You’ve cooked with them, eaten them in chicken piccata, or at least heard of them, but what ARE capers, anyway?
Wonder no more, my friends. I’m here to answer your questions: what are capers? How do I prepare capers? And most importantly: what are the best recipes that use capers?
What are capers?
Simply put, capers are flower buds. That’s right- flower buds!
More specifically, they are the dark green, immature flower buds of the caper bush (Capparis spinosa or Capparis inermis). The caper bush, also known as Flinders Rose, grows commonly in the Mediterranean region and parts of Asia.
Capers are harvested and preserved with salt or, more commonly, by brining/pickling them. You’ll usually find them in your grocery store in the pickle aisle, or with the Italian imported goods.
You can also buy capers on amazon, of course!
Capers vs. Caper Berries
While capers are the small, immature bud of the caper plant, caper berries are the larger fruit that the caper bush bears. Both are served cured / brined.
Caper berries are larger, and usually served with the stem attached, and have a much stronger flavor. Sometimes, you’ll see them as part of an olive appetizer or mixed pickles on a charcuterie board.
What are “Non-Pareil” Capers?
You’ll often find capers at the store labeled “non-pareil.” These are the smallest and usually the most common and desirable of all the caper types. Non-pareil is French for “has no equal.”
Capers are sold in all kinds of sizes- the smaller they are, the more delicate in flavor and texture. The smallest are under 7mm, and are labeled “non-pareil.”
Caper Nutrition and Benefits
Capers by themselves aren’t exactly packed full of nutrients, but they do pack a hefty dose of natural antioxidants, like other berries. They do have a high sodium content, so be careful with adding other salt to recipes that call for capers.
But here’s why I love using capers: they add a ton of flavor, which means you can sometimes cut down on other ingredients you may be keeping an eye on, like added fat. This is similar to using herbs, lemon, or lime juice as a healthy way to season recipes.
If you don’t like capers, or can’t find them, there are other ingredients you can use to substitute them.
- Green olives are probably the closest in flavor profile to capers. Chop them up and use them in place of capers in most recipes. Green olives are the best substitution for capers.
- Thyme also has similar flavor- if you use the herb along with something briny, like red wine vinegar or lemon juice, you’ll get a similar flavor profile.
- Dill pickles can also work since they are similarly briny and vinegary. Chop them up into small pieces as a substitute.
- Artichoke hearts can be chopped up and used as a substitute for capers, especially if they’ve been cured/pickled.
- You can also use anchovies to pack a savory, salty punch. Use them in small amounts in place of capers.
Preparing capers for use
The liquid that capers come in is very strong in flavor. When using capers, I recommend draining them from the liquid. A small mesh sieve works well for this.
If you’re particularly sensitive to the strong briny flavor, I recommend giving the capers a rinse as well while they’re in the mesh sieve.
Then, you’re ready to cook with them! No other preparation is necessary (unless the recipes calls for them to be mashed a bit). You can add them to a salad, cold, straight from the jar, as well as heat them up in whatever recipe you have cooking.
Which brings me to my next point…
Recipes with capers!
And now for the best part! Try these delicious and easy recipes that use capers.
- Chicken Piccata with Lemon Butter Caper Sauce
- Chicken Piccata Pasta with Green Beans
- Smoked Salmon English Muffins with Capers
- Panzanella (Italian Tomato and Bread Salad)
- Garlic Poached Salmon with Creamy Lemon Caper Sauce
- Smoked Salmon and Caper Cream Cheese Toast
- Pasta Puttanesca
- Niçoise Salad (from What a Girl Eats)
- Olive Tapenade (from Happy Kitchen)
- Swordfish with Tomatoes and Capers (from Ina Garten/The Food Network)
What’s your favorite way to use capers? Please leave a comment and let me know!