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Capers (Recipe: roast halibut with orange-caper gremolata) {gluten-free}


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.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]

More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:

Confetti spaghetti
Chicken marbella
Pomegranate fish

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I absolutely love capers, and this sounds great. Now off to visit Paz!

Great info on capers ;) I read your post at Paz's blog and it's such an interesting read with nice photos... good to see that your garden is doing so well!

I never can make my mind up if I like capers on not. I guess it depends on the dish it comes with or is in. So i do not think I want to come back as a jar of capers!!

What a great post Lydia! We love capers. I think it would be rare to not find a jar in the fridge and at least one or two in the pantry.
Love the look of this halibut!

I have the exact same problem ... right now I have 2 full containers of capers in my refrigerator! Tuna loaf isn't tuna loaf without a few capers on top, and its important not to run out!

Lydia, ever since I tried salted capers I don't want to go back to those kept in brine anymore! :)

I love capers, too! I usually have a 32 oz. jar... This recipe looks grand.. and I bet a touch of tarragon would be good too (which I have tons of in my garden and haven't used nearly enough this summer). Your herbs look great, I'm so glad the bunnies and deer spared them.

Count me as another caper fan. I'm always tempted to 'use up that last tablespoon' when adding them to salads, stews, eggs, etc. But I hold back, because the NEXT time, I'll need just a tablespoon and would be out.

Next trip: I'm buying two jars!

I love capers, they always add a nice flavor!

I always seem to overdo the capers, but I love a good halibut recipe! Thanks!

I love capers and also always have a jar or two handy. The gremolata sounds like a fun change from the usual flavors and would definitely go nicely with halibut. Also, great close-up shot of the capers!

ohh that is pretty! i am not the biggest caper person but i do like them in some things -- and this sounds like a good one to try :)

They have such a memorable flavor, I'll never forget a chicken salad that I had with them in it- exotic!

I'm a recent-ish fan of capers as I only started cooking with them a few years ago. Love, love, love them.


Kalyn, it was so much fun to write for Paz today.

Noobcook, my garden is definitely having a late season spurt this year.

Meeta, same here. I love capers in some dishes, and sometimes find them too astringent. In my next life, I hope to be chocolate!

MyKitchen, I have the same issue with capers that I have with vinegar -- can never remember how much I have, so I buy more and more.

Anne, I think you've hit on the motto for The Perfect Pantry: "It's important not to run out!"

Patricia, agreed. Salted capers are delicious, but so much harder for me to find. My local markets don't carry them.

Julia, tarragon probably would be a great addition to the gremolata. Will try it!

Alanna, welcome to my world -- the world of people who always buy more capers. Glad to know I'm not the only one.

Maria, yes they do!

Rebecca, sometimes I feel like I've gone a bit heavy on capers, when I can taste that strong lemon taste. But when you leave them out, the recipe really suffers.

Mike, thank you -- as you know, I'm trying to improve my photography all the time. It's a challenge...

Heather, sometimes nothing but capers will do to round out the flavor of a dish. I often cut back on the amount called for in a recipe, but I seldom leave them out.

Callipygia, chicken salad with capers sounds like the combination of flavors I love in chicken marbella -- chicken, capers, sugar, prunes. Yum.

Jasmine, they do add a particular flavor -- I'm so glad you've fallen in love with them.

my son is a big fan of capers (and cornichons for that matter), so I think this recipe would make a great family dinner. I will probably try it with salmon, unless I can get some nice Alaska halibut.

We keep both salted and brined and use them depending on the recipe, it seems to me that brined capers pack a bigger flavour punch. I had no idea about the sizing of them other than if using larger ones, I always chopped them. Very snazzy gremolata, that would go very well with fish, especially oily ones.

Yup, capers is still something I have not tried. Heard it is an acquired taste.

Nice post! The hallibut gremolata looks just wonderful too!

