Capers have been part of Mediterranean cuisine ever since they were recognized as flavor enhancers thousands of years ago. They have become a fascination for European cooks over the past 3 to 4 decades. Italian and French cooks and gourmets prefer the mildly acidic flavor of pickled capers.
Capers are widely used in different sauces and salads, cured with salt, and also served with smoked salmon. Capers go very well with Sauce Ravigote (classic acidic sauce in French cuisine) and mayonnaise. In Germany cooks use capers with milk and roux-based sauces that are served mostly with calf’s dumplings. Capers have also been a significant part of Greek gourmet. The Greek island of Crete is very famous for Purslane Salad with capers and yogurt. Here, the capers are grown locally.
Caper sauce along with tomato goes well with the red mullet fish of the Aegean Islands in Greece. The immature berries of capers and its tender shoots are extensively used in cooking all over the world. The raw buds of the plant have a neutral flavor. To develop a piquant kind of flavor for them to be added in cuisine, the buds have to be processed in pickling medium. The pickled buds are preferred as a topping in pizzas and as a flavor in antipasto (traditional Italian first-course dishes) salads.
Capers also provide a special taste to veal, vegetables, and fish recipes (especially in combination with anchovie sauce). Grilled tuna with a combination of caper vinaigrette (mixture of vinegar and olive oil) and peppers is a very popular gourmet. People planning to grow capers at their own gardens should verify whether it is a true caper plant. There is a particular poisonous plant known as caper spurge (Euphorbia lathyris) which is often mistaken for capers, as they have similar type of buds. Ingestion of these buds can cause problems like dizziness, delirium, irregular pulse, nausea, paleness, and burning of the mouth.
Once a true caper plant is identified, the flower buds have to be harvested before they start displaying any color. If one wants the capers to be salt-free, they can be pickled in any type of vinegar. When using capers for home cooking, it is recommended that they be rinsed of excess salt or brine, which would have been used to preserve capers.
A paper towel can be used to gently blot dry. It should be made sure that capers that are packed in brine are kept submerged in an airtight container. It should then be refrigerated and used within 9 months. Normally, larger capers are chopped off before adding to the dish. To get the best flavor, it would be wise to add capers at the final process of cooking a particular dish.
Capers are considered very safe for consumption except under certain circumstances. It is very important to note that women who are pregnant and breast-feeding should avoid capers. People with hypertension are also asked to avoid capers because of the salt content during preservation. Under very rare circumstances, capers are known to cause skin irritation.