Tartare sauce was named by the French after the Tatars of the Eurasian Steppe in modern-day Russia. These are the same Tatars who gave their name to steak tartare, and may have been the originators of the hamburger. In actual fact, tartare sauce is probably not Tatar in origin because it requires mayonnaise, which was most likely invented in Europe, and is associated with Mahon, a key port in the Siege of Menorca (1756).
Recipes for tartare sauce vary a lot. In its multi-overture symphony to the humble sauce, Institute Paul Bocuse Gastronomique combines mayonnaise with chives and shallots – and nothing else. Larousse Gastronomique has the same recipe, but suggests that the egg yolk in the mayo should come from a hard-boiled egg.
Neither of these recipes are anything like the tartare sauce that the British enjoy with fish and chips. We are looking for chunks of tasty schmoo in our tartare sauce. To get that, we can cast aside all this French nonsense, and look to Nick Nairn to sort us out with the correct balance of oily mayo and zippy pickles. Serve with delicate white fish like cod, haddock and pollack. Use salsa verde with richer mackerel and herring.
It is perfectly possible to buy tartare sauce from the likes of Colman’s. However, I was brought up on that stuff, and I can tell you that it is abysmal. If you have had tartare sauce from a jar and disliked it, then this does not mean that you won’t completely love a homemade version like this.
- 150ml mayonnaise (we have a recipe for that)
- 1 tbsp gherkins, chopped
- 1 tbsp capers, chopped
- 3 shallots, finely chopped
- 1 tbsp parsley, chopped
- Squeeze of lemon juice
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Mix all the ingredients together, adding the lemon juice to taste.
Some recipes add chopped green olives. Parsley can be swapped out for chervil or dill. The shallots can be replaced with spring onions.