My first encounter with a caper was not an altogether pleasant one. It was my first time working in a fancy restaurant. I couldn’t believe that I had actually gotten the job, I had no idea what I was doing, and I was insecure about it, too. The chef asked me to make the rémoulade for the calamari. I had never heard of rémoulade. The long list of ingredients included capers, and, of course, I had never hear of them either. I remember my curiosity at the new ingredient, seeing them swimming in their greenish liquid—were they animal, vegetable, or mineral? I remember the moment I opened the big jar, sticking my nose deep inside, taking a big whiff, and recoiling in disgust at the pungent, vinegary smell. I remember glancing around me to see if anyone had noticed. And then I remember punching the button on the food processor hard, until the capers became an indistinguishable part of that strange sauce, until they disappeared completely. What I don’t remember is tasting the rémoulade.
I think the first time I actually tasted a caper was in turkey piccata. Given my one and only previous experience with capers, I was pretty apprehensive to try it. But a coworker’s exclamation, “Oh, I love piccata!” was enough to convince me. Along with a perfectly reasonable explanation that a caper’s nothing but a pickled flour bud.
Now, I always keep a big jar of capers on hand. I put them in salad dressings and pasta sauces, and they’re a fantastic substitute for pickles or pickle relish in potato salads, pasta salads, and tuna salads. Now, capers are one of my favorite ingredients.
2 8-ounce boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ cup white wine
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons capers
2 tablespoons minced Italian parsley
Gently pound out the chicken breasts to an even thickness with a meat pounder. Season generously with salt and pepper. Dip into the flour to coat and shake off any excess. Heat a large, heavy sauté pan over medium heat until very hot but not smoking. Add the oil and 1 tablespoon of the butter and swirl to coat the bottom of the pan. Add the chicken breasts skinned side down and sauté for 4 to 5 minutes, or until golden brown. Using tongs, turn the chicken breasts and continue to sauté another 3 to 4 minutes, or until just cooked through. The chicken breasts will be firm to the touch and the juices will run clear when they are just cooked through. Remove the chicken breasts to a plate and tent with foil to keep warm.
Add the wine, lemon juice, and capers to the pan and simmer, scraping up the brown bits from the bottom of the pan with a heat-proof spatula, for 4 to 5 minutes, or until thickened and saucy. Add the parsley. Remove the pan from the heat and let cool for a minute or two. Whisk in the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter quickly, stir in any accumulated juices from the chicken breasts, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Return the chicken breasts to the pan and turn to coat with the sauce. Arrange the chicken breasts on individual plates, divide the sauce among them, and serve immediately.
Serves 2 very hungry people. Lovely on a bed of angel hair pasta. For 4 smaller portions, pound out the chicken breasts, cut each breast in half, and proceed with the recipe as directed. The recipe may be doubled, but the sauce will take a little more time to reduce. Also delicious with scaloppine of veal, pork, or even turkey.