Fried Capers Are The Tangy Ingredient Your Caesar Salad Is Missing

Caesar salad is nothing if not versatile — you can enjoy a classic plate at a small Italian-American restaurant, or a fancy kale version at fine dining spots. If you want to bring out your inner restaurant chef, use an unconventional topping to make the old-fashioned favorite feel new. Take the time to deep fry capers and sprinkle them over your salad for a crispy crunch with a hint of caramelized, savory flavor.

Capers, an ingredient beloved by Italian chef Giada De Laurentiis, are the cured flower buds of the caper bush, and are available in sizes from tiny to large and slightly soft. With a sharp tang and vegetal punch, their salty taste becomes more pronounced after cooking. They complement the briny, garlicky, and fishy anchovy notes in Caesar dressing; add more crunch alongside the croutons; and even add a gorgeous visual enhancement to your salad. After frying, the little buds unfurl into petal-like shapes.

Pat capers dry before frying, as stray droplets of brine or water can cause the oil to spit. Heat an inch or so of vegetable oil in a pan, then drop in a handful of the buds and cook until crispy. Remove them and allow to cool on a paper towel. And make sure you conserve that frying oil — it's now packed with caper flavor and can be used as a garnish or the base of yet another salad dressing.

More tips for frying capers

Capers are sold in a brining liquid or packed in salt, and both forms (and all sizes) will work for your Caesar salad. Salt-packed ones need to be thoroughly rinsed to wash off the sodium, so they'll require more time to prep. You don't need to rinse brined capers, but be aware that the flavor of the buds intensifies as they cook. Those sensitive to salt may want to rinse them anyway, and you can fry just one and taste it to see if you'd like to wash off the salt even more.

You can allow the capers to sizzle for 30 seconds to a few minutes, until they're as caramelized and crunchy as you desire. Just keep an eye on them to prevent burning. To make them easier to lift out and sample, try adding them to a fine mesh metal strainer and dip it in the oil, allowing them to fry while keeping a hold on the handle. They'll be easier and safer to remove, compared to dropping them into the oil and chasing them around with a spoon.

If a messy, oil-splattered stove isn't your thing, you can crisp up capers in the microwave by zapping them in a bowl of oil for about five minutes, pausing to stir occasionally. An air fryer will get the job done, too – just coat the flower buds in fat before air frying them at 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Fried capers and their oil have many uses

Once fried, crispy capers will retain their texture for longer than you might expect. A batch will last about two days when stored in an airtight container, and you can always refresh their crunch with a second plunge in the fryer. While you're at it, you can further flavor your frying oil by tossing in a handful of herbs, like sage or rosemary, alongside the capers. The savory and herbal oil can be strained and drizzled over your Caesar salad — or better yet, use it as the oil component in a homemade Caesar dressing.

For an accompaniment to your salad and the rest of your Italian meal, you can use the frying oil as a dip for fresh bread. Toss some whole garlic or shallots in it while it sizzles, and it becomes even more delicious. Still have leftover capers? Beyond a Caesar, the bright and salty bites make for a creative addition to a French Niçoise salad, as they complement the tuna and olives.

Fried capers also pair well with rich egg yolks, so use them to top poached eggs at brunch or deviled eggs for a party. The buds can perk up mild fish fillets and creamy pasta dishes, too, or you can use them to liven up bland tomato sauce. Creative mixologists even like to add capers to martinis and other savory-leaning cocktails, for a fresh spin on the usual garnish of a brined olive.