Capers are little culinary jewels like tiny buds picked before they fully blossom into shrubby plants. These bushes grow in the most difficult conditions surviving inconsistent climate and rocky, gravely soil. They thrive in hot Mediterranean climates such as Cypress and Malta where they grow abundantly.
Capers are most commonly preserved in brine or simply doused in sea salt. In our circle (what circle do you mean? NY or food world? Need to clarify) the edible bud and fruit (caper berry) is available all year round on the supermarket shelves and offers a great way to add lots of that particular juicy, briny caper flavor which comes from natural mustard oil released by the little buds.
When local fresh herbs and vegetables become sparse or non-existent capers are especially handy. I love them in Italian “evergreen” dishes such as piccata, vitello tonnato and spaghetti putanesca. The French came up with their caper contributions with terrific sauce creations -- just think of the staple tartar sauce and remoulade. I remember working in France at Joel Robouchon’s restaurant where we deglazed a brown butter sauce with ketchup in it – yes, the chef of the century cooks with ketchup - and then the sauce was deglazed with the brine liquid of capers – awesome. It was served with langoustines coated in spaghetti pasta. The sauce tasted briny, and salty at once and was the perfect compliment to the snow-white, orange hued, tender seafood.
I visited the Island of Rhodes in Greek after culinary school and the use of pickled caper leaves was abundant, which was positive since they make an excellent seasoning component in fish dishes. More everyday food such as lox , cream cheese with capers strewn over the whole spiel is definitely one of my brunch favorites. Interestingly, in cheese making I have come across different rennet substitutions even including caper leaves in high-end cheeses.
Snow white, caper dotted…..
Cauliflower was always too cabbagey for me and I didn’t like it very much until I came across a combination of cauliflower with capers. Following here is a neat play on flavors which incorporates capers and raisins – a little sweet, a little sour…
(cauliflower on ice)
Cauliflower with Capers and Raisins
(recipe yields four side-sized portions)
1 cauliflower (about 30 ounces)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil such as canola or grape-seed oil
¼ cup capers
¼ cup raisins
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon sea salt
2 pinch cayenne1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1. Cut leaves of cauliflower. Cut 1-inch sized pieces (rosettes) of cauliflower head. Discard fibrous hard core stem.
2. In a 1-gallon sized pot heat oil on medium heat setting and cook/brown cauliflower pieces for 20 minutes stirring every five minutes.
3. Strain capers into a sieve, reserve the brine liquid.
4. Chop capers and raisins finely.
5. Combine capers, raisins, ground nutmeg, salt, cayenne with browned cauliflower.
6. Add the reserved caper brine liquid to the cauliflower/spice mixture and move the pot on the side of the stove.
7. Serve cauliflower in individual bowls or a large platter and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil.
(roasted cauliflower with capers and raisins)
Chef’s Tip: Sprinkle the cooked, hot cauliflower with finely grated cheddar cheese from an artisanal maker.