Capers are a popular ingredient in many Mediterranean and French dishes. Their tangy, briny flavor adds complexity and pops of flavor. But when browsing capers at the store or in recipes, you may come across the term “nonpareille.” So what exactly are nonpareille capers?
In this complete guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about these unique capers, including:
- What Are Nonpareille Capers?
- Appearance and Size
- Flavor and Texture
- How Are They Produced?
- Culinary Uses
- How to Buy and Store Nonpareille Capers
- Nonpareille vs Other Caper Varieties
- Recipes with Nonpareille Capers
By the end, you’ll be a nonpareille caper expert ready to elevate your dishes with their delicious flavor!
What Are Nonpareille Capers?
Nonpareille capers are a specific variety of caper buds that are prized for their delicate size and mild, sweet-tart flavor.
The term “nonpareille” comes from the French word meaning “without equal” or “unrivaled.” This refers to the fact that nonpareille capers are the smallest capers available.
Nonpareille capers are harvested from a bush called Capparis spinosa. The buds are picked right before blooming, when they reach about 5-7mm in size. They are then cured, either in vinegar, brine, or salt.
The curing process gives nonpareille capers their distinctive sharp, tangy taste and extends their shelf life. But their petite size and the timing of harvest make them stand out from other caper varieties.
Appearance and Size
- Tiny round buds around 5-7mm in diameter
- Bright green to gray-green in color
- Plump, tight, and firm buds
- Delicate floral stems attached to some buds
- Much smaller and more compact than common capers
The diminutive size of nonpareille capers compared to larger varieties is their defining characteristic. Their small size allows their mild flavor to shine.
Flavor and Texture
- Bright, floral, and lemony aroma
- Delicate sweet and sour flavor
- Milder and less salty than regular capers
- Slightly crunchy texture
- Soft vegetal flesh inside with subtle tang
Nonpareille capers offer a restrained yet complex flavor profile. Their taste has been described as lemony, sweet, and gingery with floral notes.
They have a nice crunch from the tight outer bud, while the inner flesh is soft and vegetal. The mild brininess adds depth without overpowering.
Overall, nonpareille capers provide a subtle tangy kick that highlights other ingredients rather than dominating the flavor of a dish.
How Are Nonpareille Capers Produced?
Authentic nonpareille capers undergo careful harvesting and curing:
- Harvested by hand, only buds under 7mm are selected
- Picked right before blooming for optimal flavor
- Cured immediately after harvesting to retain freshness
- Packed in salt, brine, or vinegar to preserve and enhance flavor
- Produced in specific regions like Provence, Italy, and Greece
Critical factors like bud size, harvest timing, and curing method all affect the final product. Reputable brands oversee the entire process to guarantee nonpareille quality.
- Garnishing dishes: Perfect petite size for garnish
- Salads: Brighten up greens and vegetables
- Sauces and dressings: Add a spike of flavor
- Seafood: Compliment fish and shellfish
- Meat: Balance rich flavors like lamb or steak
- Vegetables: Liven up roasted veggies or potatoes
- Canapés and appetizers: Top crostini or deviled eggs
- Sandwiches: Pair with cold cuts and cheese
Their mild tanginess makes nonpareille capers extremely versatile in the kitchen. They add a touch of brightness without overpowering.
How to Buy and Store Nonpareille Capers
When purchasing nonpareille capers, look for:
- Tightly closed, firm, round buds
- Bright green color
- Packed in brine, vinegar or salt
- Harvested from reputable regions like Provence
- No broken or mushy buds
Once opened, transfer capers to an airtight container and store in the refrigerator for up to 1 month. Rinse salt-packed capers before using.
Properly stored, nonpareille capers retain their signature flavor and crunch.
Nonpareille vs Other Caper Varieties
So how do nonpareille capers differ from regular capers and other varieties?
- Tiny size buds, 5-7mm
- Delicate mild flavor
- Floral, gingery notes
- Excellent for garnishing or sauces
- Larger caper buds
- Robust, tangy flavor
- Greater saltiness
- Good for bold dishes
- Unripened caper fruit
- Interior seeds removed
- Juicy texture when marinated
- Milder flavor
Thanks to their petite size and milder taste, nonpareille capers occupy a unique space in the caper family. Their restrained flavor sets them apart.
Recipes with Nonpareille Capers
Ready to try nonpareille capers? Here are some delicious ways to enjoy their flavors:
Caper Vinaigrette: Whisk nonpareilles into a simple vinaigrette dressing.
Deviled Eggs: Garnish deviled egg halves with nonpareilles for tang.
Salmon Tartare: Fold nonpareilles into the raw salmon with lemon and olive oil.
Pasta Puttanesca: Add nonpareilles for a more restrained salty kick.
Smoked Trout Salad: Toss flaked trout with nonpareilles, arugula, and shallot dressing.
Steak Au Poivre: Use nonpareilles in the brandy cream sauce for the steak.
Chicken Piccata: Sprinkle nonpareilles over chicken pan fried in white wine and lemon.
With their versatility and bright flavor, nonpareille capers are an easy way to elevate all kinds of dishes.
Look for jars of plump, firm nonpareille capers and experience their unique flavor and crunch in your next creation!