I took my boyfriend to brunch at a local restaurant, where he ordered a bagel with lox. The plate came garnished with capers, which he had never eaten before. I'm a foodie, but I couldn't tell him exactly what capers are and where they come from. Do you know the answer?
— Sandra S., Rogue River
Although they look like berries, capers are the flower bud of a bush indigenous to the Mediterranean and parts of Asia. They are bold and salty with a hint of herbs. Capers range from about the size of petite green peas — called "nonpareil," a product of France — to almost twice that size.
Capers usually are sold in small jars in a brine of salt and vinegar; look for them near the olives at most grocery stores. Some specialty stores also sell them packed in salt. A common brand is Reese, sold in a 3-ounce jar for $3 to $4.
Before using capers, always drain them from their salty brine (reserve the brine) and rinse well to rid them of excess salt. Pour the reserved brine back into the jar to keep any remaining capers submerged. Once opened, capers should be stored in the refrigerator.
Rinsed capers complement a variety of sauces or salads. They go well with poultry, meat and many fish and seafood dishes — especially salmon, explaining capers' widespread use as a garnish for lox.
Add capers to dishes at the end of cooking for optimum flavor. Chopped capers are a common ingredient in homemade tartar sauce. A little of their brine can replace salt in the sauce.
Try capers in the chicken recipe accompanying this column.
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