Spice support: capers

I’m stretching the definition of spice a bit to include capers, but since they add a flavor dimension similar to adding spice, I found it appropriate. To learn more about capers I turned to an interview of David Rosengarten by Sally Swift of The Splendid Table. Rosengarten visited the famous caper-growing island of Pantelleria, Italy – a place he calls “caper heaven.”

Rosengarten begins with a definition of caper berries, which are the buds of the capparis spinosa bush. If left alone the bud turns into a flower, but if you pick it before the flower unfurls, that is a caper. If you leave the bud on the plant, it unfurls into a purple and white flower. If you let that flower fall off, it’s replaced later in the season by a fruit which is called a caper berry. The perennial plants that produce capers grow all over the Mediterranean and into some parts of Asia. They grow wild but are also cultivated in some areas, the most famous being the small island of Pantelleria, Italy, off the coast of Sicily.

Now to the big question that people ask about capers: are the smaller berries better than the larger ones? A lot of people outside of caper growing regions will say smaller is better, but the people who grow them disagree, saying that the larger berries have more intense flavor. The second most common debate over capers is whether salt-packed are better than brine-cured. Rosengarten comes down on the side of salt-packed. He explains that salt curing is “trickier and more expensive…They have to go in there every day and mix them up because they have to make sure the salt is evenly distributed. But if you put them in a big barrel with liquid, you don’t have to worry about that. It’s easier and faster, but I think they end up a little more washed out.”

Photo of Cod with guilt free lemon & caper sauce from Sweet Paul Magazine

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  • okcook  on  May 29, 2020

    Love fried capers. Cooks Illustrated have a technique of frying that reduces the fat splatter. Start the capers in a cold pan with oil. Put on moderate heat and cook until they are crispy….there may be the odd pop but not like the mess one generates using a preheated pan.

  • jhappel  on  May 31, 2020

    I brought some salted capers back from Sicily last year and I am a fan! I won’t go back to brined.

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