The humble caper, a food of Mediterranean origin, is used in a wide variety of foods across the Mediterranean and parts of the Middle East. One of the most famous uses of the caper is in sauces, which may feature the caper as a star ingredient, or as one among an assortment of ingredients. Caper sauces can be served with fish, meats, roast vegetables, pasta, and a wide variety of other dishes, and some cooks enjoy inventing their own version of caper sauce with ingredients they especially enjoy.
Capers are pickled flower buds from the caper plant, known to botanists as Capparis spinosa. They have a sour, salty taste from the pickling, and come in a variety of sizes. Some capers are extremely small, about the size of a peppercorn, while others are large enough to require chopping before they can be used in recipes. Most grocery stores carry capers, usually in the same aisle which holds other pickled foods. Another product of the caper plant is the caper berry, the fruit of the plant, which is also sold in pickled form.
One of the most classic uses of the caper is in a lemon caper sauce. This sauce includes capers, lemon juice, garlic sauteed in butter, and lemon zest. It's a zesty sauce with a crisp, slightly salty flavor which is especially suitable to fish and pastas. Lemon caper sauce can be made very quickly, and it keeps for several days under refrigeration. Ingredients like dill can be added for more flavor variation.
Capers can also be used in an unusual variation on basic cream sauce which is popular in some regions of the world as a dressing for roast meats and hearty fishes. Mustard caper sauce, another sauce which includes capers, is often creamy in texture, with mustard and capers as the key ingredients. This sauce is spicy and tangy.
Tartar sauce is traditionally made with capers in some regions, although other people use relish or a mix of pickled vegetables. This sauce is used as a dip for some fried foods, and is sometimes used to dress sandwiches. Another variant on basic caper sauce is tomato caper sauce, which involves the use of tomatoes which may be roasted for a sweet, intense flavor; this sauce goes well with pastas and may be made with herbs for a more layered flavor. Olive caper sauce includes a mix of capers and olives, similar to that seen in puttanesca, another sauce which is traditionally made with capers.