This DIY sauce elevates seafood, sandwiches, and veggies. Tartar sauce takes less than 5 minutes to stir up and delivers brightness and crunch to any dish.
When beads of sweat prickle the back of your neck, summer grilling is the answer to your dinner desires. Instead of burgers and hot dogs, why not try seafood that reminds you of beachy barbeques by the ocean?
What makes sizzling white fish or rosy pink salmon burgers worth eating? Shiny tartar sauce with freckles of pickles and fresh herbs. This sauce makes everything taste creamy, bright, and fragrant.
Let’s dive in to learn how you can whip together tartar sauce that’s as easy as making a cup of coffee. It’ll taste healthier and fresher than the store-bought stuff using ingredients in your pantry now.
What is it?
Enjoy it with any food that you would eat with mayonnaise or ketchup (tomato sauce), such as fried fish, French fries, or sandwiches.
What does it taste like?
It’s creamy with crunchy bits thanks to the pickles. It can taste summery and herbaceous if you add fresh herbs, such as thyme, tarragon, chives, or dill.
It typically tastes bright and refreshing from lemon juice (or another acid)f.
If you’ve eaten a fish sandwich, like McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish burger, you’ve likely tried tartar sauce before. It’s the white sauce with green bits in it.
Tartar sauce is made up of these main parts:
- Base: Mayonnaise or aioli give you a thick sauce (we’ll cover variations below if you don’t want to use either of these as the base).
- Pickled foods and preserves: Capers and chopped pickles are in traditional French tartar sauce recipes. These ingredients add salt, acid, crunch, and an iconic Mediterranean flair to your sauce. You can add other kinds of pickled fruits or vegetables too, such as olives. The idea is to add acid and salt to enhance the flavors in your sauce.
- Acid: Adds brightness to your sauce, which is especially important if you’re serving tartar sauce with seafood. Most acids, such as lemon juice or vinegar, thin out the viscous base to make the sauce easier to dip and spread.
- Herbs (optional): Add fresh flavors to your dish.
- Other sauces (optional): Tweak the traditional tartar by adding things like hot sauce or mustard.
NOTE: The necessary ingredients are the base, pickles, and acid. You are welcome to add the optional ingredients for fancy variations.
Here are ideas on ingredients you can add to customize the sauce to your liking. It’s also a great way to use up leftover ingredients in your fridge and pantry.
NOTE: Another reason to make a variation is if you want a sauce that’s lighter in calories. For example, you could use Greek yogurt instead of mayonnaise for a diet version of tartar sauce or to avoid allergens (mayonnaise has eggs).
- Base: Instead of mayonnaise, use Greek yogurt, sour cream, crème fraîche, or aioli.
- Preserves: Pickles (any kind of pickled cucumber, be it gherkins, dill pickles, or cornichons, which are tiny French pickles), relish, capers, jalapeños, olives
- Herbs: dill, tarragon, chives, green onions
- Acid: Instead of lemon juice, use white wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar, rice vinegar
- Other sauces: Horseradish, mustard, Dijon mustard, sriracha / hot sauce
TIP: For a vegan version, use a vegan base. You could try vegan mayonnaise or pureed avocado.
Tips for success
- How to scale the recipe: This recipe scales linearly. You can double, triple, quadruple without issues. Make sure your mixing bowl is big enough to avoid making a mess.
- When I make tartar sauce, I typically don’t measure out precise quantities. I add the amount of each ingredient and season to taste depending on my mood. For example, if I’m serving seafood, I may add more lemon juice. If I’m using it for a sandwich, I prefer the sauce to be creamier and less tangy.
- Keep the sauce overnight for the flavors to develop and taste even better together the next day.
Easy homemade tartar sauce
- 1 Knife
- 1 Chopping Board
- 1 Mixing Bowl
- 1 Spatula
- 1 cup (224 g) mayonnaise
- 2 tablespoons (30 ml) lemon juice, more if you prefer your sauce tangy
- 4 sprigs dill, or any other herbs you like with seafood
- ½ teaspoon (3 g) salt, optional
- ½ teaspoon (2 g) sugar, optional
- 2 tablespoons relish, sweet relish is great
- 2 whole cornichons, optional for extra crunch
- Gather the ingredients.
- If using whole pickles and herbs, finely chop those ingredients. Juice your lemon to get about 2 tablespoons of juice. Discard any seeds.
- Mix all the ingredients together. Taste and season with more salt if needed. Your sauce is ready to serve.
- Garnish with extra herbs if desired. Enjoy your tartar sauce!
Yes, you can make tartar sauce in advance. In fact, tartar sauce tastes better when left overnight so the ingredients can blend together.
Tartar sauce should be stored in a sealed container in the fridge. This helps avoid contamination when in the fridge.
TIP: Use a clean spoon to scoop out your sauce from the storage container. Keeping the remaining sauce “clean” (i.e., avoid double dipping or dipping food into the sauce) preserves it for longer.
How long does it last?
It should keep for about 1 week in the fridge. You can eat tartar sauce cold straight from the fridge or you can leave it out for 30 minutes to bring it closer to room temperature before serving.
I wouldn’t leave it unrefrigerated for longer than half an hour. If you spread it over hot food, it’ll warm up too.
Tartar sauce isn’t freezable. I experimented with freezing it. When it thawed, the mayonnaise separated into oil and solid bits.
Freezing destroyed the emulsion. Unfortunately, stirring all the ingredients together didn’t fix the emulsion. I ended up with a gross chunky sauce with a thick layer of oil on top.
Therefore, I recommend making only enough to last for 1 week. Beyond a week or two, it’s time to throw out leftover sauce and stir up a new batch.
What sauces are similar to tartar sauce? Depending on what you’re eating with it, here are a few substitutes you can use instead of tartar sauce.
- For deep-fried seafood: Use aioli, mayonnaise, rémoulade, ketchup, thousand island, cocktail sauce, or marinara.
- For salad dressing: Another mayonnaise-based sauce, such as coleslaw dressing or tuna salad dressing, would work.
- As dipping sauce: Try sour cream, Greek yogurt, crème fraîche, tzatziki sauce, hummus, raita sauce.
Is it only for French cuisine? Or deep-fried fish?
Absolutely not. While tartar sauce is most commonly eaten with seafood and fish, you can pair it with many common foods that could benefit from a mayo-like sauce.
This afternoon, I ate leftover falafel for lunch and unexpectedly ran out of tahini. Tartar sauce, while an unconventional choice with falafel, came to the rescue. It added the necessary creamy texture, moisture, and brightness to make the falafel palatable.
Here are more ideas of what you could eat tartar sauce with:
- French fries
- Chicken, such as chicken breast or chicken sandwich
- Fast food: Pizza, hot dogs
- Steamed vegetables