Sauce Tartare
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Capers in World Famous Sauces

Capers are the key ingredient in several famous sauces. What follows is a list of sauces featuring capers as its main ingredient.

As I often cook with a flair of culinary historical curiosity, I have tried to come up with a plausible historical explanation for each caper based sauce recipe.

First Culinary Use of Capers

Originally from the Mediterranean region, capers were already marketed by the ancient Greeks. Used for a very long time, the Romans already used capers to spice up sauces in fish dishes. Introduced in the Provence by the Greek colonists, the caper started being cultivated in France as of the 6th century.

It took till the 15th century to see the first capers confit in vinegar mentioned. During the Renaissance under the leadership of the great agronomist Olivier de Serres capers were already widely consumed for their medicinal virtues.

In his “Theater of Agriculture and Field Management”, he gives advice on cultivation and gathering capers. Charles Estienne, a French doctor from the middle of the 16th century, recommends caper as a fruit

“good in salads to stimulate the appetite, vinegar in which the capers are candied, makes them more pleasant”

La Varennes's Cookery

Cookbooks are so much more than recipe collections. They’re slices of history, and they reveal vast amounts about the time and place in which they were written.

Le Cuisinier François
Le Cuisinier François by La Varenne, edition George De Backer, Brussels, 1712

The caper will cross the centuries and delight cooks like La Varenne, who in 1651 produced a recipe for “beef trumeau soup” with capers, published in  his “Le Cuisinier françois (1651)”, one of the most influential cookbooks in early modern French cuisine. La Varenne was the foremost member of a group of French chefs, writing for a professional audience, who codified French cuisine in the age of King Louis XIV. 

In 1691 Massialot published in “Le Cuisinier Royal et Bourgeois” the recipe for a sauce called “Ramolade” made up of anchovies, chopped capers, parsley …

Capers are now synonymous with southern cuisine.

‘A La Grenobloise’ or Grenoble Sauce

Grenoble sauce is a hot sauce made of butter, diced peeled lemon and capers, sometimes completed with diced golden bread. It is used as a variant of milling cooking.

Ingredients of the Grenoble sauce

History

According to the gastronomic writer Claude Muller, the fish sometimes arrived a little “rotten” in Grenoble – especially in the fall or in the spring, the temperatures of the winter allowing a better conservation and the fish being seldom transported. in summer. To mask this taste, it would have been customary in Grenoble to cook them with capers.

Salsa Verde

Salsa verde is an Italian classic. It is a mixture of chopped parsley, basil, capers, anchovies, garlic with lemon juice. The use of salted capers and the anchovies makes it a pretty savory sauce. Use salsa verde on a roasted steak or fish, stir it into your pasta or spread it on your bread.

La Sauce Tartare

I grew up in Flemish Belgium and as a child, fries ( which are Belgian and NOT French ! ) were traditionally eaten with either mayo or sauce tartare. Those were the days I did not worry about the origin of capers. But I remember there would always be a jar of capers in the fridge. logo Devos & Lemmens

Vandemoortele ( 1899 ) and Devos & Lemmens ( 1886 ) where ( and still are ) the two market leaders in Belgium & beyond for all types of sauces, mayonnaise, mustards. Ever since I remember they carry the tartare sauce. But believe it or not, their recipe does not make mention of capers.

Vandemoortele merely suggests to add capers if you like ‘ sauce tartare with a twist’. Yet in another article they mention how to make the perfect tartare sauce and this one calls for capers, preferably roughly chopped and the sauce freshly made.

Sauce Tartare by Alain Ducasse

INGREDIENTS (4 PEOPLE)
1 hard-boiled egg yolk
30 cl of olive oil
2 tbsp. to c. capers in salt
2 pickled gherkins
2 new onions
1/4 bunch of flat-leaf parsley
1/4 bunch of chervil
1/4 bunch of chives
5 tarragon leaves
1 C. to c. Dijon mustard
Fine salt

Tartar sauce is a mayonnaise made from hard-boiled egg yolks to which are added capers, pickles and aromatic herbs. Ideal to accompany fried fish or fries ( for the UK: chips ). The recipe below is from one of France’s best chefs, Alain Ducasse, originally published in “Culinary Encyclopedia by Alain Ducasse“.

Sauce Tartare according to Alain Ducasse

PREPARATION

Wash and dry the flat parsley, chervil and tarragon. Remove the leaves from the parsley and chervil. Chop them as well as the tarragon.

Wash, drain and finely chop the chives. Drain the pickles and cut them into regular brunoise. Rinse the capers to desalt them. Crush half of the capers and keep the rest in a mortar. Peel and finely chop the spring onions. Add the egg yolk, 1 pinch of fine salt and the mustard to the mortar. Mix with the pestle until the capers are pureed.

Gradually drizzle in the olive oil, turning with the pestle always in the same direction. Add the pickles, crushed capers, chopped spring onions and herbs. Mix gently, adjust the seasoning, if necessary, and pour the tartar sauce into a stainless steel container.

ORIGIN

Do we owe the tartar sauce to the Tartars? That’s a good question, and the answer, according to Vandemoortele, is most likely “yes”. The “tartare sauce” is generally attributed to the Tatars (without the “r”). In the 19th century, many French chefs were employed by Russian nobles who lived in the Eurasian steppes – the Tatars – and who were fond of cold fish. They liked to enjoy it with a mixed mayonnaise-based sauce, and accompanied by other Russian ingredients.

But the truth according to a 2014 article in The Guardian, is that it was not everyday fare on the windswept steppes of the ancient Tatar people. Instead, it has assumed the name of the more traditional Tatar dish of chopped raw meat, which it often accompanied in the fashionable dining rooms of 19th-century Europe – it seems unlikely that the warring tribes had much time for making condiments to serve with their stringy supper.

