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How Do You Cook With Capers?

Updated on March 24, 2012

Capers: Information and Lots of Recipes

Do you know what capers are? A lot of people don't. Read on to get answers to all those caper-related questions that keep you up at night. Are they plants or animals? Do they bite? Is it okay to go ahead and eat a caper if I see it trying to scooch off the plate? (The answer to that one is no. If you see it moving, it's probably not a caper)

I've also included a list of my favorite caper recipes AND a special secret bonus. Learn how to add a new dimension to your cooking.

Photo by wordridden

What are Capers?

Photo by CyboRoZ

Capers give a slightly exotic look and taste to a dish. Fancy restaurants love to use them. Did you ever wonder what those little green things really are?

Capers are the immature flower buds of a spiky bush native to the Mediterranean, called capparis spinosa. Caper bushes grow wild in rocky hillsides and along roadways. When allowed to develop, the buds grow into beautiful white flowers. The immature buds are picked and dried, then preserved in either salt, brine or vinegar. You'll find them at the grocery store in clear jars near the olives.

Photo by adactio

What Should I Do With My Capers?

What kinds of foods go well with capers?

Photo by wendalicious

Capers lend a small but intense burst of "pickled" flavor to a dish.

They are quite salty right out of the jar. Rinse them well before using them in a dish.

Capers are great with eggs. Try them in an omelette or in deviled eggs.

They're good in salads of all kinds. They don't need to be cooked, so just toss a few capers into your green salad.

Many sauces benefit from the addition of capers, especially tomato sauces. Try some chopped up in your spaghetti sauce.

Salmon pairs beautifully with capers, as does any seafood. How about capers in your tuna salad?

Zip up your potato salad with some chopped capers.

You can use them whole or chop them finely.

Add capers at the end of the cooking process, if possible.

Pasta with Tuna Sauce

Inexpensive and delicious

Photo by su-lin

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 onion, chopped

2 cloves crushed garlic

1 tablespoon capers

1 (14.5 ounce) can crushed tomatoes

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

2 (6 ounce) cans tuna, drained

1 (16 ounce) package dry pasta, your choice

1. In a large sauté pan, heat oil over low heat. Add onion and garlic; cook and stir until onion is tender.

2. Stir in capers, tomatoes, lemon juice, and parsley. Season with red pepper flakes to taste. Simmer gently for 3 minutes to thicken sauce.

3. Fold in tuna, and heat through.

4. While sauce is cooking, add pasta to a large pot of rapidly boiling water; cook till just tender. Drain well.

5. Toss pasta with sauce, and serve.

A Word of Caution

Don't be fooled.

Capers can be grown in many warm and temperate climates. You may have a caper bush in your yard. However, before you decide to harvest those buds and make your own capers, be absolutely sure that you have the right plant.

The caper spurge plant produces buds that look very much like capers, but they are poisonous. Take a sample of your plant to the local extension office or plant expert to identify it before you eat it.

Have You Ever Tried Capers?

Have you tried them and did you like them?

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Photo by HarlanH

Your capers will keep almost indefinitely in the refrigerator as long as you leave them covered in the brine in an airtight container.

Here's a Secret

How to Make Fake Capers.

Photo by hnau

Capers are on the pricey side. If you love the taste but not the price, I'll tell you a little secret that can save you lots of money.

Nasturtium seed pods can be brined and used just like you would use capers in cooking. Here's how:

Poor Man's Capers

Do You Know the Health Benefits of Capers?

Recent studies show that you should be eating more of them.

Antioxidants in capers can offset the nasty oxidation from digesting meat. You can read more about it here:

Capers: A Carnivore's Best Bud

Mediterranean Feta Dip

Great for parties!

Photo of Miss Shari

1 small bunch fresh basil leaves, stems removed

1 (4 ounces) jar marinated sundried tomatoes, plus 3 Tbsp of the marinade oil

1 (4 ounces) package feta cheese crumbles

1 (6.5 ounces) jar marinated artichoke hearts, drained

4 heaping Tbsp mayonnaise (not low-fat)

1 Tbsp capers (optional)

Set aside 1 basil leaf and 1 sundried tomato for garnish.

In a food processor or blender, blend together basil leaves, sundried tomatoes, oil from tomatoes, feta cheese, artichoke hearts, mayonnaise, and capers until they reach a nice consistency to spread on crackers.

