Capers: A Flavor Staple in Mediterranean Cooking

Chances are you’ve seen capers on your plate when you dine out but perhaps you weren’t quite certain what they were or what to do with them. A caper is the unripen flower bud of a perennial plant native to some parts of Asia and the Mediterranean. They have graced plates and menus since 1200 BC when they were first mentioned as a food item in a Sumerian cuneiform.

Once the buds are harvested, they are left out to dry in the sun before being pickled in brine, vinegar, wine or salt. Brining the capers draws out the tart lemon flavor of the capers; many culinarians liken their flavor to green olives. The flavor of the caper is due, in part, to the size of the buds, which range in size from the dimensions of a petite green pea to the size of a small olive. Nonpareil capers, the tiniest of the varieties, come from the South of France and are prized by many. The larger capers have a stronger flavor, are less aromatic and are less expensive than the smaller, more delicate buds.

These tiny delicacies have long been a favorite in Mediterranean recipes as their small buds add a salty-sour flavor to dressings, sauces, vegetable and main dishes as well as salads. Chicken Piccata is one of the most recognizable dishes for the use of capers.

Home chefs and restaurant chefs alike will occasionally pan-fry capers to add a crispness to them before incorporating them into the dishes. Capers or caper-infused tapenades enhance the sophistication of simple dishes such as eggs, egg or tuna salad or many varieties of potato dishes. Adding capers to a potato with an olive, red onion, mayonnaise and vinaigrette dressing can take a meal from ordinary to extraordinary. Adding capers to a fish dinner or even tossing in a rice salad or adding to a bed of greens elevates the flavor of the dish. Keep in mind that if you’re on a low sodium diet the use of capers should be kept to a minimum. If you have no such dietary restrictions, however, capers will truly show your dinner guests that you’ve taken steps to enhance the flavorful ingredients of the meal you’re offering.

O&CO. carries a line of caper-infused tapenades, mayonnaise and sauces for use in your favorite dishes.