Food & Drink: On the shelf: Capers

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The Independent Culture
YOU bought a jar, perhaps, to chop into a sauce tartare, or to go with one of the newly fashionable Mediterranean dishes. Continuing our series on ways of using up ingredients bought for a special dish which have been left on the shelf, we turn to capers.

Capers are a common ingredient in Greece, Sicily and Provence, where they grow. Capers They are the unopened flower pods of a tangled, trailing plant with thick, fleshy round leaves that which tumbles over rocky walls and terraces. Gathering the bud is back-breaking. work. Some varieties of caper in Greece have spiny stems, and there they pickle stalks and leaves as well as the small cucumber-like seed pods.

Capers are either dry-salted and sold in Italy and France sold vacuum-packed as in Italy and France, or salted and pickled in vinegar which is the way we usually encounter them in Britain. The peppery seed pod of the nasturtium, known as the English caper, can be pickled in the same way.

Capers add a sharp, salty, peppery note to dishes and must really be considered as a condiment, used like often used in the same way as salted anchovies or and cured olives. Indeed a combination of all three, pounded with olive oil, is the Provencal paste tapenade (from tapena, Provencal for a caper), which is delicious on French bread or with hard-boiled eggs and raw vegetables crudites. Tapena is Provencal for a caper.

Capers have an affinity with fish, dishes, the most famous marriage being the French bistro favourite, skate with black butter. Fry fresh skate a la meuniere (dusted with flour, cooked in clarified butter). Clean the pan, heat a knob of farm butter and cook until it browns (not blackens) and toss in a tablespoonful of drained capers. Pour mixture over the fish.

Cut this para if necessary: The best capers are found in the islands around Sicily. In her book Sicilian Food, Mary Taylor Simeti describes their prized swordfish dish. For six people, cut 2lb of swordfish into slices in thick. Mix 1 jar capers and 20 green olives (both ingredients finely chopped) with 4 tablespoons of breadcrumbs, 2 tablespoons of chopped parsley, 2 tablespoons of grated parmesan or pecorino, and 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Roll swordfish slices around this stuffing, brush with oil, roll in breadcrumbs and skewer with alternate slices of onion and bay leaf. Gently grill (or bake) for 10 minutes.

The following is a very fine, traditional English recipe using capers: one, and it is a very fine one.


Serves 6

3lb/1.5kg leg of mutton (or lamb)

1 tablespoon salt

4 carrots, peeled

2 onions


bunch mixed herbs

4 turnips, peeled

For the sauce:

3 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoons flour

2 tablespoons drained capers

2 tablespoons double cream

1 egg yolk

squeeze of lemon

salt to taste

To prepare this dish for six people, cover a leg of the meat with cold water, bring to the boil, skim till clear, then add a tablespoon of salt, the carrots, onions stuck with cloves, and herbs. For mutton, simmer for 30 minutes, plus 30 minutes for each lb (less for lamb). Test for doneness with a skewer

Add the turnips half an hour before the end of the cooking. Drain and reserve stock for another dish.

Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a pan, stir in flour and mix to a roux. paste. Gradually add pint (380ml) of water, stirring to a smooth sauce. Add the capers, and a squeeze of lemon juice and salt to taste. Beat in the rest of the butter, and lastly then the egg yolk blended with the cream. Warm the sauce but don't let it boil. Slice the meat and serve with the vegetables and the sauce.