Can you believe that to make tartar sauce, I used to just add a bit of relish to some mayonnaise? Even more unbelievable, that's how I thought tartar sauce was supposed to taste. But while it may be the shortest route to getting tartar sauce, it can be so much better! And know that I know it, I'm happy to pass the info along.
To achieve perfectly balanced tartar sauce, you need a few more ingredients than just those two. And actually, relish has no place in tartar sauce at all. It still won't take very long to make and at the end of it, you'll have a tartar sauce that you won't just be using for fish, but for anything else you can think of too. Just follow the tips below!
1. Use the right ingredients
So we've already established that you need to use the right ingredients when making tartar sauce. Those ingredients are: 1 cup of mayonnaise, 2 or 3 gherkins, 3 tablespoons of capers, 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, 1 tablespoon of white sugar, and 1 teaspoon of chili sauce or hot sauce. Hold off on adding salt and pepper, for now at least.
But don't go just mixing them all together. Some of those ingredients, even chopped, will give you a very chunky tartar sauce. And what we're going for here is something a bit smoother and a lot more spreadable.
2. Pulse, then stir
In order to get that smooth sauce, you'll need to break up the bigger ingredients—namely the capers and the gherkins. Place them in a food processor and just pulse them until they've broken up into much smaller pieces but aren't pureed. You can also do this with a knife, just make sure that those pieces are very small.
Once those ingredients have been pulsed, you can then stir them into all the other ingredients. Mix everything very well to ensure that all of the ingredients are evenly distributed.
3. Egg or no egg
Adding an egg yolk or two to tartar sauce is a highly debatable subject. I prefer my tartar sauce eggless, but I know many people that think tartar sauce isn't right unless it's had that extra yolk added in. And I'm happy I tried it, so at least I know.
If you like eggy tartar sauce, or you just want to learn what people are talking about, use a hard-boiled egg yolk (one or two, it's up to you) and mash it finely. Then add it to the rest of the tartar sauce and stir it in. Remember when making tartar sauce this way though, that due to the cooked egg that's in there, it won't last as long in the fridge.
4. Taste and adjust seasonings
It's rare that I don't add salt and pepper to any dish at the very beginning. But making tartar sauce is one area in which I practice a little restraint and do that as one of the last steps.
This is because of the ingredients that are already in there. Capers are exceptionally salty, and can be more or less so depending on the brand you buy. Gherkins can be subtly sweet or very sweet, depending on the brand. And depending on the chili or hot sauce you use, your tartar sauce may already have enough kick, negating the need to add more pepper.
So before you go adding salt and pepper, taste your tartar and see if it needs anything else. It's your sauce and your preference so only you will know if it needs more, or if it doesn't.
5. Put it in the fridge
Once you've gotten those flavors just right, you need to give them time to marry. They need to sit and blend together so that each bite tastes exactly the same. Tartar sauce needs at least an hour in the fridge to do this, making this condiment one that's great to make ahead of time when you're serving a crowd. Plus, this will get it nice and cold. And who wants to eat warm mayonnaise?
6. Play around with those ingredients
Could you imagine if I still only used mayonnaise and relish to make tartar sauce? I'd never know what I was missing out on! Thank goodness I played around with those ingredients. And, even though the above ingredients will give you a beautiful tartar sauce, you should play around with them to find the perfect tartar sauce for you and your family.
Swap out mayonnaise for creme fraiche, or try using good old-fashioned dill pickles instead of gherkins. You can even substitute lime juice for lemon juice to see if you like that better. And who knows? You might like your tartar sauce with relish in it! Don't settle for just one good tartar sauce recipe. I'm sure glad I didn't.