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How to make a quick tartar sauce with ingredients you probably already have in your fridge

Insider
Insider
 2021-10-21

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As long as you have mayo, an acid, and something pickled, you have the potential for tartar sauce.

Best known as a popular condiment for fried seafood, tartar sauce is both highly flavorful and very easy to make at home. While the exact formula for tartar sauce varies based on who you ask - and the number of potential customizations and recipe tweaks is limitless - it generally includes mayonnaise as the primary ingredient, followed by something pickled, something acidic, and something herbal.

You can always buy pre-made tartar sauce at the grocery store, but prepping it yourself gives you the opportunity to adjust its flavors to perfectly suit your tastes, and you'll end up with a fresher condiment that will highlight the flavors of your seafood rather than obscuring them.

For expert tips on making the best possible tartar sauce in your own kitchen, we consulted Sean McDermott, the executive chef of Hook & Barrel in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

What you need

  • 2 cups mayonnaise
  • The juice and zest of 1 lemon
  • 1/4 cup chopped pickles (dill pickles, dill pickle relish, or even chopped capers)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh or dried herbs (like parsley or dill)
  • Other flavor agents, to taste (Dijon mustard, Worcestershire sauce, and hot sauce all fall into this category. Get creative here.)

Quick Tip: Don't be afraid to customize! If you prefer olives to dill pickles or capers, then go ahead and use them. If you'd rather use a few dashes of white wine vinegar instead of lemon juice, have at it. As long as you've got something acidic, something briny or pickled, and something herbaceous, you're in good shape.

How to make homemade tartar sauce

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Tartar sauce is the perfect accompaniment to fried fish.

1. Prep your ingredients. If you're using fresh lemon juice and zest, take the time to press the juice before putting the sauce together. McDermott emphasizes the importance of an acidic element. "The acidity of the sauce brings out all the delicious flavors of the fish," he says. Also, use this prep time to measure out your mayo and herbs and to chop your pickles or capers, if you're using those instead of pre-chopped relish.

2. Add ingredients to a large mixing bowl and whisk. "Mix all ingredients until thoroughly incorporated," says McDermott. That's all it takes!

Quick tip: If you'd like to use McDermott's favorite tartar sauce recipe, start by adding 2 cups of mayo, the juice and zest of 1 lemon, 1/4 cup of dill pickle relish, 1 tablespoon of dried parsley, 1/4 cup Dijon mustard, 3 tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce, and 1 tablespoon of Tabasco to a large mixing bowl. Then, use your whisk to thoroughly mix the ingredients into a sauce.

How long does tartar sauce last?

Once you've made your perfectly customized tartar sauce, you may be wondering how much of a shelf life (or, rather, a "fridge life") you can get out of your batch. If you store your tartar sauce in an airtight plastic container (like a Tupperware), "it lasts for 5-7 days" in the refrigerator, says McDermott.

In order to ensure freshness, McDermott says to " scrape down the sides of the storage container before placing it in the refrigerator." This quick extra step allows you to "incorporate all of the sauce together so that portions of it don't dry out on the sides of the storage container," as those dried-out bits of tartar sauce could negatively affect the sauce's overall flavor.

Insider's takeaway

A delicious tartar sauce can be made in just a few short minutes, eliminating the need to shell out for pre-made versions at seafood shacks or to cut corners by buying the bottled stuff at the grocery store.

Mayo, something acidic, something pickled, and something herbaceous will yield a perfect simple tartar sauce, and if you'd like to shake things up by adding additional ingredients like hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce, or Dijon mustard, feel free to get creative!

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