You probably know and love tartar sauce as the accompaniment to a basket of fried clams, shrimp, or calamari—well, any fried item, really. But what makes tartar sauce tartar sauce and not just upleveled mayonnaise, or secret sauce sans ketchup?
Really good tartar sauce does careful work of balancing quietly, behind the scenes. Its constitution (mostly fat with just enough acid and salt) makes it the perfect compliment and foil to anything hot and battered. It woos you into dipping just one more fried clam, then another, and how about a fry this time?
In this version, I double down on the salty bits, adding finely chopped cornichon pickles to chopped capers. I tried a few different pickles here, like dill sours and bread-and-butters, but favored cornichons for their salt and pucker; but of course feel free to let your fridge inventory move you. A generous squeeze of lemon (white wine vinegar works just fine—malt would be delicious, too) and showering of dill keeps the tartar sauce from being too heavy.
Thin any leftover tartar sauce with more lemon juice or vinegar, for a dressing that would love to be zig-zagged onto warm baby potatoes, crisp-watery lettuces, or a flaky fish. —Coral Lee
about 1/2 cup
roughly chopped cornichon pickles
roughly chopped capers
finely chopped dill
freshly squeezed lemon juice or white wine vinegar
Coral Lee is an Associate Editor at Food52. Before this, she cooked food solely for photos. Before that, she cooked food solely for customers. And before that, she shot lasers at frescoes in Herculaneum and taught yoga.
When she's not writing about or making food, she's thinking about it. Her Heritage Radio Network show, "Meant to be Eaten," explores cross-cultural exchange as afforded by food. You can follow her on Instagram @meanttobeeaten.