I LOVE CAPERS! but then again I love anything brined, vinegar-ry or salty!

here what is in my pantry - specialty items that I bought while traveling around new england that I am "saving" for a special meal or recipe. For example a jar of "Muffalletta" spread from Karen's Food in vermont! Mancini "fried papers"!

Your photos on Paz's blog are beautiful. That was a great post. I like this one, too, my caper capers have been limited to trout Grenobloise and random scattering of them.

I love capers...to me they taste like mini sphere-shaped olives (which I obviously also love).

You're right, Lydia. We're both on the same capers-and-fish page with our posts this week! Your gremolata sounds excellent—besides on fish, I could totally see it on chicken, steaks or a nice pan-grilled pork chop.

We love capers. Our CPK Chicken Piccata dish using capers is one of my favorite meals at the House of Annie.

thanks for this gremolata recipe. Now I need to get a halibut fillet...

I adore capers, but I never considered BEING a jar of capers!!! It would probably be a short life, but a delicious one!

Love the combination of capers with orange - I've never done that pairing, but I could taste it as I read your post. Yummmm!

My wife and I love capers (the brined only) in a variety of dishes.

But, one of my favorite salads, Tuna Fish Salad, is changed from a potentially mundane dish to a wonderful treat by the addition of one or two tablespoons of chopped capers.

Gudrun, you are so lucky to have a child with such an adventurous palate.

Neil, sounds like you are true caper lovers! The combination of orange and capers is really interesting with fish. Do try it!

Tigerfish, it is an acquired taste. I've acquired it, but I'm not a caper fanatic.

Dharm, thank you!

Carol, sounds like you have a perfect pantry, too. I have things I save for a special meal, but I'm trying to use those things for everyday cooking now, because it feels a little bit indulgent.

Mae, I was so flattered that Paz asked me to guest blog for her, and I had a lot of fun putting together photos of my garden for her.

Hillary, there's definitely a similarity between olives and capers -- that combination of salty and briny is irresistible.

Terry, great minds...

Nate, now I'm going to look for your chicken piccata. That's one of my favorites.

Toni, everyone wants to come back as someone famous, but I'll bet that someone, somewhere, would be happy to be a jar of capers!

DocChuck, tuna with capers is in a whole different league than my usual tuna salad. Sounds delicious.

Simple yet flavorful...that's how I like my fish. Yum.

They are hard for me to find too, darling - so when I do, I buy tons of it. ;)

I surprised my wife last night (she's a nurse and was recently awarded a CCHP designation) by grilling up some very fresh tuna (just to medium rare) and serving it with your insanely delicious caper gremolata.

I used salted capers from Wegman's for the first time and, man, what a big difference from the brined variety! I'm sold.

Thanks for an awfully interesting new recipe!

~~ Chuck, PhD

Absolute perfection! I love how it's simple but by no means ho-hum. I can't wait to try this recipe!

It seems salting or brining isn't the only way to preserve capers. Was shopping in my favourite Italian grocer and saw a jar of capers preserved in oil. If I hadn't have read your post, would probably not have even noticed them. Funny that.

Peabody, same here. If the fish is really good, it doesn't need much.

Patricia, that's the spirit -- and of course that's how my pantry got so full...

DocChuck, thanks for the great feedback!

Cakespy, I hope you love it. Now, what kind of cupcake goes with this meal???

Neil, I've heard of oil-packed capers, but I think they are still brined first? I could be wrong about that. I remember reading somewhere that the capers packed in oil do not have as much flavor. I could be wrong about that, too.

I use capers quite often, but didn't know all the 411 behind them.

Strange you should write this post. I was telling my mother about using capers and she asked me, "What are capers?"

All I could describe was their flavor & texture. Sadly, I had no idea where they came from or how they are harvested. Now, at least, I know!

I could imagine capers in oil not having much flavour as they would probably have to boil them first to kill off any botulism -- the same way they boil mushrooms first before preserving in oil.

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