Tartar sauce is a beloved condiment that has been a staple on seafood dishes for generations. But have you ever wondered where this tangy and creamy sauce originated?
The history of tartar sauce is shrouded in mystery and legends, with various theories about its origins. From the Tatar horsemen of Central Asia to the French Sauce Tartare, the story of tartar sauce is as fascinating as it is delicious.
In this article, we will explore the different theories about the origin of tartar sauce and how it evolved into the beloved condiment we know today.
So sit back, grab a plate of fish and chips, and let’s dive into the history of tartar sauce!
Where Did Tartar Sauce Originated?
The origin of tartar sauce is a topic of much debate among food historians. One theory suggests that it was first created by the Tatar horsemen of Central Asia, who were known for consuming raw horse meat. According to legend, they would place slices of raw horse meat under their saddles to be pounded and softened by a day’s riding, resulting in meat that was soft enough to eat in the evening. However, this story is likely a myth and historians now believe that it arose from a misunderstanding by early European travelers of the Mongols’ use of horse meat as a treatment for saddle sores.
Another theory suggests that tartar sauce originated in France as Sauce Tartare. The name “tartar” is believed to have an etymological origin with the Tatars, a group of people from Western Russia and Turkey. Legend has it that they ate roughly shredded meat in order to make the tough protein more palatable, which could be the origins of the more refined French classic. The name tartar sauce also bears a resemblance to tarator sauce, a nut or tahini-based sauce that is popular in many Middle Eastern cuisines and is also used to dress fish and other meats.
Tartar sauce as we know it today evolved from the original French Sauce Tartare and became commercially available in the 1920s once Hellman’s introduced their jarred version to shelves. It is now a mainstay of the condiment aisle and is most often served with seafood dishes such as fish and chips, fish sandwiches, fish fingers, fried oysters, and calamari.
The Tatar Horsemen Theory
The Tatar horsemen theory suggests that the name “tartar” sauce comes from the Tatar horsemen of Central Asia, who were known for consuming raw horse meat. It is believed that they would place slices of raw horse meat under their saddles to be pounded and softened by a day’s riding, resulting in meat that was soft enough to eat in the evening. However, this story is likely a myth and historians now believe that it arose from a misunderstanding by early European travelers of the Mongols’ use of horse meat as a treatment for saddle sores.
Despite this, the legend of the Tatar horsemen lives on and it is believed that they may have influenced the creation of beef tartare, which is made from raw beef instead of horse meat. This dish was a French invention that showed up on menus at the start of the 20th century and was often served with a raw egg yolk on top. Tartar sauce was first mentioned as an accompaniment for beef tartare and the dish is said to have received its name from the sauce, not the other way around.
While it is unlikely that the Tatars ever made or consumed Tartar sauce, their reputation for consuming raw meat may have inspired the confusing name. The actual origin of tartar sauce is found in France as Sauce Tartare, which evolved into the version we know today with mayonnaise, chopped pickles and/or relish, capers, and herbs such as tarragon and dill. Despite its storied past and multiple theories about its origins, tartar sauce remains a popular condiment for seafood dishes around the world.
The French Sauce Tartare Theory
One of the most popular theories regarding the origin of tartar sauce is that it was first created in France as Sauce Tartare. This theory suggests that the name “tartar” has an etymological origin with the Tatars, a group of people from Western Russia and Turkey. It is believed that they ate roughly shredded meat to make the tough protein more palatable, which could have been the inspiration for the more refined French Sauce Tartare.
The French Sauce Tartare was first mentioned in French cookbooks from the 19th century as an accompaniment to beef tartare. Historians believe that the word “tartar” may have originated from the Tatars, who once occupied Ukraine and parts of Russia. However, it is important to note that this theory is not universally accepted and remains a topic of debate among food historians.
Regardless of its true origins, tartar sauce has become a popular condiment around the world. The modern version of tartar sauce is mainly made from mayonnaise with pickles, capers, herbs, and in some recipes, hard-boiled eggs or lemon juice. The recipes differ in different places to accommodate individual tastes and preferences. Tartar sauce is most often served with seafood dishes such as fish and chips, fish sandwiches, fish fingers, fried oysters, and calamari.
Evolution Of Tartar Sauce
Over time, the recipe for tartar sauce has evolved to accommodate individual tastes and preferences. The basic ingredients for tartar sauce include mayonnaise, chopped pickles and/or relish, capers, and herbs such as tarragon and dill. However, some recipes call for the addition of hard-boiled eggs or lemon juice to give the sauce a creamier texture and tangier flavor. Other variations of the sauce include the addition of olives or other varieties of herbs.
Tartar sauce is most commonly used as a condiment for seafood dishes such as fish and chips, fish sandwiches, and fried oysters. However, it can also be enjoyed with other foods such as pita bread, chips, and roasted vegetables. It has become a popular condiment due to its creamy texture and zingy taste.
The commercial availability of tartar sauce in the 1920s made it easier for people to enjoy the condiment without having to make it from scratch. Today, tartar sauce is readily available in grocery stores and is a staple in many households. Its popularity has led to the creation of National Tartar Sauce Day, which is celebrated every Friday after Lent starts to pay tribute to this beloved condiment.
Popular Uses Of Tartar Sauce Today
Tartar sauce has become a staple condiment in many households and restaurants around the world. Its creamy texture and tangy flavor make it a perfect accompaniment to a variety of dishes, not just seafood. Here are some popular uses of tartar sauce today:
1. As a dip: Tartar sauce is often used as a dip for fried foods such as chicken tenders, onion rings, and mozzarella sticks. Its tangy flavor helps cut through the greasiness of the fried foods, making it a perfect pairing.
2. As a spread: Tartar sauce can be used as a spread on sandwiches and burgers instead of traditional condiments like ketchup or mayo. It adds an extra layer of flavor and creaminess to the sandwich.
3. As a salad dressing: Tartar sauce can be thinned out with some lemon juice or vinegar to create a delicious salad dressing. It pairs well with greens, tomatoes, and cucumbers.
4. As a marinade: Tartar sauce can be used as a marinade for meats such as chicken or pork. The acidity in the sauce helps tenderize the meat while adding flavor.
5. As a sauce for vegetables: Tartar sauce can be used as a dipping sauce for roasted or grilled vegetables such as zucchini, eggplant, and bell peppers. It adds a burst of flavor to the veggies and makes them more enjoyable to eat.
Homemade Tartar Sauce Recipe
If you’re a fan of tartar sauce and want to try making it at home, here’s a simple recipe to follow:
– 1 cup mayonnaise
– 2 tablespoons chopped dill pickle
– 1 tablespoon capers, drained and chopped
– 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
– 1 tablespoon chopped shallot or onion
– 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
– 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
– Salt and pepper to taste
1. In a small bowl, combine the mayonnaise, dill pickle, capers, parsley, shallot or onion, Dijon mustard, and lemon juice.
2. Mix well until all the ingredients are evenly distributed.
3. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
4. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour before serving.
This homemade tartar sauce recipe is easy to make and can be customized to your liking. You can adjust the amount of pickles, capers, or herbs based on your taste preferences. It’s perfect for adding a tangy kick to your seafood dishes or as a dip for your favorite snacks. Give it a try and impress your guests with your homemade tartar sauce!