Place in medium serving dish and garnish dip with 1 fresh basil leaf and one whole sundried tomato.

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Capers are great in pasta dishes.

Olive Tapenade

Photo by Monkeycat

20 pitted Kalamata olives, coarsely chopped

1 Tbsp rinsed, drained, and chopped capers

1 tsp fresh lemon juice

2 tsp olive oil

1/2 tsp anchovy paste (optional)

Fresh cracked black pepper

Combine Kalamata olives, capers, lemon juice, olive oil, anchovy paste, and pepper. Mix well. Refrigerate and use within two weeks.

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Chicken with Tomatoes and Capers

Photo by su-lin

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 1 1/4 pounds)

salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon butter

3 tablespoons finely chopped shallots

1 teaspoon finely chopped garlic

2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh tarragon or 1 teaspon dried

4 ripe plum tomatoes, cut into small cubes (canned tomatoes will work, too)

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

4 tablespoons drained capers

1 cup dry white wine

1 tablespoon tomato paste

4 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves

1. Sprinkle the chicken well with salt and pepper.

2. Heat the oil and butter in a heavy-bottomed skillet. Add the chicken breasts and sauté over medium-high heat, turning the pieces often until lightly browned, about 5 minutes.

3. Scatter the shallots and garlic around the chicken. Cook briefly; add the tarragon, tomatoes, vinegar, capers, wine, and tomato paste. Stir to dissolve the brown particles adhering to the bottom of the skillet.

4. Blend well. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.

Learn the Secrets of Meditteranean Cooking - Click on the image for more information or to shop at Amazon.com

New Potatoes with Caper Sauce

12 small new potatoes, scrubbed

1/2 cup butter, softened

2 tablespoons capers, drained

1 tablespoon minced green onion

1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

1 teaspoon white wine vinegar

salt and pepper to taste

1. Combine the softened butter, capers, green onion, Parmesan cheese, parsley and vinegar in a bowl. Set aside.

2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. If potatoes are large, cut into halves or quarters. Add potatoes and cook until tender but still firm, 15 to 20 minutes. Drain.

3. Add the caper sauce to the pot of drained potatoes and toss gently to coat. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Caponata

2 c cubed peeled eggplant

1 t.kosher salt

4 T. olive oil

1 c. chopped onion

1/2 c chopped green bell pepper

1/2 c chopped red bell pepper

3/4 c chopped celery

2 c drained canned plum tomatoes, chopped (reserve juice)

1/2 t ground black pepper

1/2 t dried oregano

1/2 t dried basil

1 T minced garlic

1 T chopped fresh Italian parsley

1/2 c chopped pitted Calamata or Gaeta olives

2 T capers, drained

Directions:

1. Place eggplant in colander, sprinkle with salt and let drain for 1 hour.

2. Heat 2 T oil in large flameproof casserole or dutch oven. Pat eggplant dry and add to the casserole. Sauté over medium heat until soft and lightly browned, 10 min. Using slotted spoon, remove eggplant and set aside.

2. Add remaining oil, then onion, bell peppers, and celery to casserole. Sauté over medium heat until the vegetables are softened, 10 minutes.

3. Return eggplant to casserole. Add tomatoes, pepper, oregano, basil, garlic, parsley, olives, and capers. Simmer until the veges are tender, 45 minutes. If the mixture starts sticking while cooking, add reserved juice in small amounts.

4. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Remember

to rinse capers before using them to remove excess salt.

Leave a recipe or comment. Thanks for visiting.

How Do You Like to Use Capers?

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    • Pat Goltz profile image

      Pat Goltz 4 years ago

      I eat 'em straight out of the jar as a snack. I should rinse them, I suppose. I first ran into them in a fusion restaurant in Arizona, and not knowing what they were, I asked they give them to me in a side dish. After tasting them, I asked for more. These recipes look absolutely delicious! I will have to try them.

    • NanLT profile image

      Nan 4 years ago from London, UK

      I add a spoonful of finely chopped capers to meatloaf and salmon loaf. I don't rinse them first but do adjust the amount of seasoning I use.

      Because you have a recipe here that includes tarragon I have added a link to my "T is for Tarragon" lens.

    • profile image

      appelonia 4 years ago

      Love capers with a mild lemon sauce on Flounder.

      This is a great leans. Thanks!

