Capers??? - moved from Home Cooking board
What, exactly, are capers? Growing up here in the USA, I frequently encounter them in restaurants (and love them!). However, having grown up in an Asian household, have never seen them in their "natural" state....
In the grocery store, some bottles say 'nonpareill' (excuse the spelling!) and other bottles don't. What's the difference? How do you know which to buy? Are bigger capers better or smaller ones? Imported better than produced in USA? HELP!!
Capers are the unopened flower bud of a plant - don't remember which one. You can buy them packed in brine or salt. I have personally never managed to buy the ones in salt, but most chefs say they are better. Either way, you will want to rinse/soak briefly in plain water to remove some of the salt. Big or small is, I think, a personal preference.
"nonpareil" is a marketing term. It means the product is unequaled. Like "best of show". I never met anyone who has seen them in their natural state but they're too good to leave out of a well stocked kitchen.
Capers grow on a bush. They are the buds of the flower picked before they open. The larger capers are less desirable because their flavor is less intense. There are also large caper berries which are the fruit of the plant. All will work - it's a matter of preference.
When I stayed on Filicudi (a small island near Italy and Sicily), I helped pick capers with the locals from the shrubs growing wild on steep hills. We layered them with salt in just about every container available - it's a wonder there were any left to produce flowers and hence caper berries. The harvested berries were then sold to the local market owner who presumably sold to a distributor on the mainland.
The best capers I've bought are packed in extra virgin olive oil. They're very hard to find: I've bought them at Dean & DeLuca in NYC, at an Italian grocery at Pike's Pier in Seattle, and at a shop in Rome. They're bottled in Italy, but are hard to find even there.
Here are a couple of pics - the dish on the left in the first pic are caperberries. As others have mentioned, the capers are the buds, and caperberries are the fruit after the caper bush blooms. I took the second picture to compare brined (left) capers and Italian capers packed in salt (right). I prefer the ones packed in salt.