Tartar sauce began as an accompaniment for beef tartare and was originally made with hard-boiled egg yolks, vinegar, and oil. The modern version is a simpler sauce made with mayonnaise and relish or pickles. It is a popular condiment for fried seafood and is sometimes used as a dipping sauce for fries or vegetables. If you don’t have any on hand, you can try one of the tartar sauce substitutes we have below.
Your best bet: Homemade tartar sauce
A basic tartar sauce recipe requires only a few ingredients: mayonnaise, chopped sweet pickles or relish, and lemon juice. Optional ingredients include onion, mustard, and capers. Some recipes also call for herbs like dill and parsley. The combination of these ingredients will give you the flavor profile, consistency, and appearance that you want from tartar sauce.
If you want a healthier option, you can substitute nonfat Greek yogurt for all or part of the mayonnaise component. Greek yogurt has a similar texture and appearance to mayonnaise and has a mildly tart taste that can replace mayonnaise’s acidic tang.
To make tartar sauce, simply measure out the ingredients and combine them, no cooking required.
A decent second choice: Aioli
Aioli is an emulsion similar to mayonnaise. Some people consider mayonnaise and aioli to be the same thing and use the terms aioli and mayonnaise interchangeably. Its similarity to mayonnaise is what makes it a good tartar sauce substitute.
That said, mayonnaise and aioli are not exactly the same. Even though it is an emulsion and has a creamy mayonnaise-like consistency, traditional aioli does not contain egg yolks. Instead, it is made with a combination of oil and garlic. Instead of having a neutral creamy mayonnaise base like tartar sauce, it has a more garlicky one.
Aioli is flexible so you can add any of your preferred seasonings to it and convert it to something similar to tartar sauce. Keep in mind that the flavor of garlic is one of the characteristics that define an aioli so any seasonings you add should pair well with garlic. Options include adding dill and lemon zest to your aioli tartar sauce if you plan on serving it with seafood.
In a pinch: Cocktail sauce
Cocktail sauce is arguably the second most popular condiment for seafood after tartar sauce. Its recipe is a little simpler than the tartar sauce recipe. The main ingredients are ketchup and horseradish, to which seasonings like lemon juice and Worcestershire sauce are sometimes added. It provides acidity and sweetness from the ketchup and lemon juice along with mild heat from the horseradish.
Cocktail sauce can work as a dipping sauce for steamed or fried shellfish — usually, shrimp or oysters — while tartar sauce is usually reserved for fried seafood.
Horseradish is the main ingredient in cocktail sauce and is responsible for most of its flavor. You can use horseradish by itself as a condiment or mix it with some lemon juice to thin it out and make it into a dipping sauce for fried seafood.
Hummus has very little in common with tartar sauce in terms of ingredients, but it will provide the creamy texture and fat content that can complement seafood or vegetables. Hummus also contains lemon juice, which allows it to provide a mildly acidic citrus flavor.