    • makorip lm profile image

      makorip lm 4 years ago

      I actually add capers to most of the dishes I prepare

    • profile image

      LadyDuck 4 years ago

      My husband loves capers, especially in Penne all'Arrabbiata sace. A spicy sauce with hot red peppers, black olives and capers, very good

    • whats4dinner profile image

      whats4dinner 4 years ago

      That's a whole lot of information about Capers. I'll remember to rinse capers before using them to remove excess salt. Thanks!

    • knitstricken profile image

      knitstricken 4 years ago

      I love capers with all types of fish, including on my tuna fish sandwiches!

    • casquid profile image

      casquid 4 years ago

      I love capers and keep them on-hand, in my refrigerator.

      Nice lens! Blessings!!

    • AngelDey profile image

      AngelDey 5 years ago

      I actually did always wonder about other purposes for capers. I just put pickled capers in my pasta but never used them for much anything else. Thanks for the recipes.

    • profile image

      julieannbrady 5 years ago

      I personally haven't cooked that much with capers, but do have my favorite dishes that I like to order in the restaurant which feature capers -- usually salmon or veal.

    • Countryluthier profile image

      E L Seaton 5 years ago from Virginia

      This is something I never knew about. Thanks for something new today! Merry Christmas too!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Thanks, you introduced me to something new.

    • dawngibson lm profile image

      dawngibson lm 6 years ago

      I love them with albacore tuna, and on deli sandwiches.

    • bikerchickie profile image

      bikerchickie 6 years ago

      I always keep a jar of capers around because I get weird cravings for them sometimes. When not eating them by the spoonful, I mainly use them in my Caesar salad dressing and in steak tartare.

      Great lens! I'll definitely have to try some of your recipes.

    • profile image

      huvalbd 6 years ago

      I like capers but never knew what they were, and I never would have thought of some of these recipes. I'm especially keen to try the Mediterranean feta dip!

    • Anahid LM profile image

      Anahid LM 6 years ago

      Hi: I din't know what plant the capers come from, I am also surprised to learn about nasturtium seeds can be used as fake capers. Thank you good work, I have a lens about Nasturtium flowers it might interest you. All the best.Anna

    • Ann Hinds profile image

      Ann Hinds 6 years ago from So Cal

      What a great lens. I use them if a recipe calls for them but then I have some leftover and am not really sure what to do with them. Great ideas, great lens, Angel blessed.

    • Michey LM profile image

      Michey LM 6 years ago

      Yes I do and I like all your recipes especially Mediterranean, as I was born close by...

      My view is that all of them are healthy recipes.

      Stretch my wings to Bless this lens.

      Regards

      Michey

    • KimGiancaterino profile image

      KimGiancaterino 6 years ago

      I use capers in tuna salad and with salmon and cream cheese on toast. I'll be trying some of your ideas too. Our local Italian deli has capers packed in salt, rather than brine. They taste pretty good. I put a jar in my husband's Christmas stocking last year.

    • KimGiancaterino profile image

      KimGiancaterino 6 years ago

      @Ramkitten2000: The Wildflower Bread Company was my morning hangout when I went to Sedona in July. I sat on the patio with my coffee and book each morning. Great place, and what a view!

    • Ramkitten2000 profile image

      Deb Kingsbury 8 years ago from Flagstaff, Arizona

      Great tip about the nasturtium seeds! My husband and I "discovered" capers while eating a the Wildflower Bread Company in Sedona, AZ. We'd both ordered the salmon fettucini alfredo with sundried tomatoes and "some tasty little green thingies" in it, which we soon learned for an eavesdropper were capers. We did buy them once to make that recipe at home, but you're right; they're pricey. Still, yummy is worth it sometimes. Thank you for the additional recipes. We'll try some.

    • ZenandChic profile image

      Patricia 8 years ago

      This lens looks great and the food looks delicious.

    • religions7 profile image

      religions7 8 years ago

      I love them in salads, but I never remember to buy them. I really should though - they're probably superhealthy for vegetarians.

    • profile image

      CleanerLife 8 years ago

      Thanks! I've bought capers to use in a specific recipe, but then had no idea what else I could use them in. This Lens certainly gives me some good ideas :)

    • RuthCoffee profile image

      RuthCoffee 8 years ago

      Great looking lens! I've had capers in various things over the years but I never really knew what they were. Thanks!

    • Dianne Loomos profile image

      Dianne Loomos 8 years ago

      I did not know anything about capers...until now! Very nicely made lens!