I am in love with capers these days, having rediscovered them in my new favorite lunch, the Atlantic Smoked Salmon Tartine from Pan Quotidian. This led me to purchase the world’s largest jar of capers from Costco. Since then, I’ve been adding them to anything and everything, and finding that they enhance almost any dish.
What is a caper, anyway?
Capers are the immature buds of the caper bush, Capparis spinosa. The caper bush is a low growing, hardy plant that thrives in the semi-arid climate of the Mediterranean, where it can be found growing on the wailing wall in Jerusalem and on Roman fortresses in Italy. (My capers are actually imported from Spain.) Capers come in different sizes, the smallest, called non pareilles, being the most precious. Most capers are brined and preserved in vinegar, although the Italians sometimes preserve theirs in salt.
The Forgotten Caper
Although capers are an essential ingredient in certain dishes – Pasta Puttanesca, Tarter Sauce, Tapenade and Caponata come to mind – for most of us, they seem to be an afterthought. After all, capers are frequently used in small amounts – “1 tbsp capers”, or “a few capers” – which makes them appear unimportant. In fact, if it weren’t for fridge clean outs, many of us probably wouldn’t even know we have capers. “How old are these anyway? Think they’re any good or should I throw them out?” (They’re in vinegar, so they’re fine, by the way.) The teensy bottle reinforces this dismissive view of capers. “Don’t mind me”, it says. “In fact, just pretend I’m not here. I’ll sit here behind the mayo till you think you need me.”
Let’s hear it for capers!
Well, I say it’s high time we moved capers to the front of the fridge, give them the respect they deserve and start using them more often. They’re great in egg salad, perfect scatted on a lox and bagel sandwich, and lovely on chicken. Why not put a little bowl out on the table with a tiny spoon like another condiment? If you’re like me, you’ll find you’re using so many capers you’ll need the big jar. I’m actually almost ready to buy another bottle, and it’s only been a few months!
But be careful – just because you have a lot of capers does not mean you want to use more than a tablespoon or two in a recipe – they carry a big punch for such little guys. Like anchovies, capers add saltiness to a dish, so you may want to cut back a bit on the salt in your recipe to compensate.
Chicken Salad with Capers
This salad uses a 1:1 mix of mayo and non-fat Fage Greek Yogurt. If you like you salad wetter, just increase the amounts of each in equal proportions. You can substitute finely chopped cilantro for the celery. There is just a hint of lemon – you can add more if you like to taste.
3 cups bite-sized cut-up cooked chicken
3 tbsp non-fat mayo
3 tbsp non-fat yogurt
2-3 tbsp capers (start with 2 and increase per your taste)
1 large celery stick, finely chopped
1/2 tbsp lemon juice
Pepper to taste (you probably won’t need salt)
Mix the chicken with the rest of the ingredients in a large bowl. Serve with grilled pita wedges. And a little bowl of capers with a tiny spoon on the side. In case you want a few more.
More Caper Love
- Liz pickles her own capers in Tel Aviv (and has some good caper resource links)
- Aiden Brooks has a nice caper info page on his blog
- Just Food Now has a comprehensive caper article with great recipes
- Meg loves capers as much as I do!
- Kalyn adds capers to grilled sausage and veggies. Hmmm!
- Evan uses capers with leftover chicken in pasta
- Debby uses capers and anchovies to flavor her baked salmon
- Phoebe adds capers to her egg salad (and washes it down with a Pimms cup!)
- Saveur uses capers in a lovely chickpea salad
- Tandy uses capers with anchovies and tomatoes for a summer pasta
- Susanna Hoffman loves capers so much, she named her Greek cookbook after them
- If you live in the right climate and want to try your hand at growing capers, Purdue agriculture extension’s site has a list of caper plant and seed sources.