Have you ever come across a recipe that calls for capers, like spaghetti with chickpeas and tomato? Did you follow the recipe or looked for something else?
If you passed up on the recipe because you have no idea what capers are, then read on and learn everything you need to know about this ingredient that’s a staple of Mediterranean cooking.
What are capers?
Capers are the young or immature buds that grow on the limbs of Capparis inermis or caper plant, which is native to the Mediterranean region. Many of these plants are found in Spain and Portugal.
The buds are colored grayish-green. They’re small, with most of them having the size of a small pea. The big ones grow to the size of a small olive.
Capers aren’t exactly new. In fact, they’ve been used since ancient times. Capers were cited as a food in the Sumerian epic of Gilgamesh, meaning humans have been using them as an ingredient for more than 4,000 years or so.
The caper plant grows in the wild. Harvesting the buds is a lot of hard work. For one, the buds are harvested by hands in the early morning to prevent blooming.
These are then steeped in barrels of salt brine for 24 hours. After the said time frame, the buds are washed gently with water and then stored in malt vinegar.
The smallest capers are also the most valuable. These are called ‘nonparaleils.’ It’s so small that they look like small bearings.
Most of these come from a tiny island in Italy called Pantelleria. They’re tender and visually appealing but obviously cost a lot given their outstanding quality and flavor.
How do they taste like?
Capers are traditionally used as condiments in the Mediterranean region. They are often found in Spanish, French, Greek, and Moroccan recipes. They can give a sour and salty taste to various main dishes. It can also spice up sauces and dressings.
Capers are also a fixture in Italian cuisine. These buds are commonly added to pasta puttanesca and chicken piccata.
Even the Indians use capers for their cooking. The pickled capers give sour and salty notes to fishes like salmon.
I use capers to add flavor to fish, chicken, and meat. It’s also a good seasoning for salad and sauce. You can also top it on pizza. Try it!
How to store capers
The good news is that as long as the capers are submerged in the liquid or brine, they can last for a very long time. You can also buy salt packed capers which can last for a long while even when left unrefrigerated.
You can store unopened capers in the pantry as long as the temperature is not higher than 75 degrees Fahrenheit. If opened, you must store these buds in the fridge. Make sure that the capers are submerged in the liquid.
How to tell spoiled or rotten capers
Since capers are sold in jars, the best way to tell if the food has gone bad is by inspecting the top of the lid. If the top of the lid is shaped like a dome and not flat across, then the capers inside it have most likely gone bad.
You can also open the jar. If there’s a normal pop upon opening the jar, then the capers inside are still safe to use. But if there’s no pop, then the seal was earlier broken.
You can also look at the capers themselves. If the capers have gone brown or black, then I suggest you don’t eat them as these are likely to be spoiled.
The smell will also be a good indicator of the freshness of the capers. If there’s foul odor coming from the jar, you might as well throw it out.
How to use capers
In using capers, I suggest you rinse them first so that you can get rid of the liquid and allow its flavor to manifest. Most recipes also call for caper to be added to the dish towards the end of the cooking, so that the condiments would be able to keep its taste and shape.
Here’s one simple recipe involving capers that I would like to share with you. It’s sauteed chicken with olives, lemons, and capers. This is a dish that can serve 3 to 4 people.
Step by step guide
- Place a medium sized skillet over medium high heat. Add olive oil, half of the lemon slice and sear until the lemons are brownish in color. Cook each side for 3-5 minutes.
- Transfer the lemon to a plate. Use kosher salt and black pepper to season the chicken thighs. Dust with flour and shake off the excess.
- Add ½ tablespoons of olive oil to the pan and sear the chicken pieces until the color becomes golden brown. Transfer to another plate and continue searing the rest of the chicken pieces before transferring them to the same plate.
- Add the rest of the olive oil and minced garlic to the pan. Cook for 30 seconds or until fragrant. Avoid burning the garlic as it can make the dish become bitter. Add the capers, olive, and broth.
- Add the reserved chicken and juices that have been released as well as the lemons and their juices. Cook over high heat until the broth has been lessened by half, or by about 5 minutes.
- Add butter and parsley and cook for a minute. Season with salt and ground black pepper to taste. Serve with a cold beverage like ice tea and enjoy!