Homemade Tartar sauce

This homemade tartar sauce recipe takes 5 minutes to whip up, is 1000X better than store-bought and elevates your favorite seafood and more to next level YUM!

Once you learn how to make this easy tartar sauce recipe, you’ll never use jarred again!  Its bright, creamy tanginess instantly elevates the humblest seafood such as fish sticks and fish and chips, but it’s also extraordinary on veggies, baked potatoes, sandwiches and more.  Best of all, this tartar sauce is incredibly simple to make with just a few pantry friendly ingredients in 5 minutes! You probably have everything you need to whip up this recipe right now such as mayonnaise, pickles, mustard, lemon juice, and herbs.  It’s also make-ahead friendly and keeps for up to a week.  So, ditch the store-bought jar for this homemade tartar sauce that’s 1000X better!

For more must-have sauces and dips, check out my recipes for BBQ sauce, tzatziki, hummus, guacamole, roasted red pepper sauce, chimichurri sauce, and horseradish sauce.

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how to make tartar sauce video

showing how to serve homemade tartar sauce by dipping a fish stick in the sauce

what is tartar sauce?

Tartar sauce belongs in your culinary back pocket because it’s not only DELICIOUS, but so easy! Tartar sauce is a rich, creamy, tangy condiment typically served cold made of mayonnaise, chopped pickles (gherkins in the UK), capers, lemon juice and herbs such as dill, chives, tarragon and/or parsley. Some variations include olives, onions or shallots and apple cider vinegar.

Tartar sauce is most often served as a side for dipping fried seafood such as crab cakes, fish and chips, fish sticks, fried shrimp, fried clams, fried calamari and fried oysters.  It is also tasty with a variety of other dishes such as vegetables, sandwiches and even grilled chicken.

tartar SAUCE RECIPE

Tartar sauce is my must-have dipping sauce for fish sticks (homemade recipe coming soon!), crab cakes and fish and chips.  I also love it with simple lemon garlic salmon, vegetables, grilled chicken (especially Greek chicken), and cream cheese and smoked salmon on baguettes (or bagels). 

So, if you’re not a fan of tartar sauce (yet), it’s probably because you’ve only tried the jarred stuff from the store.  This easy homemade recipe will blow you away!  It’s:

  • Delicious:  luxuriously creamy, tangy, and herbaceous laced with salty briny notes
  • Elevates any dish: brightens everything from seafood to veggies, to wraps with a rich, tangy pop of flavor
  • Easy to make:  takes less than 5 minutes to whisk the ingredients together
  • Versatile: make it just how you like it, more or less tangy, briny, dill-y, etc.
  • Make ahead friendly: tastes better with time and lasts up to a week
up closer of tartar sauce recipe in a bowl showing how creamy it is with diced pickles

tartar SAUCE INGREDIENTS

The ingredients for this easy homemade tartar sauce are minimal and pantry friendly if you use dried herbs.  You will need:

  • Sour cream:  Typically, mayonnaise is the base of tartar sauce, but I like to use half sour cream so the sauce is sensationally, creamy and lighter. You can use full fat or reduced fat, but full fat will taste more indulgent.
  • Mayonnaise:  Mayo is used in sauces because it binds the ingredients together and prevents them from separating. Please use real mayonnaise and not Miracle Whip.  
  • Pickles:  Finely chopped pickles add the subtle crunch and a salty brininess. I recommend dill pickles for their balanced complexity of salty, sour, vinegar and dill flavorings but you can use your favorite variety.  You can go with fresh pickles like Grillo’s found in the refrigerated section that retain a lot of that refreshing cucumber taste or go with jarred.  For the crunchiest pickles according to a study by Taste of Home, go with Milwaukee’s Kosher Dill Pickles and for the most complex flavor, go with Boar’s Head Kosher Dill Pickles.
  • Capers: Are optional if you don’t keep them on hand but highly recommended for the best tartar sauce.  Capers are actually flower buds imported from Italy that have been brined to mellow their bitterness.  The resulting brined capers are tangy, salty, lemony doses of FLAVOR.  They add both acid and salt which intensify the flavor of the sauce and elevate it to new heights. As always, you can add more or less to taste.
  • Lemon: Brightens and lightens the sauce with fabulous fresh, tangy, flavor and thins it to the ideal dipping consistency.  Fresh is always best but you may use bottled.
  • Dill:  Use 1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill or 1 teaspoon dried.  Dill bolsters the sauce with deliciously fresh, citrus, anise-like notes with a slightly grassy, sweet undertone.  
  • Chives: Tastes like mild onions with a hint of garlic but they are actually classified as an herb verses an onion.  When purchasing chives, look for plump green stems without brown spots or wilting.  If you skip the chives, add ¼ teaspoon onion powder.
  • Dijon mustard: Adds a tangy depth to round out the flavors but will not make the sauce taste like mustard!
  • Seasonings:  Garlic powder, salt, pepper awaken all the flavors.  Use more or less to taste.
showing ingredients in tartar sauce by adding mayonnaise, diced pickle, diced capers, chopped dill, and lemon juice to a white bowl

