Wednesday, June 21, 2006


Thanks to Apartment Therapy's Sara Kate I have just uncovered a serious flaw in my pantry. I am missing one very essential ingredient for so many of my favourite dishes! I'm plum out of capers! I have none in the fridge; not one pickled little bud. I have none in the pantry, not one salt cured crunchy morsel. I don't even know if my boyfriend likes them or not, but he'll learn if he doesn't already like them.

I have loved capers for a very long time, although how I got there is a bit of foodie lore. I used to work with this fabulous woman, we'll call her Nina (simply cause that was/is her name). Nina and I found in each other a complete fascination for all good food, to the point where we took our cooking classes and baking courses together. We even took a French cuisine demo class together, even though we were really not impressed that it was demo only. (Actually, the chef pulled us aside and told us off one night because we were rolling our eyes too much in class and smirking too much - he didn't realize, and we very smartly told him, that it wasn't him we were smirking at - it was this know it all snotty woman sitting in front of us who simply had to take over half the class time with her gastronomic tales. We frankly didn't pay to hear a 50 year old divorcee regale us with episodes from her dining days, we paid to be instructed on how to properly prepare sole meunier and daube de beouf etc... Situation corrected, chef told the woman to stop talking so much and we both got an A for speaking our minds... But I digress, back to the story...)

Nina and I used to go shopping in Chinatown after dim sum (she introduced me to chicken feet and other nasty looking but tasty things), buying longan berries and chinese broccoli and oyster flavour sauce and 5 spice powder and other cool stuff. But on class nights we would meet early, eat dinner that we prepared for each other and then go to class. One night, she brought smoked salmon, freshly baked bagels, cream cheese, sliced red onion and capers for a bit of a breakfast theme. I'd never had anything more exotic on my bagel than Philly so this was a bit of an experiment for the young, burgeoning foodie. I'd never experienced that briny, pungent, delicate saltiness from a caper before this and suddenly I felt as though my tastebuds had finally matured and become fully awakened. This was a definite revelation that there was more to tasting things besides salty, sweet, sour and spicy - this was a food thing that I could see working in concert with all the above - and more.

Fastforward a few years to my second trip to Australia. I was having lunch at Gecko's Café at the Ayers Rock Resort and ordered their smoked salmon risotto on the recommendation of the server. It came garnished with crunchy deep fried capers, crispy red onion strips and chunks of smoked salmon that were lightly heated with thin ribbons of lemon zest woven in and through the delicate grains of rice. I can only imagine the look on my face when I went to absolute gustatory heaven in one bite. I've since recreated it many times and for those of you who wish to have the recipe, I'll give you this challenge. Try making it for yourself. Make a pretty standard lemon risotto (but leave out the parmesan - Italians would never add cheese to a seafood risotto or pasta except in very specific occasions) then while its just finishing absorbing the beautiful sauce (I like to let my risotto rest about 5 minutes after adding the final bit of butter and mixing through - I find it gives it a better finished texture), then fry some red onion crescents and drain till crispy. Heat that oil up and pop in a bunch of capers (try the salt cured ones - rinse them but don't soak them that long - and make sure they are DRY or else you'll have them pop everywhere!) and remove when crispy. Don't worry about the amount of salt, remember you'll not add the parmesan so these will add that salty kick along with the salmon. Finally, mix the risotto a final time with the smoked salmon chunks, a few fried capers, some fresh lemon zest, and plate with the onions garnishing the top. Totally amazingly salty deconstructed smoked salmon goodness.

Bonus points: If you simply must have a creamier, cheesier version - add some mascarpone near the end - talk about gilding the lily!


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