Would I Make It Again? Chicken Rigatoni with Vodka Sauce

I don’t want to brag, but I’m no stranger to cooking and baking with booze.

Do you remember my whiskey cake? And the Peppermint Schnapps Chocolate Cake?

So when I saw a recipe for Chicken Rigatoni with Vodka Sauce by What’s Gaby Cooking  I said, “Who drank all the Why don’t we have any vodka?”

Seriously though. We didn’t have any vodka, so I sat on this recipe for two months.

Fast forward to last week and I finally had a stocked liquor cart the opportunity to make this pasta dish.

I’ve made a few of Gaby’s recipes and have not been disappointed. She’s the real deal! This was going to be my first time making a vodka sauce and the recipe wasn’t complicated. I was fairly certain it would taste delicious.

What I was not certain about is if the vodka would actually contribute in any significant way to the dish.

And I’m not talking in a Julia Child “pour some in the pan, take a sip” kind of contribution.

Basically, was I wasting perfectly good vodka by pouring it into a creamy tomato sauce?

It turns out, I’m not the only with this question. This article in Chowhound tackles the great vodka sauce debate. The author of this article in Serious Eats actually did some scientific experiments on the subject. People are very passionate about vodka sauce.

Let me summarize what I learned. The vodka should add a slight heat or kick to the sauce. It should also bring out the aromas of the dish and help bind the ingredients together. It’s going to do all of this without adding additional flavors like wine might do.

What it’s NOT going to do is help you get through homework time with your kid. There’s not enough vodka in the sauce for that. Unfortunately.

The verdict?

Our sauce did have some heat. Not enough to stop Handy Husband from pouring Sriracha on his plate, but enough that the kids said it tasted like spicy tomato soup.

Handy Husband puts Sriracha on everything, so don’t let that influence your opinion on whether or not I can cook the sauce tasted delicious.

Typically when I make a tomato sauce, regular or creamy, I add a lot of herbs. This was a fantastic exercise for me to let the tomatoes and cream be the stars of the show. It’s also why it tasted more like a tomato soup to my kids than what I’d normally serve with pasta.

Please excuse the terrible night photo…

For once in my life, I tried to follow the recipe carefully. In the interest of full disclosure, here’s what I ended up tweaking.

As I’ve mentioned before, I find tomato sauce to be very acidic tasting, so I almost always add a touch  of sugar. It’s a big no-no in authentic Italian cooking. I tried not to add sugar at the end of this recipe, but it just needed something to take away that particular taste. It’s possible this could just be a wacky quirk of my tastebuds.

The thing I did not do is blend the sauce up because I don’t have a blender.

Oh, and I only had penne instead of rigatoni pasta on hand, but they look almost identical.

(image: What’s Gaby Cooking)

Would I make Chicken Rigatoni with Vodka Sauce again? Yes! I would make it again.

I actually would like to make the recipe again WITHOUT the vodka just to do my own experiment. Handy Husband couldn’t tell that there was a special ingredient in the sauce and I wouldn’t have known if I hadn’t cooked it myself. While I’m sure the experts are right on this subject, I’d like to see if we can actually tell the difference.

Bottom line. I’m still a skeptic on the vodka in sauce issue, but I’m a skeptic with a happy, full belly.

Other recipes in the Would I Make It Again Series:

Would I Make It Again: Chile Lime Almonds

Would I Make It Again: Cheese Tea

Would I Make It Again: Rhubarb Scones

Would I Make It Again: Korean Beef Bowl

Would I Make It Again: Chicken Rigatoni With Vodka Sauce


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