Cooking with capers, the buds with bite


The late Elizabeth David, the Julia Child of England, had no reservations about capers - unlike a lot of people. She bought the best from France (small Rhone River valley capers called nonpareilles) and put copious amounts out in small bowls or piled mounds of them on dinner plates to accompany roast lamb or beef.

The French seem to prefer capers stirred into hot brown butter and poured over sauteed fish, while the Italians use this Mediterranean bud's piquant taste to perk up stewed vegetables or fish. In the United States, the caper appears most often among the collection of condiments presented with smoked salmon at weekend brunches or stirred into steak tartare.

Capers are culled from a desert shrub, capparis spinosa. Most are cured and shipped in a salt-and-vinegar solution. In Italy, however, some capers are packed in salt. These may be found in Italian markets and specialty food stores, along with mature caperberries. Cured capers are aromatic and contribute a lively bite to dishes, but do not taste harsh. They also are a very useful weapon for cooks seeking to improvise a sauce or topping.

Try them with roasted red peppers, mixed with some browned garlic, parsley and pepper. Serve with a couple of anchovy fillets and bread on the side. Capers are also excellent in a cream sauce over pork cutlets. For sauce enough for three or four cutlets, you'll need about 1/3 cup thinly sliced onions and 1/4 cup drained and rinsed capers, coarsely chopped. Cook the onions and capers in a pan until the onions begin to wilt, about 3 minutes. Add 1/2 cup whipping cream and 1/4 cup shredded basil leaves, bring to a boil, then reduce until cream thickens slightly, about 1 1/2 minutes.

Pub Date: 5/03/98

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