Nothing can beat a classic and this Classic Homemade Tartar Sauce is no exception! It’s the dill pickles and fresh lemon juice that make this sauce so delicious!
Would you believe that I never tasted tartar sauce until I was a young adult? Nope! Contrary to what one might think, tartar sauce was not something I can ever remember being on the table when I was a kid.
I grew up in a mainly fishing town in Newfoundland. Fish was everywhere! And, my family was no stranger to it at all. My dad worked in a fish processing plant for many, many years. And, my mom would prepare all types of fish for meals.
I’m not going to say that I loved eating all of that fish. In fact, I can remember many times sitting at the table and being yelled at, because I wouldn’t eat what was set before me. Unlike most kids today, we didn’t get options at mealtime.
Oftentimes, fresh fish wasn’t on the menu, which was always my preference. My mom would prepare fish that I hated. Any fish that was salted, smoked, or dried was disgusting. There were only two exceptions – dried capelin and dried squid!
If fresh fish was being served, I was all in! My mom used to make the absolute best deep fried battered cod. Pan fried salmon with pork scrunchions and potatoes was delicious! I couldn’t get enough stuffed baked squid!
Shellfish – no thanks!
But, with such an abundance of fish, there was one type of seafood my mom would never prepare – shellfish. We never had crab, lobster, oysters, mussels, or shrimp. I can only remember eating lobster once before the age of 20. And that was prepared at a friend’s house!
To this day, I can count on one hand how many times I’ve eaten crab, lobster, or shrimp. And, I’ve never tried oysters. I’ve tried mussels once, but couldn’t swallow it. Shellfish is not my thing and I totally blame my mother!
The point of all of this is to tell you that we had a good supply of fish. And, even though that fish was served many ways, tartar sauce never once found its way to our table.
My introduction to tartar sauce!
It wasn’t until I was at that age when I’d go out to eat with friends that I discovered tartar sauce. Right after college, I found myself working in a financial firm. Right up the street was a fish and chip joint. It was common for the entire office to order fish and chips for lunch on Fridays.
The fish and chips were packed into this cardboard boxes with a slice of lemon and two packets of Kraft tartar sauce. I can remember the first time I tasted it. Every time we ordered fish and chips after that, I always asked for extra tartar!
That stuff is good, but fast forward a few years later and I found myself at another fish and chip place in Kitchener, Ontario, called Granny Bonn’s. Their tartar sauce was made right there in their small kitchen. Immediately, I was determined to make my own tartar sauce, because it was so much better.
Now, I confess, I don’t make my own all the time. Oftentimes, I buy the Kraft whenever I feel lazy or if I’m in a hurry. But, homemade is the best way to go and my Classic Homemade Tartar Sauce beats them all!
Fresh lemon is key!
Without sounding like a snob, there are a few ingredients in this Classic Homemade Tartar Sauce that should be brand name. The main ingredient is mayonnaise. Buy a good brand! I wouldn’t consider anything but Hellman’s.
It’s up to you to choose the dill pickles that you normally buy. Some dills are too dilly, but if that floats your boat, get those kind! For us, there’s only one brand of dills that we buy and have never bought any other brand for the past 7 years. They’re the Bick’s Polskie Ogorki. They have just the right amount of dill-salt-garlic ratio and they’re always crunchy.
You may be tempted to use that store-bought lemon juice that everyone seems to have in their fridge. But, don’t do it! Buy just one fresh lemon – that’s all you need! It will make a world of difference in this sauce.
Mayonnaise is heavy. Dill pickles are salty and briny. You need the fresh lemon juice to add zing and freshness. Otherwise, the sauce tastes like what you can buy in a bottle at the store.
I’ve talked way too much in this post! The recipe is below. It’s safe to double, triple or even halve the recipe. If you want more onion flavour, add extra onion powder. If you want less dill flavour, cut back on the dill pickles and/or juice.
I describe this sauce as being classic, but it’s classic for me. Adjust, taste, and adjust again. Make it classic for you! After all, that’s what cooking at home is all about!
Classic Homemade Tartar Sauce
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- 1/4 cup finely chopped dill pickles
- 1 tablespoon dill pickle juice
- 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
- Place all ingredients into a mixing bowl and whisk together all of the ingredients until well combined.
- Cover and refrigerate for 1-2 hours before serving.