We purchased six brands of capers and held a small tasting, tasting both small and large capers packed in brine and vinegar as well as one brand of salted capers.

Many people associate capers with anchovies and assume that they come from the sea. Others assume that they must be related to peas or beans because of their shape. Capers are actually pickles made from the unopened flower buds of the caper shrub, which grows in the Mediterranean region. These briny morsels are used in countless Italian, Spanish, and Greek recipes.

Capers can be preserved in two ways. More often, the flower buds are soaked in saltwater, then packed in brine or a mixture of brine and vinegar. This is how capers are sold in most supermarkets. The other option is to cure them with salt. This kind of caper costs more and is available only in specialty markets.

In addition to differences in preservation technique, capers vary in size. The smallest capers-no larger than small peas-are called nonpareils. There are several more grades, the largest being the size of small olives and called gruesas. If you drink martinis, you may also have seen caperberries. These oval berries form if the flower buds are allowed to open and set fruit. Caperberries are pickled in brine, just like capers.

To make sense of these variables, we purchased six brands of capers and held a small tasting. We tasted small and large capers packed in brine and vinegar as well as one brand of salted capers. For cooking, tasters agreed that small capers are best because they can be used as is; larger capers are too potent to eat whole and should be chopped. Besides adding an extra step, chopped capers disintegrate when added to sauces.

The taste differences from brand to brand were subtle, although most tasters felt that the brand packed in wine vinegar was the least harsh and therefore the most flavorful. (Labels on the other bottles just said “vinegar.”) Capers packed in salt were unbearably salty straight from the bottle. Rinsing didn't do much to lessen their sting. Soaking in cool water for at least 20 minutes (preferably an hour) washed out enough of the salt to reveal the flavor of the capers. Without the salt (and because there's no vinegar), we picked up hints of herbs (especially oregano) and mustard that we never tasted in the brined capers. These salted capers were delicious, but once we used them in piccata, their subtle traits faded behind the flavors of the other ingredients.

Many sources suggest rinsing brined capers, too. We think you can skip this step. Drain the capers well and taste one. If they seem very salty or vinegary, you can rinse them. In most cases, this step won't be necessary.

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recipes/notes/capers.txt · Last modified: 2016/12/19 12:27 by jmarcos
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