The point of tartare sauce has always been to provide a piquant contrast to the mild-tasting food it accompanies. In one knife-sharp hit, this sauce of mayonnaise, gherkins, mustard and capers continually sharpens an appetite that would soon be dulled by mouthful after mouthful of crumbed or battered food. Traditionally the sauce exists to put some much-needed spark into fried or crumbed fish, lamb cutlets or sweetbreads. After years of service in the dented sauceboats of hotel dining rooms, tartare made its bid for wider appreciation with the 70s pub lunch of scampi in the basket. But history has not been kind to our classic accompaniments and this one is in danger of going the way of true salad cream.
2 egg yolks
1 tsp Dijon mustard
250ml groundnut oil
250ml olive oil
juice of ½ a lemon
1 tbsp chopped tarragon
1 tbsp rinsed capers
1 tbsp chopped gherkins
2 tbsp chopped parsley
- Make a mayonnaise by mixing 2 egg yolks, 1 tsp of Dijon mustard and a little salt and black pepper, then slowly whisk in 250ml each of groundnut oil and olive oil, a little at a time. Thin slightly with the juice of half a lemon. Stir in 1 tbsp each of chopped tarragon, rinsed capers and chopped gherkins, plus 2 tbsp of chopped parsley. Check the seasoning – you want it to be piquant, but not acidic.
- The trick is in finding the correct balance of piquancy and creamy blandness. Too much vinegar or lemon in the mayonnaise and the result will be harsh; too few capers or gherkins and the essential piquancy – and therefore the point – will be lost. It is this sharpness that cuts through the greasiness of the fried breadcrumbs or batter and allows us to continue eating. Stint on the gherkins or capers, or miss one out, and you will have a sauce that is too sweet to perform its function. While the exact ratio is a matter of taste, the sauce needs an unmistakable tang.
- The late Robert Carrier had a version using soured cream instead of mayonnaise, to which he added the usual gherkins, parsley and capers but finished with crushed dried chilli. I shake a little Tabasco into mine while others stir in a little Worcestershire sauce. I often use crème fraîche in lieu of mayonnaise. The lactic quality of the cream is a supremely successful modern twist on classic mayonnaise.
- Total time: 1 hr
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