What are capers?

Capers are the small flower buds of the Capparis shrub that grows in the Mediterranean. As they're picked by hand, they're fairly pricey, but they're a versatile storecupboard ingredient that's ideal for adding a distinctive sour/salty flavour to many savoury dishes.

How to prepare capers

Rinse well and pat dry.

How to cook capers

Combine with white wine vinegar, mustard, honey, lemon juice and grated celeriac to make remoulade; mix with melted butter, lemon juice and zest to make a sauce for grilled salmon; add to pizza toppings, or combine with mayonnaise, olive oil, anchovies, tuna and lemon juice for an Italian tonnato sauce for rosé veal.

How to store capers

In a cool, dark place. Once opened, store in the fridge and make sure they keep below the level of whatever they were pickled in, otherwise they'll start to smell.

Availability of capers

Capers are available year round.

Choose the best capers

Very small, peppercorn-sized capers called 'nonpareille' are available, but the slightly larger ones are more common. Capers are preserved in a number of ways – salt, wine vinegar, brine or olive oil can all be used. The brine-pickled variety has the sharpest flavour, but is slightly less versatile than the salted type. For a more sophisticated caper flavour, try elegant caper berries on the stem, which are a little milder and sweeter than the standard type.

Alternatives to capers

Try gherkin.