Tartar Sauce

Rick Cooks Home Frisch's Tartar Sauce

Years before McDonald's hit the scene, there was Frisch's.

Dave Frisch, who took over a well-established but conventional restaurant business from his dad in Cincinnati, met a fellow entrepreneur from Glendale, California, who had innovated a new way of cooking hamburgers -- two small patties instead of one cooked faster, and made a double-decker called "Big Boy®." This was in 1946. The "secret sauce" in the California Big Boy was Thousand Island salad dressing. Dave wasn't too fond of TI, so he used his own sauce, which was basically a blend of mayo, catsup, and pickle relish, known as tartar sauce and served in other Frisch's restaurants with fried fish.

Today Big Boy restaurants are nationwide, but eclipsed by McDonald's, the Microsoft of the fast-food industry (Janet Reno, please note). You don't need to wonder where McDonalds's got their idea for "Big Mac" or "special sauce".

Tartar sauce originates from the French sauce ą tartre. It was made from mayonnaise, mustard, chives, chopped gherkins, and tarragon. In French, tartre is a synonym for ‘coarse’ or ‘rough’,   as the Tartars were not considered to be a particularly smooth class of barbarians.

Thousand Island salad dressing was invented by a hotelier's steward as they cruised the St Lawrence River in Canada. He combined mayonnaise with pickle relish and named it for the seemingly limitless number of islands they passed in the river. Later on, somebody added tomato catsup to make the TI dressing we're familiar with today, which is as a result sweeter and milder than tartar sauce.

Many recipes for both TI dressing and tartar sauce call for Miracle Whip in place of mayonnaise. For those who have fond childhood memories of Miracle Whip, recall that it was invented during the Great Depression when mayonnaise sales began to fall. Kraft chemists figured out a way to stretch mayo with water, sugar, cornstarch, and vinegar, and added a little paprika (to make it "tangy"). And surprise, it could also be sold at a lower cost.

Today Kraft Miracle Whip and Kraft Real Mayonnaise cost about the same. And Miracle Whip is "lower in cholesterol" since water and vinegar contain no cholesterol. (But they don't mention the calories or carbohydrates the sugar adds.)

This isn't the secret Frisch's recipe, but it's good.

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Tartar Sauce

*Makes 3 cups*

2 c mayonnaise
½ lemon, juice of
2 T horseradish
2 T minced onion,
scallions, or shallots
2 T minced red or
green pepper, sweet or hot
¼ c minced dill pickle/gherkins/capers
1 clove garlic, minced
2 hard cooked eggs, yolks mashed, whites chopped
1 dash Tabasco Sauce
1/3 c catsup

Combine all ingredients in a glass bowl. Mix well and chill well before using.