If you are willing to undertake a fish fry in your own home, then settling for a bottled condiment is totally out of the question. Traditionally Tartar Sauce is a fairly basic recipe consisting of mayonnaise, pickles, capers, or relish, and some lemon juice. But some simple modifications totally elevates this fish and chips staple into something special.
Now Tartar Sauce purists might have a few issues with my use of the name here. You could claim this recipe walks the line between a Remoulade and a Tartar Sauce, but the flavor profile is definitely in the Tartar Sauce family. Regardless, it is an absolutely delicious accompaniment to fried fish and once you try it, you’ll be hooked.
Why This Tartar Sauce Recipe?
I was motivated to write this post based on a trip to the Oregon coast where I quickly discovered fish and chips was the safest option on most menus. With boats coming in from the Pacific delivering fresh fish to restaurants, the quality was second to none. What I found disappointing was the dismal array of Tartar Sauces, a seemingly after thought, that made their way to the plate.
Having worked in Wisconsin, the Land of Friday Night Fish Fry, for much of my career making a stellar Tartar Sauce used to be a weekly ritual.
This Tartar Sauce recipe packs more fresh and bright notes than most others you will encounter. Which eliminates the need for that squeeze of lemon juice or malt vinegar that, for me at least, ruin the crispy batter experience. I also add some additional spices that really give a nice depth to a traditionally one note condiment.
I hope you give this Tartar Sauce recipe a try next time you decide to have your own fish fry. Or even easier, order your favorite fish to go and enjoy it in the comfort of your own home.
Helpful Tips for Making this Tartar Sauce Recipe
Having too much pickle brine or lemon juice mixed with your mayonnaise can cause it to break. Slightly dapping your diced pickles with paper towel allows you to better control this. Otherwise, you could use a Heavy Mayonnaise.
Note: Many restaurants who do make their own tartar sauce will start with a Heavy Mayonnaise, this helps with adding lemon juice and preventing breaking. Basically it has more egg yolks, to better emulsify the oil. Unfortunately it usually can only be found in one gallon or larger containers.
When dicing bell peppers, drawing the knife backwards keeps the put pieces in place and makes it easier to make small dices.
Mixing your sauce in a bowl is the best way to disperse the ingredients into this Tartar Sauce. When you mix in a square shaped container, the corners will inevitably be pockets of under mixed sauce.
To allow the flavors to develop, make this tartar sauce at least an hour before serving. Just remember to stir well and taste for seasoning prior to serving.
If your Tartar Sauce does break and you do not want to completely start over, there is hope. It is better to add parts of your broken sauce to mayonnaise than adding more mayonnaise to a broke sauce. If you strain out the solids using a colander your ratio will not be effected as much.
- 1 Cup Mayonnaise
- ¼ Cup Bread and Butter Pickles Small Diced
- 2 Tbsp Red Bell Pepper Small Diced
- 2 Tbsp Chopped Parsley Chop Fine
- 2 Tbsp Green Onion
- 1 Tbsp Lemon Juice
- ½ Tsp Lemon Zest
- ½ Tsp Old Bay Seasoning
- ½ Tsp Kosher Salt
- ½ Tsp Black Pepper
- Start by preparing the items that need cutting. Small Dice the Red Bell Pepper and Pickles. Chop the Parsley as fine as possible. Use a Microplane Grater to Zest the Lemon.
- Combine all of the ingredients into a mixing bowl and stir till fully incorporated.
- Taste to check for seasoning. Adjust if needed.
- Store Refrigerated for up to 5 days.
Items needed to make Tartar Sauce
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Choosing Ingredients for this Recipe
This guide is intended to help you make sense of selecting the ingredients for this Tartar Sauce. Most of these are common ingredients, but there are a few factors that can lead to a more successful dish. I have included some affiliate links of products that I personally recommend. Any purchases made through them support this website. Or simply use them as reference when you are out shopping.
Mayonnaise is the base of this tartar sauce recipe, so choosing the right one is important. Various brands taste different so choose the one that you like best. I personally look for a standard mayo and stray away from ones made with olive oil, or claim to be light.
As mentioned above, Heavy Mayonnaise is the best option if you can find it in a smaller container or are willing to purchase a one gallon container.
Pickles are another area where the ones you choose to use can have an impact on your tartar sauce. In the recipe I call for a bread and butter pickle that you small dice. I like the sweetness of the bread and butter pickle and since we are adding lemon zest and juice I find their acid go well with that flavor profile.
Where relish seems like it could be a shortcut, I avoid using it. The moisture content can be difficult to manage.
This Tartar Sauce has a few subtle additions, one of them being Old Bay seasoning. Which is a popular blend that is made up of celery salt, a few types of paprika, dried mustard, and a variety of “baking” spices. It adds a nice depth of flavor and gives the sauce a nice tint of color. There are a few other brands that make similar spice mixes, but Old Bay is my go to for this Tartar Sauce.
If you are using iodized table salt in your home cooking, a simple upgrade you can make is switching to Kosher Salt. It just works better.
When it comes to pepper for Tartar Sauce, using freshly cracked black pepper is the best option. It may seem convenient to buy ground pepper, but the taste that you get from freshly cracked pepper is stronger and well, more peppery. Also, black pepper is a better choice than white or mixed peppercorns for this recipe.