I was seriously thinking of having a chip shop in my next Moss Reid novel. An ever-so-slightly more upmarket chipper though. You know the kind of joint. With wine vinegar instead of malt vinegar paintstripper for the fish and chips, mushy peas made from scratch with fresh mint, and large plastic retro tomato-shaped dispensers with real homemade tomato ketchup. Oh yeah, and freshly made tartare sauce.
Fresh sauce tartare is slowly but surely making a comeback on the tables of our gastropubs. It’s quick and easy to make, brimming with flavours, a perfect companion to grilled or fried fish and lots more. Not quite “cheffy” but very Moss Reidy, in other words.
If you buy it in jars you are lining the pockets of the evil food capitalists and you’re missing out on one of life’s simple little pleasures.
Take good old scampi with tartare sauce. One of the great done-to-death classics of the prawn cocktail years, which thoroughly deserves a comeback – classics always do.
Dublin Bay prawns. In a light, crisp, thin (did anyone mention tempura?) batter or even breadcrumbs. With a ramekin of fresh tartare sauce.
You’ll need the following ingredients, all rough measures of course…
- a garlic clove
- 1 teaspoon of gherkins
- 1 teaspoon of capers
- 1 tablespoon of fresh parsley
- 4 tablespoons of mayonnaise
(OK, the mayonnaise doesn’t have to be homemade. I’m not that purist. There’s no point in making gallons of mayo just for a “quickie” dip for two or three people; a jar of Hellmann’s is fine here.)
Crush the garlic clove, chop it very finely. Some people rinse the gherkins and capers if they seem too vinegary/salty, but let’s live in the fast lane.
Roughly chop the gherkins, capers and parsley. Chop them a little more if you want a finer mix. Add everything to the mayo, give it all a good stir, season with black pepper to taste. You won’t need salt because of the capers (in particular).
Tartare sauce is very versatile – try adding ingredients such as:
- A finely chopped shallot
- Chopped dill, tarragon and/or chives
- A squeeze of lemon
- A splash of Tabasco
- Some finely chopped green olives (for some reason black don’t seem to work as well)
- A hint of Dijon mustard
But why stop at fish or shellfish? Elizabeth David’s French Provincial Cooking has tartare sauce with pieds de porc panés (grilled pigs’ trotters). She even has a dish from Lyon called tablier de sapeur (fireman’s apron). The city is often called the French capital of gastronomy, so stop sniggering at the back of the class.
This dish is – wait for it – an oblong slab of cooked tripe that you coat with egg and breadcrumbs, grill “to a sizzling crispiness” and serve with sauce tartare.
Ms David writes: “No tripe enthusiast, I ordered it simply out of curiosity, and found it really enjoyable.”
What did the Tartars ever do…?
So the next time somebody asks you “What did the Tartars ever give us?”, you can explain that as the fierce Mongol horsemen swept across the great plains in the days of Gengis Kahn, they brought their steak tartare and their fabulous tartare sauce, which of course in those days would only be freshly made, from the finest of fresh ingredients, as they rode along at breakneck speed.
Yeah, let’s live on the culinary edge. If the Tartars were able to perch a chopping board on their laps and do all this while cantering through eastern Europe, there’s no reason why you can’t rustle up the stuff at a more leisurely pace in the comfort of your own home.