Crispy, nutty, and briny, Fried Capers are magical little flavor bombs that add an incredible dimension of flavor and texture to salads, pasta, meat, and vegetable dishes.
Something magical happens when you quickly fry capers. They lose a lot of their pungency and become nutty, crisp and incredibly light. Imagine a flower bud immediately blooming on contact with hot oil, each of its petals becoming ethereally light and crispy. Their salty, briny flavor makes them an addictive little garnish.
What are capers?
Capers are the unopened flower buds of the spiny caper bush (Capparis spinose). They get their sharp pungency from a sulfurous, mustard-like compound called glucocapparin. Capers of all sizes may be cured in salt or brined in salt and vinegar. They are found in dishes like veal piccata, tapenade, and spaghetti alla puttanesca.
Capers are not the same thing as caper berries. While capers are the immature flower buds of the bush, caper berries are the fruit the bush produces once the buds have flowered and then been fertilized. Caper berries are about the size of a grape and are often harvested with their stems attached. They are also cured in vinegar like capers.
Capers are not naturally sour; to obtain the briny, salty flavor for which they are famous they must be cured in seasoned vinegar, a process that been used for thousands of years.
What do fried capers taste like?
Capers have been valued since ancient times for the burst of salty, lemony, briny flavor they give to foods. Get past the brine, and they have a floral, grassy flavor. Frying capers takes away some of the vinegary sharpness and brings out a nutty, crispy, crunchiness. When fried, the flower buds open up and each petal becomes as light as gauze and crackly crisp. Even the stamens inside the flower become crispy.
Where do capers come from?
Capers are grown in parts of Asia, the Middle East, the Mediterranean, North Africa, Southern Europe, Turkey and California.
Pickling capers is a long and tedious process. The plant from which the tiny flower buds are plucked is prickly, and they’re too small and delicate to be plucked by machine, so they have to be harvested individually by hand. After being picked, capers are sorted by size. The smallest are named “non pareilles” and are the most expensive. Next in size are surfines, capuchins, fines, and capotes. Then they are dried, brined, or salted.
How long have capers been around?
Capers have been around since ancient times. The use of capers dates back to 2000 BC where they are mentioned as a food in the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh.
He brought her gifts all the things that he had come to know and love in the forest and from the open steppes; wild cucumbers and cassia melon, grapes and figs and caper buds from the dry rocks. He brought her blossoms of golden mimosa and fragrant branches of jasmine.
— The Epic of Gilgamesh
The Greeks and Romans both highly regarded capers as an aid in digestion.
How to make fried capers
Use capers that are brined in a jar. Drain the capers and put them on a paper towel or kitchen towel to dry them as much as possible.
In a small saucepan, heat 1/8 inch vegetable or olive oil until it shimmers (350°F). Add the capers to the hot oil (they’ll give off some liquid at first, so watch out for spattering oil) and fry until they turn golden brown and begin to crisp. This takes me about 2-3 minutes, depending on the size of the caper. Fry in batches if you’re doing a lot, otherwise you’ll cool the oil down too much.
Drain carefully and put on paper towels to absorb excess oil. The capers can be made 3 to 4 hours ahead; keep them uncovered at room temperature.
How to use fried capers
Fried Capers add a pop of briny, fruitiness to any dish. They’re an elegant garnish for pasta, salads, fish, or grilled meats. They’re also addictive little nibbles on their own! Leftover frying oil will be infused with caper flavor and can be used again to sauté fish, chicken, or vegetables, or wherever you might like the flavor of capers.
How to store fried capers
The capers can be made 3 to 4 hours ahead. Keep them uncovered at room temperature so they stay crispy. Any leftover can be stored at room temperature, covered, for up to 3 days.
Fried Capers – Magical Flavor Bombs for Your Food
- Jarred capers in brine
- vegetable or olive oil to fill small saucepan 1/8 inch deep
- Pour oil into small sauce pan to 1/8 inch deep.
- Heat oil until shimmering or 350F.
- Drain capers and dry on paper towels or kitchen towel.
- Add capers to pan without overcrowding, in batches if making a large quantity.
- Fry until golden brown, about 2-3 minutes.
- Carefully remove capers from oil with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towel.
- Let rest a few minutes before using. If making ahead, they can stay uncovered at room temperature for several hours.
- To store, keep in covered container at room temperature for several days.
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