Salt-Cured vs. Brined Capers

Can salt-cured capers be used interchangeably with brined capers?

Capers are the unopened flower buds of the spiny shrub Capparis spinosa. They get their sharp pungency from a sulfurous, mustardlike compound called glucocapparin and are ubiquitous in dishes like veal piccata, tartar sauce, and spaghetti alla puttanesca. Capers of all sizes may be cured in salt or brined in salt and vinegar. To see how the preservation method affects a recipe, we compared brined and salt-cured nonpareil capers plain and in caper-mustard sauce.

The brine-cured capers had a firm texture and “floral,” “grassy” flavors. The salt-cured capers (which must be rinsed several times in water to remove salt) were more tender, with hints of “meaty,” “fermented” flavors. Because these differences were subtle, tasters agreed that both styles can be used interchangeably in recipes in which the capers are pureed. But when whole capers are called for, we have a slight preference for the firmer brined kind. (Caper berries, by the way, are not interchangeable with capers. The ripe seedpods of the caper plant, these berries have a crunchy skin, a soft interior, and a mild “fruity” taste. Try them as a garnish on fish platters or as a substitute for olives in martinis.)

BRINE-CURED:  Our favorite for using whole.

SALT-CURED:  Rinse before using in purees.

BERRIES:  Good as a garnish.

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