Gremolata and chimichurri sauce are two of the most famous green sauces and both have parsley as their main ingredient. How similar are they? Are they interchangeable? We will answer these and other questions in this edition of the SPICEography Showdown.
How does gremolata differ from chimichurri sauce?
The big difference between chimichurri sauce and gremolata is the set of ingredients. Chimichurri sauce typically has a greater number of ingredients than gremolata, which is usually limited to three. The traditional version of chimichurri will contain vinegar and oil while most gremolata recipes have no added liquids though a few contain olive oil. You also won’t find pepper flakes being added to a gremolata.
The different ingredients result in these two green sauces having different flavor profiles. The flavor of gremolata is dominated by the citrus fragrance from the lemon zest but the grassiness and slight bitterness of the parsley play important complementary roles. The garlic creates a pungent savory foundation.
In comparison, a traditional chimichurri will be more assertive and acidic since it will contain vinegar or lemon juice. Even when it does contain lemon or lime juice, a chimichurri won’t have the same strong aromatic citrus element as gremolata. Since chimichurri will often contain red pepper flakes as well, it can be quite spicy.
Because gremolata has no fat but chimichurri does, you will usually see a small but noticeable difference in calorie count.
Gremolata and chimichurri have different places of origin. Gremolata comes from Italy; chimichurri is Argentinian in origin but is also used in other parts of South America.
If your recipe calls for one, can you use the other?
Gremolata can work as a chimichurri sauce substitute in a limited capacity. It won’t provide the tartness that chimichurri sauce would provide but it can still be used as a topping for grilled meats and seafood. Because it is not acidic, it won’t be as effective as a marinade. The classic version also lacks the fat of chimichurri so it won’t be as effective for basting meats. You can either try making one of the recipes with olive oil or adding olive oil to the classic version.
Because it doesn’t have as much moisture as chimichurri, a gremolata may not be as good for seasoning dry dishes. Gremolata is typically not spicy, so it won’t provide the heat that chimichurri can provide.
You can use chimichurri sauce in place of gremolata as a finishing sauce as long as the dish won’t be affected by the strong acidity or extra moisture. You may also need to use a chimichurri sauce that is low on spice since gremolata is usually mild by comparison.
When should you use gremolata and when should you use chimichurri sauce?
Traditionally, gremolata is used only as a finishing sauce. You serve it along with Milanese favorite osso bucco (braised lamb shanks) to liven up its deep, rich flavors. Less traditionally, you can use it as a topping on other meats including poultry and fish. It makes a great condiment for sandwiches as well.
Chimichurri’s acidity makes it useful as a marinade in addition to being a flavorful condiment. The fact that it contains vinegar means that it can help to tenderize tough beef cuts. Its traditional application is as a condiment for grilled beef, especially steaks and organ meat. However, it is often used to accompany other kinds of meat as well including chicken and pork.