. Salt-cured capers should be rinsed thoroughly to remove excess salt. Even after rinsing, capers can be quite salty. In fact, capers are great used in place of salt, especially when color's called for: Consider strewing them over pasta, or using them as a garnish for deviled eggs.
What are Caperberries?
Caperberries are not capers. They are the berries that develop after the buds have bloomed. Caperberries are much larger than capers, about the size of a cocktail olive -- and are good substitutes for green olives in chicken dishes and dirty martinis. Caperberries are pickled with their stems on. They taste milder than capers, and they have a crunchy texture as they contain numerous tiny seeds.
Ten of Our Favorite Recipes with Capers
"Classic Piccata reaches a new peak with the marvelous addition of mushrooms," says Karen. "This is a favorite in our family. Serve with rice and a green salad if desired."
"This is a very easy seared halibut with a buttery wine and caper sauce," says Barbara Tantrum. "It takes hardly any time at all to make, but it is sure to leave a lasting impression."
In this short video, Chef John shows you a cool little trick for releasing more caper flavor into the sauce.
This simple lemon and caper butter sauce is a classic French sauce that's perfect with seafood. Try it with sauteed sole! The key is to add a little cold butter at the end, slowly blending it into the lemon juice. It's a technique that gives your sauce amazing body and viscosity.
"Picadillo is a savory and traditional Cuban home-cooked meal with ingredients that are readily available in any supermarket," says lutzflcat. Ingredients like ground beef, golden raisins, capers, and olives, all simmered in tomato sauce and wine. "Do not omit wine, as it's really important to the flavor of this dish. Serve with garlic and onion white rice, black beans, and fried ripe plantains. Garnish with strips of ham and roasted red pepper."
Chicken marinates in a sauce of prunes, capers, green olives, garlic, olive oil, and seasonings. "A taste of the Mediterranean in one delicious baked chicken dish," says Teresa. "This is a classic Chicken Mirabella recipe."
"This savory dinner is restaurant-worthy, but can be prepped and cooked in under 30 minutes!" says fabeverydayblog. "If you are not a fan of fish, you can substitute thinly sliced or pounded chicken breasts for the salmon. Serve over pasta or rice."
Cucumbers and tomatoes are tossed in a dill and capers vinaigrette. "A fresh and light salad that involves no mayo or sour cream, so it is great for picnics and BBQs," says CHEFBOYOSARAH. "Serve immediately or refrigerate overnight to let flavors blend."
"This is one meal to impress dinner guests that will not break the bank nor will it take very much time," says Marianne. "Served with a green salad, red potatoes, and asparagus, this meal will turn out with a memorable presentation!"
"This smoked trout schmear is incredibly easy, and very versatile," says Chef John. "Obviously, it's great spread on any kind of bread or crackers, but slathered atop a freshly toasted bagel may be its finest expression."
Check out our collection of Mediterranean Diet Recipes.