Capers (Recipe: roast halibut with orange-caper gremolata)
If you're going to come back in your next life as a jar of capers (though you probably haven't planned on it), you'll want to be picky picky picky.
Make sure you are harvested first thing in the morning, before your bud opens to the sun.
Make sure you are still small, for small (less than one millimeter in size) is more highly prized.
Make sure you are pickled in a brine, or packed in coarse sea salt, but never dried.
Make sure you are rinsed, to remove that brine or salt, before you give your flavor to crockpot beef stew, marinated eggplant with mint, pancetta and caper crostini, chicken piccata, shrimp with orzo and currants, or pasta salad with vegetables.
Make sure, if you have been packed in a thin glass jar as most capers are, that after the jar is opened, you are stored in the refrigerator.
Capers are the unopened flower buds of a wild shrub that thrives in Mediterranean climates, from Spain and France to Morocco, Algeria and Iran. The pink flowers have an extremely short life, opening in the morning and wilting by noon. Very early in the day, the unopened buds are picked by hand. They're allowed to wilt for a day or two, then are graded for size -- nonpareil (0-7 mm), surfines (7-8 mm), capucines (8-9 mm), capottes (9-11 mm), fines (11-13 mm), and grusas (14+ mm). The smallest capers, nonpareils from France, are considered the best.
Used almost exclusively in dishes originating in the Mediterranean region, capers pair well with artichokes, fish (especially assertive fish like tuna and swordfish), beef and lamb, olives, potatoes, roasted bell peppers, and tomatoes, and are an essential component of tapenade and caponata, two classic spreads.
If you come back in your next life as capers, you will taste fresh, salty, pungent, and slightly flowery-lemony -- a bit like nasturtium buds, which make a good substitute. You'll be low in calories and high in anti-oxidants.
And you will always have a home in the door of my refrigerator... right next to the other two or three jars, because I can never remember that I always have capers, so I always buy more.
Roast halibut with orange-caper gremolata
I created the gremolata recipe, along with tips for starting an herb garden on your window sill, for Paz's blog, where I am guest blogger today. Use the gremolata with other types of fish, grilled chicken or steak, in a white bean salad, or as the basis for a pasta sauce; it's especially good with buckwheat pasta or yam soba. Makes enough for 6 servings.
1-3/4 lb halibut steaks (or cod, or salmon)
2 tsp + 1/2 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley (start with a small bunch or handful)
1 clove garlic, minced
The zest of 1 small orange (grated on a fine grater or Microplane)
1/2 tsp capers, or more to taste, drained, roughly chopped
Coarse sea salt and fresh-ground black pepper, to taste
Preheat oven to 400°F. Place fish in a nonstick roasting pan. Rub on all sides with 2 tsp olive oil, and season with sea salt and black pepper. Roast for 10-15 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish.
While the fish is cooking, place all remaining ingredients in a bowl and mix to yield a rough paste, or blend in a food processor. (Can be stored in the refrigerator for 1-2 days in a container with an air-tight lid.)
Serve the fish hot from the oven, topped with gremolata.