The origins of tartar sauce, as it is enjoyed today, trace back to a popular French beef dish called steak tartare. This dish was fashionable to eat in 19th century France. The French-inspired dish is based upon recipes for beef tartare, a dish created by the Tartars of Mongolia.
The Tartars are a people who conquered Europe in the days of Genghis Khan. The Tartars introduced Europeans to their style of cooking, which included beef dishes. The French added their own twists to dishes such as steak tartare, which they served with garnishes. One of these garnishes is the creamy white sauce that came to be known as tartar sauce. Modern versions are closely related to the classic French remoulade condiment.
There are several recipes for tartar sauce that use similar ingredients. The classic tartar sauce recipe combines mayonnaise, chopped dill pickle, chopped onion, capers, Dijon mustard and a dash of lemon juice. Some people prefer tangy or sweet tartar sauce, and there are recipes for both kinds. The tangy version combines mayonnaise, onion, dill pickle and dill pickle juice, along with celery salt and pepper. Top Secret Recipes offers a sweeter version made popular by Red Lobster. Sweet tartar sauce combines mayonnaise, minced onion, sweet pickle relish and sugar with chopped, and shredded, carrot.