Photo: Subbotina Anna (Shutterstock)
As a lover of the salted and heavily salted, I appreciate the many gifts that the caper bush gives us. From this we get not only capers, but also caper berries – two things that sound like they might be the same, but in reality are very different.
Capers and caper berries are both picked from the caper bush, but at different stages of ripeness. Capers – the small, intensely salty, savory little balls that are often found on a bagel with salmon – are the unopened, unripe flower buds, while the caper berries are the ripe fruit.
Both are usually pickled in some way, but caperberries are larger and more tender with a lemony, floral flavor. Salt-filled caperberries tend to be slightly crunchier than their liquid-pickled counterparts, which, like most pickles, are sour and salty, with crispy seeds that have a texture similar to that of a kiwi.
Use caper berries like olives – especially in ice cold martinis. You can toast them whole, with their stems still on, with a protein, or all on their own, or toss them into a large bowl of pasta. They also make an excellent pizza topping: cut them into small slices and sprinkle them around like hot peppers.
Capers, on the other hand, are smaller and have a sharper flavor, but are still quite light and are best served as a side dish (or fried as a smol bar snack). Capers are harvested before flowering and rated for size, with the smallest – labeled “not comparable,” which means “incomparable” – the most sought-after. Hand-picked and fermented and stored wrapped in sea salt on an island between Sicily and Tunisia, Pantelleria capers are the most refined and best served as a side dish to enjoy their complex flavor.
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But all capers are pretty good. They’re good with chicken, they’re good with fish, they’re good with salads, they’re good with pasta, and they’re good in compound butter. (You’re good at a lot of hearty things, I say.)
Both capers and caper berries are usually packaged either dry in salt or in jars with a liquid salt solution. The salt-filled versions of both are predictably very salty, so it’s usually a good idea to rinse them off (or even soak them overnight) to trap the salt content before adding them to your food. Some people recommend similar moves to the guys with brine too, but I never do that because I really like salt. (If it’s wrong to eat capers straight out of the jar, I’ll never be “right”.)