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Capers (Recipe: chicken marbella)

Updated June 2010.

Chicken marbella 

I love capers — the classy film "To Catch a Thief," the ditzy "How to Steal a Million", the ridiculous "Pink Panther", and anything funny with Robert Redford. 

I'm not quite as in love with the kind of capers you put in your mouth — and yet they are always in The Perfect Pantry, because sometimes a recipe calls for them, and nothing else will do.

The caper is the unopened flower bud of a wild shrub that thrives in Mediterranean climates, from Spain and France to the northern Sahara and Iran. The pink flowers have an extremely short life, opening in the morning and wilting by noon. Very early in the day, the unopened buds are picked by hand. They're allowed to wilt for a day or two, then are graded for size — nonpareil (0-7 mm), surfines (7-8 mm), capucines (8-9 mm), capottes (9-11 mm), fines (11-13 mm), and grusas (14+ mm). The smallest capers, nonpareils from France, are considered the best.


After grading, capers are immediately brined in vinegar, or dry-packed in salt, so they need to be rinsed before use. They pair well with artichokes, fish, fatty meats like lamb, olives, potatoes, and tomatoes, and are an essential component of tapenade. The taste is fresh, salty, pungent, and slightly flowery-lemony. In fact, they taste a bit like nasturtium buds, which make a good substitute.

The most famous dish featuring capers? Veal piccata. The best-named? Swordfish a la Fauxvençal.

Chicken marbella

Chicken marbella

This is the famous Silver Palate recipe, adapted only slightly. Serves 8-10, or more as part of a large buffet, which is my favorite way to serve it, but it's also perfect for potlucks or picnics.


12 boneless chicken breast halves, cubed
1 head garlic, peeled and chopped
1/4 cup dried oregano
Freshly ground black pepper   
1/2 cup red wine vinegar   
1/2 cup olive oil   
1 cup pitted prunes   
1/2 cup pitted green olives with pimiento (small size, or chop larger ones)
1/2 cup capers with a bit of juice   
6 bay leaves
1 cup light brown sugar   
1 cup white wine   
1/4 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped (optional)


In a large nonreactive (glass or stainless steel) bowl, combine chicken, garlic, oregano, pepper, vinegar, oil, prunes, olives, capers, and bay leaves. Cover and let marinate, refrigerated, overnight.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Arrange chicken in a single layer in shallow baking pan, and spoon marinade over it. Sprinkle with the brown sugar and pour in white wine. Bake 35-40 minutes, uncovered, basting frequently with pan juices. Place in a bowl, sprinkle with parsley. Best served at room temperature. Can be made ahead (a couple of days); this dish improves with age!

[Printer-friendly recipe.]


More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:
Roast halibut with orange-caper gremolata
Confetti spaghetti
Egg salad
Pasta puttanesca

Other recipes that use capers:
Chicken piccata with fried capers, from Kalyn's Kitchen
Pork medallions with olive caper sauce, from We Are Not Martha
Light potato salad with sour cream and capers, from Whipped
Smoked salmon salad with caper vinaigrette, from Life's Ambrosia
Spaghetti with feta and capers, from Healthy Delicious

Chicken Marbella, an easy and always impressive party dish, from The Perfect Pantry.

Disclosure: The Perfect Pantry earns a few pennies on purchases made through the Amazon.com links in this post. Thank you for supporting this site when you start your shopping here.


Every time a visiting cook tries Lydia's Chicken Marbella it becomes part of their repertoire! And, it really gets better with age.

Yes to capers! I use them often, in salads, pan searing scallops and in my swordfish dishes. I hadn't thought of using them with tomatoes, but you have stimulated me into adding them to my crunchy salad (I had given this recipe a while ago on this site).

Sea Scallops with Capers

12 large cleaned sea scallops, washed with abductors removed and put on paper towels to dry.
2 tablespoons of capers (from the jar with brine)
kosher salt, black pepper

Heat a large sautee pan, add olive oil to coat the bottom (thin layer)
salt & pepper scallops on both sides
sear scallops until browned on the one side, add capers and flip scallops for a minute only...do not dry out the scallops.

Finish with a little finishing salt and serve. This is a very simple and tasty dish.

Ciao for now...

For those of us who know fishermen (or women) who come home with too many bluefish - capers are essential to baked bluefish. They cut the oiliness. Prepare some bread stuffing with capers, lay a bluefish filet on top, toss on some more capers. Bake until done. Very yummy.

My friend and wonderful cook, Eve Formisano, introduced me to a vinegrette with capers and roasted garlic. Naturally I can't actually find the recipe to share with you. But basically it is a classic lemon and olive oil dressing: 1 part fresh lemon juice, 3 parts olive oil, pinch of sugar, a few grinds of pepper, and few pinches of salt to you taste. To rev it up with capers and roasted garlic put everything in a blender - add a tablespoon of capers and a few cloves of roasted garlic and give it a buzz. This is teriffic on roasted veggies but a little strong for just a green salad.

A fellow Rhode Islander! And I've only stumbled across your blog today.

I write a diabetes blog called Six Until Me. (www.sixuntilme.com) and would love to add you to my blogroll.

Thank you for all of these fantastic recipes! This site is a goldmine for a twentysomething diabetic with NO cooking skills whatsoever. :)

-- Kerri.

Kerri, welcome to The Perfect Pantry! I'm guessing you came via Siwgrstorm (listed in Sites We Like, at left). With two Type-1 diabetics in my family, I try to be aware of how recipes can be adapted to cut the sugar and keep carbs under control (though Chicken Marbella isn't one of the most diabetes-friendly recipes I make!). I'll be sharing some of my sugar-less recipes from time to time, so please visit again.

I had fun visiting Six Until Me, too. You can email about blogrolls: lydia AT ninecooks DOT com.

Pam, thanks for sharing another of your great recipes.

Fran, bluefish and capers sounds like a fantastic combination. Does baking the capers mellow the flavor?

Jessica, the roasted garlic-caper combo sounds like a winner. Maybe a good thing to try on all of the tomatoes I bought at the farm stand this week. Thanks.

Capers !!
Olive oil, lemon & garlic...over a nice
fresh pasta..with fresh or canned crab .
Oh yes!!! you will enjoy.
Have a nice fresh grated cheese ready of your preference...it...makes a world of difference.

Todd, welcome! Crab, lemon, garlic and capers -- that sounds fabulous.

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