When it comes to seafood, one of the best all-purpose seasonings is Old Bay Seasoning, and it can be found in almost every grocer. Just look for the bright, yellow, rectangular can in the spice section. This tartar sauce recipe is an update on everyone’s favourite fried fish condiment!
Last year, I posted my recipe for my Classic Homemade Tartar Sauce. The opening line of that post reads “nothing can beat a classic and this Classic Homemade Tartar Sauce is no exception!” Well, here I am eating my own words – almost!! As it turns out, nothing can beat a classic, but Old Bay Tartar Sauce comes pretty damn close!
I’m all for improvement and variation when it comes to recipes. As a home cook, there are many times that I see a recipe online or in a cookbook that I want to prepare. But, how many times does one have every ingredient needed to recreate the recipe exactly as its written? Seldom, I tell you! But, in many cases, I’ll make it anyway and just put my own spin on it.
Do I recommend doing that? Well, the answer is simple – yes and no. Let me explain. If you are a seasoned home cook, you already know your way around the kitchen well enough to make a substitution or change without completely ruining or compromising the recipe. If, however, you are just learning to cook, you should follow recipes to the letter – at least the first time you make it! Experience allows you the freedom to take the list of ingredients and cooking instructions as suggestions not commandments.
That’s just how I learned to cook. I would follow each step carefully in cookbooks. (This was before the internet!) And, when the Food Network debuted here in Canada back in the fall of 2000, I watched intently and learned techniques and terminology. Before long, I could bake and cook just about anything. Except rice, but that’s a story for another time!
HERE IS WHAT YOU NEED TO MAKE THIS RECIPE:
- Mayonnaise – Use good mayo, a brand you trust. You can use light or fat free.
- Sweet Pickle Relish – Bick’s is our go-to brand, but any sweet pickle relish will do. You can finely chop sweet pickles too.
- Vinegar – Regular white vinegar is too strong. Use red wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar.
- Old Bay Seasoning – This is the star of this recipe and is the flavour you want when all is said and done.
- Black Pepper – I like the extra warmth from the black pepper. You can skip it.
- Sugar – Weird, yes, but the sweetness offsets the acidity.
- Lemon Juice – Please, I beg you, use freshly squeezed lemon juice!
- Onion Powder – This completely optional! You can also use real onion. Some say that tartar sauce without finely diced onion is not tartar sauce. I don’t care for raw onion, so I never use it.
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 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 Old Bay Tartar Sauce all the time. Oftentimes, I buy the Kraft whenever I feel lazy or if I’m in a hurry.
YOU MUST USE FRESH LEMON!
Without sounding like a snob, there are a few ingredients in this Old Bay Tartar Sauce that should be brand name. The main ingredient is mayonnaise. Buy a good brand! I wouldn’t consider anything but Hellman’s. Some other good brands are Duke’s and Heinz. Never, under any circumstance, think that Miracle Whip is mayonnaise. It is not!
Unlike my classic tartar sauce, this version is sweeter. I don’t use dill or dill pickles in this one, but I do use a little bit of sugar and sweet pickle relish. Don’t worry, the sauce will not be too sweet. The lemon juice and Old Bay Seasoning make sure of that!
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. 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.
OLD BAY SEASONING
Here’s a bit of trivia for you. Did you know that Old Bay Seasoning was developed by a German immigrant to Maryland, US, in 1939? Fresh crab was so popular to the area that local bars used to cook them up and give them to their patrons for free – kinda like some bars nowadays with bowls of peanuts. Well, to encourage patrons to buy more drinks at the bar, the seasoning blend was invented by Gustav Brunn with excess amounts of salt; the more seasoned crab patrons ate, the thirstier they became!
The seasoning mix includes mustard, paprika, celery salt, bay leaf, black pepper, crushed red pepper flakes, mace, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, cardamom, and ginger. The seasoning is mostly used to season crab and shrimp, but it can also be used in chowders and stews.
LEFTOVER TARTAR SAUCE
We love sauce! Actually, let me correct that. McKenna and I love sauce, but John.e is more of a purist. He will use just a little bit when he does, but McKenna and I like to slather things in sauce. We are dippers, that’s for sure! Usually, there’s very little left to be honest!
In the case that there is, you can keep it in the fridge for 5-7 days. Just be sure to put it in a food-safe jar with a tight lid. Otherwise, you can use it up in or on other recipes. It’s been a long time since I’ve had leftover tartar sauce, but now that McKenna is going off to university, I just might!
Try using leftover Old Bay Tartar Sauce on a baked potato instead of regular butter or sour cream. It’s delicious! You can also use it as a spread of your sandwich instead of just regular mayonnaise. Also, believe it or not, tartar sauce is so good with fries or onion rings! Give the ketchup a break! I’m sure there are a million things you can do with it, but if all else fails, use it as a chip dip with regular ruffles. Don’t knock it until you try it!
Old Bay Tartar Sauce
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- 1/4 cup sweet pickle relish
- 2 teaspoons Old Bay Seasoning
- 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 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.