Ingredient Intelligence

Tiny Pickled Flavor Bombs: Capers

updated Dec 4, 2022
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(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

These tangy little buds are a pantry staple when it comes to jazzing up a weeknight pasta or adding the perfect finishing touch to a plate of cured salmon. Just a spoonful of capers can make a whole dish sing. Do you ever cook with them?

Capers are actually the immature flower buds of the caper bush, a shrub-like plant that hails from the Mediterranean region. The buds are picked just before they reach ripeness and pickled either in a salt brine or in vinegar. They are usually dark green in color and can range from pea-sized to marble-sized, though smaller is generally better.

The flavor of capers is tangy, briney, and somewhat lemony. Capers work as a flavor booster in small quantities, but too many in a dish can become overwhelming. Good capers should have a snappy and tender texture, not mushy or overly hard.

Capers are best in the dishes that first thought of using them: those from the Mediterranean and Middle East. Try them in a lemon caper pasta, with grilled fish or stewed chicken, and in dressings and marinades whenever you want a vinegary punch. Capers have also become a standard companion to lox and a main ingredient in tartar sauce. Fried capers are also a great addition to a dish.

You can find jars of capers near the pickles and other condiments in most grocery stores. Also look for them in bulk at specialty markets. Once opened, store capers covered in their brine solution and refrigerated. They will keep this way for several months. If the brine solution is strong, rinse the capers before using them.

Here are a few caper-riffic recipes for you to try:

How do you use capers in your cooking?