RECIPE substitutions and VARIATIONS

This tartar sauce recipe is incredibly versatile. Here are a few ideas for mixing up the ingredients based on necessity or personal preference:

  • Use different pickles: For a sweeter style, try bread and butter or sweet pickles instead of dill.
  • Use relish:  Swap the chopped pickles for relish instead.
  • Make it lighter: Swap the mayonnaise for light mayo and the sour cream for Greek yogurt.  You can also use all Greek yogurt. 
  • Swap in olives: Use finely chopped pimento-stuffed green olives in place of the capers.
  • Make it lemony:  As written, the sauce is brightened by the lemon juice but it doesn’t taste lemony.  If you want more of a citrus kick, add lemon zest and additional lemon juice to taste.
  • Use apple cider vinegar:  If you don’t have lemon juice on hand, try using apple cider vinegar or you can use a combination of lemon juice and apple cider vinegar.
  • Add onions:  Swap the chives for finely minced shallot or green onions.
  • Mix up the herbs:  Add additional herbs or swap some of the herbs for tarragon or parsley.
  • Mix up the seasonings:  Depending on what the sauce is being served with, you can add some pizzaz with Cajun seasonings, Old Bay seasoning, Italian seasonings, etc.
  • Worcestershire sauce: Add 1-2 teaspoons for an umami, sweet and tangy blast.
  • Spice it up:  Add a pinch of cayenne or a few drops Tabasco sauce.
  • Make it vegan:  Swap the mayonnaise and sour cream for a vegan kind like Vegenaise to fit your needs.
  • Keep it keto: Tartar sauce is already low carb, but if you’re following a keto diet, be sure to use mayonnaise that is free of soybean oil such as avocado oil mayo.  Make sure to use dill pickles as opposed to sweet pickles.

HOW TO MAKE tartar SAUCE

Are you ready to see just how easy this homemade tartar sauce is to make?!  (Full recipe with measurements in the recipe card at the bottom of the post.)

  • Step 1: Prep ingredients.  Finely chop the pickle, capers, chives and dill.
  • Step 2: Mix everything together.  Whisk together the mayonnaise, sour cream, chopped pickles, capers, lemon juice, chives, dill, Dijon, garlic powder, salt and pepper.
  • Step 3: Chill.  Time permitting, chill the tartar in the sauce for 30 minutes before serving.
showing how to make tartar sauce by mixing all of the ingredients in a bowl until smooth

Recipe Tips

  • Adjust to taste.  This recipe is so incredibly simple, you really can’t mess it up!  The only way it won’t taste right is if you don’t play with it to make it right for you.  Feel free to add more or fewer pickles, capers, lemon juice, dill, etc. to your taste.
  • Chop ingredients finely.  Finely chopped ingredients disperse more evenly throughout the sauce.   
  • Chill in the fridge.  Refrigerate the sauce for at least 30 minutes before serving so the flavors have a chance to meld together, even better if overnight!

how long is tartar sauce good for?

Store tartar sauce in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 7 days.

What to Serve with Tartar Sauce?

Tartar sauce is traditionally served with fried seafood dishes like crab cakes and fish and chips but its creamy kick is surprisingly versatile and can be used from anything from fish, to vegetables to eggs.  Here are just a few of our favorite ways to enjoy this homemade tartar sauce:

top view of showing tartar sauce recipe served with fish sticks

Tartar Sauce Commonly Asked Questions

What is tartar sauce usually made of?

Tartar sauce is a condiment typically served with seafood made with mayonnaise, pickles, capers, lemon juice, and herbs such as dill, chives and parsley.

What does tartar sauce taste like?

Tartar sauce is a savory, tangy, slightly briny condiment.  It’s creamy from the mayonnaise with a subtle crunch from the finely chopped pickle, flavored with bright lemony tanginess from the lemon juice, salty brininess from the capers, more salty briny, dilly flavor from the pickle and fresh, citrus, with a slightly grassy undertone from the dill. 

Of course, tartar sauce can be adapted to suite your personal taste, making it more savory, briny, tart or tangy depending on the amount of ingredients you add.  The introduction or omission of herbs such as dill, tarragon and parsley will also impact the overall flavor.  You can make a tartar sauce that tastes differently every time!

Why do they call it tartar sauce?

Tartar sauce is thought to be named after the Tatars, (ancient spelling of French ethnic group Tartare) who settled in the Ukraine and parts of Russia.  Tartars essentially introduced the idea of eating raw, finely minced meat, “steak tartare,” with a sauce that went on to be called tartar sauce.

What goes well with tartar sauce?

Tartar sauce pairs excellently with seafood, notably fried seafood such as crab cakes, fish and chips, fish sticks, fried shrimp and fried oysters.  However, it is also a delicious on fish sandwiches, burgers, fried pickles, fried chicken or chicken tenders and we particularly love it with cream cheese and smoked salmon on baguettes (or bagels).  It is also delicious on lighter fare such as vegetables, grilled chicken and grilled or pan-fried salmon.  

What is a good substitute for tartar sauce?

