Weeknight Cooking

How to Use 1 Jar of Capers in 5 Dinners

October 19, 2015

For me, capers used to contain a certain mystery; they felt sophisticated and foreign. 

Maybe it was because capers are exotic—they are the pickled, unripened flower buds harvested from a prickly shrub in the Mediterranean. Or maybe it's because of their legacy: There are tales of lore which mention the glory of these buds dating back to biblical times.

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The only way I knew to use them was within my family's tradition of lox and bagels (still a great use), but now I incorporate them into all kinds of things. Whenever I'm in the mood for something a little lemony-sour, earthy, and texturally meaty, a small handful of capers does the job.

Use salt-packed if you can (they have better flavor), and soak them in water for several minutes before using. Drain the capers, pat them dry, and add some to your next meal.

Here are five ways to do it:

Olive Oil-Dressed Potato Salad with Smoked Paprika and Capers
This riff on potato salad allows the butteriness of potatoes to shine, and the assertive crunch from the celery—along with the plump, briny capers—offers a great textural foil. Boil or steam diced potatoes (I used waxy yellows and sweet reds) until fork-tender, drain, and put into a large bowl. Add very thinly sliced red onion and diced celery. Toss in a handful of capers. The dressing is simply good olive oil, a spoonful of grainy mustard, a bit of sherry vinegar, and a teaspoon or so of smoked paprika. Add some cracked black pepper and you're done. Eat this warm right out of the mixing bowl, or at room temperature if you can restrain yourself.

Pasta Puttanesca
A pantry standby, this recipe proves that good eating is still possible when you have nothing in the fridge. Start with some chopped garlic fried in a sauté pan, along with a few anchovies and some olives (I used a mixture of Kalamata and wrinkly black olives). Then add a can of tomatoes and some red pepper flakes. Finish with a scatter of capers, cook the mixture until bubbly and saucy, and serve over your favorite pasta.

Fried Capers on Salmon-Avocado Toasts
Pan-fry wild salmon filets until golden. Slather toast with ripe avocado, sprinkle on a little crushed red pepper, and top with the slightly broken up filets. In the same pan you used for the salmon, heat olive oil and fry the capers until the buds open and become crispy, just a few minutes. Add the capers to the toasts and dig in. It's the best quick meal or hearty snack ever.

Cannellini Beans and Farro with Herbs and Capers
Toss cooked beans with equal parts cooked farro. Zest and juice a lemon, and add it to the farro and beans along with some fresh parsley and thyme. Crack some black pepper, add a glug of good olive oil, and throw in a handful of capers. A bright, tangy cheese like feta or fresh asiago makes a nice accompaniment to this dish, as does a garnish of toasted almonds or walnuts. 

Radicchio, Toasted Hazelnut, and Crumbled Egg Salad with CapersThis salad is a winning combination of bitter, buttery, sweet, and lemony, rounded out with a bright dressing. I'm not a true bitter-loving girl and this salad made me want seconds. And thirds.

Radicchio, Toasted Hazelnut, and Crumbled Egg Salad with Capers

Serves two

1 head radicchio
2 free-range eggs, hard-boiled and chopped
1 shallot, minced
1 handful hazelnuts
1 handful capers, soaked and patted dry
1 spoonful grainy mustard
1 spoonful honey
Sherry vinegar and good olive oil

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Photos by Melina Hammer

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Melina is the author of 'A Year at Catbird Cottage' with Ten Speed Press. She grows an heirloom and pollinator garden and forages wild foods at her namesake Hudson Valley getaway, Catbird Cottage. Melina loves serving curated menus for guests from near and far seeking community amidst the hummingbirds, grosbeaks, finches, and the robust flavors of the seasons.


Marion G. October 19, 2015
Will have to try these! I started putting capers in my rouladen, but the best sauce I have ever tried with capers is: http://blogs.kqed.org/essentialpepin/2011/09/17/veal-chops-with-caper-sauce/
hugo R. October 19, 2015
...pollo alcaparrado... preferably in a stoneware pot... marinate overnight chicken with fine herbs, sour orange... salt and pepper... garlic... and of course capers... next day cook in the oven... and bon appetit...
Melina H. October 19, 2015
This sounds amazing. Where exactly is this preparation from?
hugo R. October 20, 2015
... one can get the bottled capers already mixed in olive oil with all the ingredients... in deli stores or sometimes at a supermarket... except the sour orange... is a Spanish product... Alcaparrado... but it's better to DIY... and bon appetit!...
Heather W. October 19, 2015
Oh, and chicken piccata, of course. Also very easy to make.
Heather W. October 19, 2015
A lot of my capers end up baked with white fish. I have a recipe that originally was described as Provencale style, but I've seen on a lot of menus described as Veracruz style. Lots of French influences in Mexican cooking, so maybe that's the link.

Start with a white fish (tilapia filets from Costco are my go-to). Marinate with a little lemon and set aside while putting every else together. Saute onions and garlic. Layer (1) half the onions and garlic, mixed with zucchini (or chayote squash), olives, capers, thyme, olive oil, red pepper flakes, and diced tomatoes (canned or fresh), (2) fish, (3) remaining veg. Bake in a medium onion covered for about 10 minutes, uncovered until fish is firm.

Awesome with crusty bread and a glass of dry white wine.
Melina H. October 19, 2015
My goodness that sounds divine! And I haven't cooked with chayote in ages….!
GretchinF October 19, 2015
Where did you find that gorgeous bag of capers in the first picture?! I would love to order some in to my caper-desert of a state (South Dakota)...
Melina H. October 19, 2015
I got them from a fantastic provisions shop in NYC called Buon Italia - google their contact info - I bet they'd be happy to ship you a bag!
clernest March 11, 2014
thanks for the new ideas for my meals. the photos look good enough to eat. thanks again for the capers. -cle
Melina H. March 11, 2014
That's the whole idea. :) I'm glad the photos make you want to eat 'em.
arcane54 March 10, 2014
Love these ideas for using that enormous jar of capers we buy about once a year (ask your local deli). Can't wait for local asparagus when I'll make this Sauce Gribiche http://food52.com/recipes/22883-sauce-gribiche . Then again, why wait?
Melina H. March 10, 2014
See if someplace nearby carries them salt-packed. Even better flavor. Oh yes, that sauce gribiche is a lovely….. Put that on potatoes, omelets, broccoli, green beans, ….. :)
LMarkum March 10, 2014
Capers- salty little buds of love! Great looking recipes!
Melina H. March 10, 2014
Thank you! Yes indeedy :)
cookinginvictoria March 10, 2014
I am a big caper fan myself. Wow, all of these ideas look wonderful, especially the salmon toasts and the egg and radicchio salad. Saved -- am looking forward to trying them all! :)
Melina H. March 10, 2014
Hope you love them. Surprisingly delicious they are.
Merrill S. March 10, 2014
Those salmon-avocado toasts look amazing!
Melina H. March 10, 2014
Thanks Merrill! They truly are. Find out. :)
Phyllis G. March 10, 2014
some serious salivating going on over here in berkeley. and i'm still drinking my coffee. ready to jump right to lunch. so many wonderful combinations. go, melina!
Melina H. March 10, 2014
Glad to those juices flowing! Love to inspire you Phyllis. The feeling is mutual.
MattieK March 10, 2014
I'm a huge fan of Heidi Swanson's recipe for omelet quesadillas garnished with crispy capers. It's the most comforting, accessible pantry meal.
Melina H. March 10, 2014
Crispy capers are my new favorite snack. Thanks for sharing that recipe - great pantry meals are invaluable.