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In terms of bang-for-your-buck ingredients, capers are at the top of my list.
I put a spoonful of it in anything and everything when I want to add a briny punch: puttanesca-inspired quick tomato sauces, olive oil and mayo-based tuna salads, relishes. But this story isn’t about capers per se, it’s about why you shouldn’t let the flavorful juice they come in go to waste. It’s one of my favorite secret ingredients—and a way to make sure I’m using every last bit of what I buy.
Before we beat around the proverbial bush, though, let’s talk about capers themselves: The minuscule green orbs are the flower buds of a shrub that grows like wildfire around the Mediterranean. (Larger, oblong caper berries, on the other hand, are the bush’s fruit.) They’re sold both pickled and salt-cured, and while both add a ton of flavor with very small doses, I tend to reach for a jar of the brined variety because they’re smoother in flavor—and so that I can use both the buds and that prized juice.
The brine is typically only salt and water, although some iterations may include vinegar. Never, ever rinse it off if you want maximum flavor. I always add a little juice to any dish I’m making that uses capers, and save whatever’s leftover in the jar in the fridge to add a shot of flavor to a multitude of dishes. Here are some ideas.
Mayos and aiolis: Add a punch of brine to any sandwich spread or mayo-based salad by spooning in some caper juice. I’m especially partial to adding the juice to egg salad with hard yolks and the filling for deviled eggs. The sharpness of the brine balances out all that creamy, eggy goodness, and capers and Dijon are a classic pairing.
Herb pestos: Most herb pestos already get a shot of acid in the form of lemon zest or Parmesan cheese. I brighten things even further by whirring some caper juice in when I add olive oil to my pestos. It’s more suited to a heartier parsley or arugula pesto than delicate basil, but you can try it with just about any herb.
Brussels sprouts: When the now-perennial favorite fall and winter veg started sprouting up on every restaurant menu several years back, whether roasted, pan-fried or deep-fried, I started seeing iterations with capers. I started playing with the combination around that time, and now it’s a staple at dinner parties and family get-togethers. My recipe for pan-roasted sprouts with capers and almonds uses the juice not only to deglaze the pan, but to steam the vegetables ever so slightly after they’ve browned.
Martinis: Martinis with olive juice added are considered dirty, so make your next one downright filthy by swapping the olive stuff out for caper brine. The juice works equally well in gin and vodka martinis, although I find it complements gin’s juniper flavors quite nicely. If you want to get really festive, garnish your glass with a couple of skewered caper berries.
- Canola oil
- Crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 dozen Brussels sprouts, trimmed and cut in half
- Kosher salt, to taste
- 1 large shallot, thinly sliced
- 2 tablespoons capers
- 2 tablespoons caper juice
- 1/4 cup slivered almonds, toasted
- Pepper, to taste