Tartar sauce is based on either mayonnaise (egg yolk, mustard or vinegar, oil) or aioli (egg yolk,
|Tartar sauce is often served with fried seafood|
The sauce and its name have been found in cookbooks since the 19th century. The name derives from the French sauce tartare, named after the Tatars (Ancient spelling in French of the ethnic group: Tartare) from the Eurasian Steppe, who once occupied Ukraine and parts of Russia. Beyond this, the etymology is unclear.
An idea of what people in the nineteenth century meant by naming something "tartar" can be found in a recipe of Isabella Beeton in "The Book of Household Management" of 1861, recipe no. 481, "Tartar mustard", made of horseradish vinegar, cayenne and ordinary mustard. In her recipe no. 503, "Remoulade, or French Salad-Dressing", she describes a preparation with tarragon that can hardly be identified with a Remoulade as standardized by Auguste Escoffier forty years later or as it is considered today. But she explains that the tarragon for her recipe of "Green Remoulade" comes originally from Tartary. In the days of Tsarism, the Russian properties in Asia south of Siberia were frequently called Tartary, especially when an exotic undertone was intended. Sauce Tartare might be a descriptive term for a tarragon mayonnaise named after the origin of the so-called Russian tarragon, which actually is rarely used for culinary purposes.
In 1903 Auguste Escoffier gave a recipe for Sauce Remoulade (Rec. No. 130) with both mustard and anchovy essence, but he used only the term Sauce Tartare for it in the rest of the book. This is still common use in Austria and former Austrian regions like Bohemia, where Sauce Remoulade and Sauce Tartare are synonyms on restaurant menus. The German dictionary "Langenscheidt, Maxi-Wörterbuch English, 120.000 Phrases of 2002" identifies Tartar(e) Sauce as Remouladensosse.
In the early era of the Haute Cuisine from about 1890 to the outbreak of World War I in 1914 minced filet of beef was dressed with Sauce Tartare and served raw as Boeuf Tartare or steak tartare with regard to the sauce's name. Between the World Wars, until today, it came into fashion to serve the dish with regard to the raw unprocessed meat just with the unprocessed ingredients of the sauce.
In fact, the Tatars have nothing to do with the sauce or raw beef steaks. Especially in the Haute Cuisine era, dish names were frequently selected from contemporary, fashionable, public issues to gain attention.