Other Names: Alcaparra or tápana (Spanish); alcaparras (Portuguese); caper berries; cappero (Italian); câpre, fabagelle, or tapana (French); kabar (Arabic); kaper (German); kapersy (Russian); kappari (Greek); kappertjes (Dutch); kebere (Turkish); keipa (Japanese); kiari or kobra (Hindi); lussef (Egyptian); mchezo or mruko (Swahili); tsalaf qotsani (Hebrew).

General Description: Capers are the small, round, pickled or salted unopened flower buds of a spiny plant (Capparis spinosa) that grows wild all over the Mediterranean. Capers are cultivated in France, Spain, Italy, Algeria, Iran, and Greece, and grow profusely in Cyprus. Once cured by salting, brining, or pickling in vinegar, the caper develops its palate-wakening pungent, astringent flavor and spicy fragrance.

Caperberries are the teardrop-shaped pickled fruit of the caper bush with a flavor similar to capers, though stronger. They are most common in Spain, which is also the main producer; they work well for cooked dishes. Pantelleria are a prized variety of caper grown on the island of the same name, which lies between Sicily and Tunisia. These extra-large capers, usually cured in salt, are plump, juicy, and highly aromatic. The fruits of the related central Asian species Indian caper (Capparis aphylla) are sometimes pickled and used as a flavoring in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and parts of India.

Capers were introduced by the Spaniards to Latin America, where they appear in beef or pork picadillo, a highly seasoned mixture of ground meat, capers, green olives, raisins, and spices.

Purchase and Avoid: The smaller the caper bud, the higher the cost. The smallest capers are called nonpareilles, followed in increasing size by surfines, fines, mi-fines, capucines, and communes. Capers packed in layers of salt, similar to salt-packed anchovies, rather than in brine, are preferred by some connoisseurs, as their full-bodied fragrance and firm texture are maintained. Very large, inexpensive “capers” are most likely pickled nasturtium buds rather than true capers.

Storage: Once the jar has been opened, it must be refrigerated. Keep capers submerged in their brine, removing them from the jar with a clean stainless steel fork.

Serving Suggestions: Use capers to flavor Italian puttanesca sauce for pasta or French rémoulade for vegetables, meats, or fish. Garnish smoked salmon with chopped red onion, capers, and chopped hard-boiled egg. Make Montpellier butter with anchovies, capers, and blanched tender herbs such as tarragon, chervil, and chives and use to top fish and poultry.

Food Affinities: Anchovy, butter, chicken, cured black olives, eggs, garlic, olive oil, orange, parsley, pork, red onion, red wine, salt cod, smoked salmon, tarragon, thyme, tomato, veal, white wine.

from Quirk Books: