© Denzil Green
Capers are salty, pickled little “vegetables” that range in size from that of peppercorn to the size of the tip of a little finger.
They are actually unopened flower buds from a bush called “Capparis Spinosa”, which is grown in Mediterranean countries and in California. The buds must be picked by hand each morning, as they have been for thousands of years, as they individually reach the proper size and readiness.
Capers are usually dried in the sun, and then either dry-packed in salt, or pickled in brine or in white wine vinegar.
Capers are graded by shaking them through a sieve. In order of size from smallest to largest, the grades are Nonpareille, Surfin, Capucine, Capote, Fine and Gruesos. The smallest ones — the Nonpareilles — are marketed as the most desirable and so will cost more.
However, despite claims of smaller ones having a milder taste and aroma, there is little actual difference of flavour between any of the sizes.
Capers are a useful addition to dishes because they neither absorb the taste of other ingredients, or influence the taste: instead, their self-contained taste explodes in the mouth when bitten into.
Note that the salty taste for which capers are prized doesn’t actually come from the bud itself; it comes from the pickling or salting process.
Capers, like olives, are never eaten fresh — only processed.
Capers in a jar
– © Denzil Green
Capers should generally be added to dishes at the last minute as heating will destroy their taste.
Some people advise that you should give capers a quick rinse under the tap to wash off some of the excess saltiness — that applies more to the ones that have come dry-packed in salt. In fact, if the dry-packed ones are still too salty for your taste, soak them in some cold water for half an hour.
Don’t rinse the ones that came in brine (unless you are on a low-sodium diet); just adjust the salt in the dish accordingly downwards.
Capers are a useful replacement in dishes that call for anchovies, when you don’t have anchovies on hand or don’t want to use them — either because you don’t like anchovies or you want to remove the fish from a recipe to make it vegetarian or vegan.
10 medium-sized capers = 1 scant teaspoon
50 medium-sized capers = 1 heaped tablespoon = 15g
1/4 cup = 2 oz = 50g