TARTARE SAUCE VS. REMOLADE ?

The difference between tartar sauce and remoulade is not obvious to everyone. In ancient recipes and in culinary works, the two names are used to designate the same thing. In Austria,  the words are synonymous. The two sauces share the same base – a mayonnaise – and contain mustard and vinegar.

So what’s the difference? There is an egg in the real tartar sauce, while the remoulade has none. The latter contains more herbs, such as tarragon, parsley and chervil. And often even anchovies!

To understand the difference between the two I asked Pierre Leclercq, scientific collaborator of the University of Liège, Belgium. He explains the evolution of the remoulade to what it is today.

During the 18th century, the velouté became part of the recipe for the remoulade sauce, which started out as a vinaigrette. This is how this liquid vinaigrette turns into a well-bound, creamy, blonde-colored sauce. It is served regularly with roasts or grilled meats.

When it comes to appearance and consistency on the palate, this remoulade recipe looks like our mayonnaise.

1693

1693 Remoulade sauce
Remoulade according to the Massialot recipe. It’s a simple vinaigrette. Photo Pierre Leclercq.

The old remoulade recipe, which was formulated here in 1693, is still just a vinaigrette embellished with chopped capers and anchovies: “With several Fish Fillets, we make a sauce called Ramolade, composed of chopped parsley, chopped spring onion, chopped Anchovies, chopped Capers, all put in a dish, with a little salt and pepper, nutmeg, oil & vinegar loosened well together & after having arranged the Fillets in its dish, we sprinkle them with this Ramolade & to some dishes we add lemon juice, to serve them cold “

1735

But then, in 1735, with Vincent La Chapelle, the remoulade clearly changed its physiognomy. Instead of being a vinaigrette, i.e. an unstable cold emulsified sauce, it becomes a bound and creamy sauce thanks to the addition of cold velouté:

“Sausse en Remoulade in another way. Chop the scallion, capers, anchovies, parsley, all apart on a plate & a small clove of garlic, a little shallot; put everything in a saucepan, with a little herbs, two spoonfuls of fat, good oil, as much good mustard, lemon juice, a little coulis; then, untie everything together & you will use it for all kinds of poultry & grills, as also with the ros, in a saucepan “.

1806 the introduction of the egg yolk

Remoulade with egg yolk

The decisive development took place at the beginning of the 19th century. In 1806, chef André Viard gave a recipe for remoulade, but without the velouté that gave its smoothness.

Instead, he adds an egg yolk and mixes it thoroughly with the oil, mustard and other ingredients. This is possibly the very first egg yolk emulsified sauce recipe in the history of cooking.

Cooks have obviously seen a great saving of time and money in this method, since making a soup (the velouté) is long and requires a lot of expensive ingredients such as meat. Adding the egg is much easier, cheaper and gives almost the same result.

In 1806 the first great cookbook of the revolutionary area appeared. It was “The Imperial Cook” of André Viard who would subsequently see countless reissues.

His recipe for remoulade has greatly evolved since that of La Chapelle. It no longer contains capers or anchovies. And above all, he swapped the very expensive and complicated velvety against the egg yolk which gives the same creamy result thanks to its emulsifying property:

“Remoulade. You will have a full glass of mustard that you will put in a vase, so that you can dilute it; you will chop a little shallots, a little ravigote, which you will put in your mustard; you will throw in 6 or 7 tablespoons of oil, 3 or 5 of vinegar, salt, coarse pepper; you will untie everything together; you will put two egg yolks in it raw that you will stir with your remoulade; take care to turn it well, so that your sauce is well bound: it must be a little thick.

Recipes and Ready-to-eat product

Recipes for these sauces abound and for the lazy cook, there is a whole array of bottled sauces available.Beaver tartar sauce

Yet, I found that many tartare sauces no longer carry capers in the recipe. The 2 market leaders for prepared sauces in Belgium ( Devos & Lemmens  and Vandemoortele ) do not follow the traditional recipe.

On Amazon, most of the tartar sauces are made without capers. Only Amazon’s choice, the Beaver Tartar choice, mentions capers in the recipe. Brands cater to tastes, but I find it a sad evolution away from the original product.

 

6 thoughts on “Capers in World Famous Sauces

  1. We don’t often think about the history of sauces. I would have thought that remoulade was always similar to what we see today. What’s even more interesting is that I had never drawn a correlation between remoulade and tartare sauce. Your insightful article gives me some “food for thought” (forgive the pun!).

    1. Hi Marsha,

      Thanks for your support ! It’s amazing what I find about sauces, food, capers …. the more I search, the more I find .

  2. I like remoulade with capers, it is just delicious. But I will not add coarse pepper because it is an ingredient that I don’t digest well. I also agree that it is great in tartare but I am no fan of tartare.

    I would like to see a video of you making both so that we can really see the difference between both.

    Thanks for sharing!

  3. Hi Karin,

    I was just doing some navigating on your website. You seem to really be in a niche of its own. Yes, there are a lot of food based blogs, but you have narrowed your passion for a specific food down like I’ve never seen before. I have heard of capers, but did not know that they were used in so many sauces and dishes, especially Salsa Verde and some tartar sauce recipes. You are extremely talented to produce a blog on such a scaled down niche. Very interesting and I am now hungry after reading your “Capers in World Famous Sauces” article 🙂. Great job!

    Terese 

    1. Hey Thanks Terese, 

      this niche came as an ‘accident’, as I was doing a post on capers & corona for another blog of mine, Green on the Beach, I thought, capers … why not. And it is amazing what I find. I am visiting my family in Belgium for the moment and am traveling in the country trough the eyes of a caper. In tow weeks (if corona allows ), I am flying to Malta…. to study their capers !

      I hope I can count you amongst one of my regular readers !

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