How to Buy and Use Capers in Cooking

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Capers are the unopened, pickled buds that come from the small, flowering caper shrub, which can be seen growing wild along the Mediterranean coast. When allowed to bloom, the plant yields a violet-colored flower that becomes an olive-sized caperberry. Commonly handpicked, nonpareil or surfine capers that come from spineless plants are the most esteemed. Commonly used in Mediterranean cooking, capers also are a key ingredient in southern Italian and Sicilian cuisine and also are used as a garnish for charcuterie and smoked fish platters.

Consider how you'll use the capers, be it in a sauce, as a garnish or in a salad, as this will determine the type and quality of capers you'll need.

Know that when it comes to buying capers, the smaller, the better. Scour shelves to find the various varieties: vinegar-brined, oil-packed or packed in sea salt. All can be used interchangeably in recipse, but capers packed in salt are especially prized.

Before using capers of any kind -- but especially those packed in salt -- rinse capers thoroughly with water. Blot gently with a paper towel.

Chop capers before adding to dishes to intensify their flavor.

Add capers at the end of the cooking process when using them in sauces.