Saturday, April 13, 2019

Câpres – Capers, the Flavor Bombs. Capers in French Cuisine.

Behind the French menu
Bryan G. Newman
A jar of capers

Capers come as a flavor package and are mostly seen as pea-sized darkish green globes that are part of sauces and or salads.  In French cuisine, it’s their salty, slightly sour, lemon tang marks for them to be used with cream and butter sauces where their flavor, often with added lemon juice cuts down richness. It’s their tart flavor that enhances the taste of mayonnaise, salads and cold sauces, such as and tartar sauce or a tapenade. (A tapenade is an anchoïade with added capers, and the word tapena means caper in Provençal).
Steak tartare, fried capers, quail egg yolk.
N.B. You cannot make a real Steak Tatar without capers.
The capers are an important part of Mediterranean cuisine, and that’s where they probably originated though some in Southeast Asia may disagree. Capers were already part of Greek and Roman cooking and would have been introduced to France by the Greeks when they occupied southern France in the sixth century BCE. Dishes with capers are found in all parts of French cuisine but is most prominent in Provencal and other southern French cuisines. 
The caper is not a fruit they are a bud, which left alone become the attractive white and mauve flowers of the caper bush.  When these buds are picked from the bush they are pickled in vinegar or salt brine; they are rarely dried before pickling as that process loses some of the taste and much of the scent.
The caper flower
The caper flower, like the poppy flower wilts within a few hours.
In French cuisine capers are graded according to size and the caper size relates to taste. The smallest caper usually seen is less than 7mm across and called nonpareil. Nonpareil means unequaled and they are the most expensive. The smaller a caper is, the more delicate its flavor and aroma.  The next step up is the surfines, and that means superior quality, then come capucine and onwards and upwards for the largest sizes that are rarely seen in restaurants. The size of the caper is seldom mentioned on a menu listing but when it is it will be the nonpareil.  Apart from their taste and texture chefs prefer the smallest because their flavor is more easily controlled.

The caper bush also has berries, and caper berries are different from capers. Caper berries are larger and usually eaten like olives.  There is more on caper berries at the end of this post.

Capers on French Menus

Aile de Raie Façon Grenobloise, Pommes Vapeur – Skate wing prepared in a Sauce Grenobloise and served with steamed potatoes. Sauce Grenobloise is a clarified butter sauce made with lemon and capers and almost always used for fish; it originated in the city of Grenoble in South Eastern France. Grenoble is famous for many things, but in the food world it is this sauce and the Noix de Grenoble AOP, the Grenoble Walnuts AOP.  
Smoked salmon, cream cheese, bagel and capers,
Carpaccio De Boeuf Viande Limousine, Mariné au Citron et à l'Huile d'Olive. Parmesan, Salade, Tomates,  Câpres, Champignons -  A Carpaccio of thinly sliced Label Rouge, red label, Limousine beef, marinated in lemon and olive oil served with shavings of Parmesan cheese. accompanied by a salad, with tomatoes, button mushrooms, and capers.
With parsley and capers, slow roasted tomatoes with fennel seeds.
Dos de Cabillaud Lardé à la Tapenade Maison – A thick cut of fresh cod wrapped in bacon  prepared with the house’s take on a tapenade. The beloved spread of Provence called Anchoïade or Anchoyade is made with anchovies, olives, garlic and olive oil; added crushed capers brings forth the tapenade, Tapenades will be offered as a spread or like this menu listing used in cooked dishes. Tapenade’s name comes from the Provençal word for capers, tapenas. 
Jarret d'Agneau Braisé Au Fenouil Et Céleri, Beignet De Câpres, Pommes Dauphine - A cut across a braised a shin or shank of lamb prepared with fennel and celery, deep fried capers and served with Dauphine potatoes. The meat on a lamb shank surrounds the bone and the same cut with veal is a jarret de veau, more than similar to the Italian Osso buco.
Potage de Trumeau de Bœuf.
The recipe above comes from page 19 of France’s earliest printed cookbook.
Le Cuisinier Francoise by La Varenne published in 1651.
A trumeau de bœuf. is an early French name for jarret de bœuf.
Mi-Cuit De Thon Rouge De La Méditerranée En Croûte De Sésame, Huile De Câpres, Mijoté De Poivrons Et Menthe Poivrée – A steak from the Northern Bluefin tuna from the Mediterranean very very lightly  braised on the outside  and left raw in the inside, in a covering of sesame flavored with caper oil, lightly simmered bell peppers and spearmint. The two tastes and textures of tuna prepared in this manner match each other perfectly. Every French chef will have his or her own method of preparing caper oil though none squeeze the caper; most take pickled capers add them to olive oil, usually with added garlic and after some 30 days or so a caper infused oil should be ready to use,
Mi-Cuit, lightly braised, tuna on a bed of tapenade.

Câpres à queue - Caper berries
Pickled caper fruits mostly called caper berries may be part of some dishes, but their flavor is more like an olive.
Caper berries
The official caper sizes:
Lilliput (3-5 mm.) non-pareil (5-7 mm), surfines (7-8 mm), capucines (8-9 mm), capotes (9–11 mm), fines (11–13 mm), and grusas (14+ mm). If the caper bud is not picked, it flowers and produces a caper berry. The difference is that capers are the early flower buds, while the berries are what forms after they have bloomed and been pollinated. The largest that may be the size of an olive hang from a cherry-like stem and they are pickled with the stem.  The fruits have tiny seeds inside (the size of kiwi fruit seeds), the tiny seeds are soft and pop when chewed, and so their texture is very different to capers.  Caper berries have a strong smell that comes from ingredients also found in mustard and wasabi, but they less acidic and have a milder flavor than capers, which makes them edible on their own much like olives and pickles.
Caper Plant, buds, fruit, and flower.
Otto Wilhelm Thome (1840-1925)

In France, the most highly rated capers come from Provence, but the capers bought outside France will mainly come from Morocco, Turkey, Spain. India and Southeast Asia. Southeast Asia also competes for the origin of the plant and capers are included in their cuisines.
The caper bush is a thorny shrub that can grow up to two meters tall though most are less than one meter, The shrubs branches have thons at the base of each leaf and so when the capers and caper berries are picked a great deal of care, and thick gloves are needed; capers are still picked by hand as caper picking machines are still a work in progress

Capucine, Cresson d’Inde - Nasturtium, Indian cress
Nasturtium fruits can be pickled and used as a substitute for capers and sold at much lower prices under the name of "nasturtium capers.”

Capers in the languages of France’s neighbors:

(Catalan - taparera ), (Dutch - kapers), (German – kaper), (Italian - cappero), (Provencal - tapeno, tapero), (Spanish - alcaparra, caparra, tápana and the caper berry is alcaparrón), (Latin – capparis and the plant is capparis spinose).


Bryan G. Newman
Behind The French Menu
Copyright 2010, 2019.
For information on the unpublished book behind this blog contact Bryan Newman

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