Capers are the salty, piquant, unopened buds from the shrub capparis spinosa, and you are very daring to buy a food before you know what to do with it. Our hats are off to daring cooks!

Anne Willan, author of La Varenne Pratique, says the acidic taste of capers makes them an especially good foil for rich meats and fish, such as lamb, liver, and tuna.

They are essential to two classic French sauces, the spicy Sauce Ravigote, based on herbs, onion, and capers, and the cold Sauce Rémoulade, with mustard, mayonnaise, gherkins, herbs, and capers.

Capers are ideal for adding punch to a sauce or spread that needs a lift. They can really round out a mayonnaise for sandwiches, or a lemon butter sauce for fish and shellfish. The French use them in butter sauces to accompany a variety of meats.

Capers also work as a complement to aggressive, salty dishes. French tapenades and vinaigrettes, and Italian tomato sauces all benefit from capers for this reason.

You don't have to rinse them before use, but we generally do. Sometimes the brine seems to overwhelm the taste of the caper.