Saturday, April 12, 2014


Capers and caperberries.

What an apt name!  The caper, with its sprightly piquancy, adds playful punch to many savory dishes.  It's name comes from the scientific nomenclature, capparis spinosa, a thorny bush that grows wild in Mediterranean regions (alcaparra in Spanish). I found it, improbably, sprouting from a white-washed wall in the village, below which political posters for an upcoming election were plastered.

It is the flower bud of the caper bush, pickled or preserved in brine, that provides the culinary condiment we buy bottled on the grocer's shelf. If allowed to bloom, the flowers produce a seed pod, culinarily known as “caperberries” (alcaparrones). These, too, are brined and used as a condiment. The berry has a bit of crunch, but can be used interchangeably with capers.

Spain continues as the world's market leader in capers, although nowadays they are sourced from growers in Morocco and Turkey.

Caperberries have a slight crunch.
How to use capers? Throw them into just about any dish that needs some pizzazz. Their salty tang really perks up any food, but seems to have a special affinity for fish. Put capers on pizza, toss them with pasta. Use them in any way you might use olives, for instance, in cauliflower salad, stuffed eggs, potato salad.

Add capers to classic sauces such as tapenade, vinaigrette, remoulade, ravigote, tartare. Serve them with smoked salmon or, stirred with sour cream, as a topping for baked potatoes.

Tuna salad with capers and caperberries.
Combine capers with tuna canned in olive oil, chopped celery, green onions and lemon juice for the best-ever tuna salad (no mayonnaise!).

Grilled Fish With Caper Dressing
Pescado a la Plancha con Aliño de Alcaparras

Caper sauce adds pizzazz to grilled fish.

This fish is cooked a la espalda –“on its back”. Originally a style of grilling a la brasa, over hot coals, this is easy to do under a broiler or on a plancha, a flat  iron grill pan. My favorite plancha is reversible--a ridged grill for meat on one side and a flat one for fish and shellfish on the other. 

Butterflied fish is grilled on a plancha.

Any sea bream or sea bass could be prepared this way. I used dorada, golden bream, a product of aquaculture (see blog about farmed fish here). Each whole fish weighs between one and 1 ¼ pounds. Depending on appetites, this would serve one or two persons. (I easily eat a whole one.)

Have the fish gutted, scaled and split open along the belly and butterflied. Remove the spine. The head is usually left on, split open so that it lays flat. Open the fish out flat, salt it lightly and let it rest 30 minutes at room temperature.

Grilled fish has crispy skin.

After grilling, you can serve the whole fish with sauce spooned over and allow each person to lift off the bones, fins and head (and fish out the delicious dollop of flesh in the cheeks). Or, remove all the bones in the kitchen and serve the fillets on heated dinner plates with the caper sauce.

If cooking the fish under the broiler instead of on a grill pan, preheat the broiler pan and do not turn the fish.

Serves 2-4.

2 whole sea bream, weighing about 1 ¼  pounds each.
Coarse salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
Caper sauce (recipe follows)

Brush a flat grill pan with oil, sprinkle with salt and heat it.

Pat the fish dry with paper towels. Brush both skin and flesh sides with oil. Lay the fish, skin-side down, on the hot grill pan. Grill 5 minutes. Carefully turn the fish and grill flesh-side down 2 minutes longer.

Transfer the grilled fish to a heated platter and serve it, on its back, with the caper sauce spooned over it, or fillet it and serve on heated dinner plates.

For the caper dressing:

This makes enough sauce for two 1-pound fish. Serve the sauce also with grilled chicken breast, veal or tuna steaks.

Ingredients for caper sauce.
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, sliced
Red pepper flakes or sliced chili
¼ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons drained capers
2 tablespoons chopped parsley

Heat the oil in a small skillet. Sauté the garlic and red pepper flakes until garlic begins to turn golden. Add the salt and lemon juice. Remove from heat and stir in the capers and parsley. 

Pop a caperberry in your next martini.

I just bought a caper bush at the nursery gardens. Will find a sunny spot in the garden. See the little buds on the stem? About ready to pick and pickle.


  1. Thank you for explaining so well the difference between caper and caperberry. I loved your post!

    1. Maria Joäo: So glad you liked the post. The photos are really helpful in explaining capers and caperberries.