Tartar sauce can be made with lighter substitutes such as nonfat sour cream or Greek yogurt in place of the mayonnaise.  In place of the pickles, mix in 3 tablespoons of pickle relish for every ½ cup creamy base. In place of capers, use chopped pimento-stuffed green olives.

Why is tartar sauce with fish?

Tartar sauce is a favorite condiment for fish because its creamy, tangy, briny flavor cuts through the richness of the fried seafood while enhancing the natural fish flavor.  Its smooth creaminess also compliments the crunchy, crispy texture.

Is there gluten in tartar sauce?

Tartar sauce should be gluten free, made with mayonnaise, chopped pickles, capers, lemon juice and dill.  However, those following a gluten-free diet should always double check ingredient labels to ensure the ingredients are certified gluten free.

Is remoulade sauce like tartar sauce?

What is the difference between tartar sauce and remoulade?  Tartar sauce and remoulade share many similar ingredients such as mayonnaise. pickles, capers and lemon juice, however, Louisiana-style remoulade includes additional ingredients and spices such as Cajun seasoning, mustard, ketchup, garlic, horseradish, and hot sauce. It’s like tartar sauce steroids.

tartar sauce recipe on a platter with fish sticks

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showing how to serve homemade tartar sauce by dipping a fish stick in the sauce

Tartar Sauce

Once you learn how to make this easy tartar sauce recipe, you'll never use jarred again!  Its bright, creamy tanginess instantly elevates the humblest seafood such as fish sticks (check out my oven/air fryer recipe!) and fish and chips, but it’s also extraordinary on veggies, baked potatoes, sandwiches and more.  Best of all, this tartar sauce recipe is incredibly simple to make with just a few pantry friendly ingredients that you probably have on hand right now such as mayonnaise, pickles, mustard, lemon juice, and herbs.  It’s also make-ahead friendly and keeps for up to a week.  So, ditch the store-bought jar for this homemade tartar sauce that’s 1000X better!
Servings: 1 cup
Prep Time: 5 mins

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Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped dill pickle (or relish)
  • 2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, plus more to taste
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped capers
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons chopped chives or ¼ tsp onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill or 1 teaspoon dried
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/8 tsp EACH salt, pepper, plus more to taste

Instructions

  • Mix all of the ingredients together in a medium bowl.
  • Cover and refrigerate until ready to use, preferable 30 minutes for the best flavor. When ready to use, taste and adjust to taste if desired with additional lemon juice, capers, pickles, salt or pepper. The only way it won’t taste right is if you don’t play with it to make it right for you. 
  • Storage: Keep, tightly covered, in the refrigerator for up to 7 days.

Video

Notes

Ingredient substitutions and variations

This tartar sauce recipe is incredibly versatile. Here are a few ideas for mixing up the ingredients based on necessity or personal preference:
  • Use different pickles: For a sweeter style, try bread and butter or sweet pickles instead of dill.
  • Make it lighter: Swap the mayonnaise for light mayo and the sour cream for Greek yogurt.  You can also use all Greek yogurt. 
  • Swap in olives: Use finely chopped pimento-stuffed green olives in place of the capers.
  • Make it lemony:  As written, the sauce is brightened by the lemon juice but it doesn’t taste lemony.  If you want more of a citrus kick, add lemon zest and additional lemon juice to taste.
  • Use apple cider vinegar:  If you don’t have lemon juice on hand, try using apple cider vinegar or you can use a combination of lemon juice and apple cider vinegar.
  • Add onions:  Swap the chives for finely minced shallot or green onions.
  • Mix up the herbs:  Add additional herbs or swap some of the herbs for tarragon or parsley.
  • Mix up the seasonings:  Depending on what the sauce is being served with, you can add some pizzaz with Cajun seasonings, Old Bay seasoning, Italian seasonings, etc.
  • Worcestershire sauce: Add 1-2 teaspoons for an umami, sweet and tangy blast.
  • Spice it up:  Add a pinch of cayenne or a few drops Tabasco sauce.
  • Make it vegan:  Swap the mayonnaise and sour cream for a vegan kind like Vegenaise to fit your needs.
  • Keep it keto: Tartar sauce is already low carb, but if you’re following a keto diet, be sure to use mayonnaise that is free of soybean oil such as avocado oil mayo.  Make sure to use dill pickles as opposed to sweet pickles.

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6 Comments

  1. Michelle says

    Looks delicious! Going to wait to make it with those yummy looking fish sticks? you are dipping in the picture! (Wonder if those fish sticks could be baked or air fried??) Sorry, got off track from the tartar sauce!

    • Jen says

      Yes!!! Baked or air fried fish sticks coming this week!

    • Jen says

      I’ve discussed it in detain in the post ;). It’s a staple ingredient in tartar sauce.

  2. Jakalyn says

    Hello Jen,
    This sauce is delicious! I’m going to let it sit in the fridge overnight and serve with crab cakes tomorrow. Simple to prepare, creamy, and just the right amount of tang.
    Thank you for sharing yet another wonderful recipe.
    Best, Jakalyn

    • Jen says

      Thank you so much Jakalyn, that is awesome you made it already! It is going to be divine with your crab cakes!

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