How to make homemade Tartar sauce with the classic ingredients used in France. The best, traditional Tartar Sauce is completely made from scratch, including the mayonnaise. So, before you reach for a jar of ready-made, make this easy recipe first. It's worth just an extra 5 minutes' more effort to savour all the flavours and enjoy the ultimate taste.
Why is it Called Tartar Sauce?
I had been making this sauce for years and didn't even appreciate that the name, Tartar, comes from the French, à la Tartare.
In the French Larousse Gastronomique, in France, 'Tartare' is a culinary term for both this sauce Tartare and le steak tartare. If any of you have seen this popular dish served in brasseries and bistros, it's a classic dish of raw minced beef. The highlight is watching the waiters serve it with panache, using condiments such as pickled capers, fresh herbs, Worcestershire sauce and finely chopped shallots or spring onion. The whole lot is presented with a raw egg yolk on top.
For the classic homemade Tartar sauce recipe, see below for the rest of the ingredients, but it's made with raw egg yolk, cooked yolk or a mixture of the two.
Incidentally, every time I see mini gherkins (cornichons in France), I think of our family holidays in France when we were little. My picky wee brother always asked in restaurants for simple 'jambon' (ham) which was served with a couple of cornichons. However, each time, we made fun of them being frogs' legs and each time, he believed us and left them to the side. Poor soul - but I digress.
The Real Tartar Sauce Ingredients in France
The real traditional Tartar sauce's basic ingredient in France is mayonnaise. For the best taste, we make our own in this recipe - and it just takes an extra 5 minutes!
As a result, we also avoid any processed ingredients to boot!
For a classic French mayonnaise, you'll need fresh, organic egg yolks, salt, olive oil (or sunflower oil) and vinegar. The additional flavours that make up the French classic Tartar sauce are:
- capers (câpres in French)
- mini gherkins (cornichons)
- a small yellow onion, shallot or spring onion (échalote/cebette)
- fresh herbs: parsley, chervil and/or tarragon (persil, cerfeuil/estragon)
All the above are finely chopped and, surprisingly, there's no lemon juice, no garlic and no yoghurt. Above all, there's no sugar added.
Is there Mustard in Mayonnaise?
Many French historian purists have said there's no mustard in mayonnaise - even Auguste Escoffier in his Guide culinaire (1902) doesn't add mustard to his mayonnaise. If mustard is added, it's often referred to as a sauce rémoulade.
Today, however, most top French chefs add mustard. Yannick Alleno calls his a contemporary rémoulade sauce with added capers, gherkins, parsley, chervil, tarragon and anchovy essence (Source: François-Régis Gaudry, 'On Va Déguster la France'). This is basically a sauce Tartare without the anchovy!
Personally we love mustard in a homemade Tartar sauce. Even better if it's wholegrain mustard, which adds that extra flavour and kick.
For more on mustard, see my article on Dijon Mustard and More
How to Make Tartar Sauce - Homemade from Scratch
To make your own Tartar sauce, start with the mayonnaise. As you can see from the photos, the colour is more vibrant when it's homemade and extra fresh.
Ensure all your ingredients are at room temperature: it makes it easier to create an emulsion. According to Larousse Gastronomique (French culinary dictionary), sauce Tartare is made using either raw or cooked yolks.
Both are good but for this recipe, I use raw eggs, as ours are particularly fresh from the farmers' market. If you prefer yours cooked, then hard boil your eggs for 10 minutes (to soft hard boiled, not grey and chalky - see the classic French Niçoise Salad recipe how best to cook them) and use only the yolks.
Whisk up the yolks with a little salt and the mustard until blended. Then, slowly and continuously, trickle in the olive oil (or sunflower oil), whisking constantly until you gradually have an emulsion and it thickens.
Continue to whisk, add the white wine vinegar then add the rest of the ingredients, all finely chopped.
How Long Will the Homemade Sauce Keep?
Homemade Tartar sauce can keep for up to 5 days if stored chilled and sealed in the fridge. So the good news is that it's a handy recipe to make in advance.
See more make-ahead recipes.
Simplest Homemade Tartar Sauce - 4 Ingredients Recipe
If you prefer to grab a jar of ready-made mayonnaise, then it's even simpler with just 4 ingredients. Just add in a tablespoon each of finely chopped capers, gherkins and chives.
Using finely chopped chives as the 4th ingredient simplifies the traditional recipe, which would normally add the freshly chopped herbs (parsley, tarragon and chervil) plus shallot or spring onion.
How Best to Serve
Serve your homemade Tartar sauce with all kinds of breaded fish and seafood recipes. It's best served with fish and chips and, above all, with Scottish smoked haddock fishcakes. It also makes a healthy alternative to ketchup with fish fingers - for both adults and kids. Historically in France, it traditionally accompanies cold fish, oysters, le pied de veau (calf's trotters) and crispy potatoes.
Once you've tried this version, I'm sure you won't want to buy a jar of ready-made again! Although no lemon juice in the sauce, I recommend a wedge of lemon to squeeze on the side.
Homemade Tartar Sauce
- balloon whisk
- 2 fresh egg yolks, raw or cooked* organic/free range (at room temperature)
- ½ teaspoon salt (fleur de sel) (or Maldon flakes, Celtic sea salt)
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 200 ml (7fl oz/ ¾ cup) olive oil or sunflower oil
- 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
Tartare Sauce Ingredients
- 1 tablespoon pickled capers finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon pickled gherkins finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon shallot, chives or spring onion finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon flat leaf parsley ( or mix with dill, tarragon or chervil)
- Whisk the egg yolks (raw or cooked - see NOTES below), salt and mustard with a hand whisk in a medium bowl. Gradually add the olive oil, dribbling it finely, slowly and regularly, whisking constantly. Once the mixture creates an emulsion and starts to thicken, add the white wine vinegar.
Tartare sauce garniture
- Stir in all of the remaining ingredients until well incorporated and season with more salt if necessary and freshly milled pepper.Chill until ready to use.
This recipe was first published on 1st February 2012 together with the smoked haddock fishcakes but is now separated, deserving its own post.