As someone with years of experience preparing and enjoying Italian-American cuisine, I can guarantee that vodka sauce is an absolute must-try.
Combining vodka, heavy cream, and tomato sauce results in a velvety and rich sauce that complements a variety of meats.
In this article, I'll tell you all about the meats that go well with this pasta dish sauce. And as a bonus, I’ll give you my favorite recipe for this sauce - one guaranteed to please the whole family.
- Vodka sauce is a creamy tomato-based sauce that pairs well with many types of meat.
- Chicken, Italian sausage, and meatballs are classic pairings.
- Beef and seafood also work well with vodka sauce.
Vodka Sauce Basics
The origin of vodka sauce is widely debated, but many historians believe that vodka sauce was first created in the 1970s in New York City by a chef who made penne alla vodka .
However, others believe this sauce is Italian and first produced in Bologna or Rome.
The story behind the creation of vodka sauce is also unclear. Some say the sauce was an innovative way to use leftover vodka from cocktail parties. In contrast, others believe it was created to soften tomato sauce's acidity while bonding fat and water together.
The ingredients in vodka sauce vary depending on the recipe, but most include tomatoes, heavy cream, garlic, onions, and vodka.
Other common elements include crushed red pepper flakes, Italian herbs, Parmesan cheese, and fresh basil leaves.
Penne alla vodka sauce has become a popular addition to Italian-American food. It is commonly served over pasta but is also used as a dipping sauce for bread, a topping for pizza, or a sauce for meat dishes .
The Best Meat for Vodka Sauce
When it comes to vodka sauce, the possibilities are nearly endless. The sauce's creamy and slightly sweet flavor complements a variety of proteins so that you can use almost any type of meat in your dish.
But there are certain pairings that are more common than others.
1. Grilled Chicken
Grilled chicken is a classic pairing for penne alla vodka sauce. The charred flavor of the chicken complements the creaminess of the sauce.
To prepare, marinate chicken breasts in olive oil, garlic, and Italian seasoning for at least an hour before grilling.
Once the chicken is cooked, serve it over pasta or with a generous spoonful of pasta sauce.
Read More: How Long to Marinate Chicken?
2. Italian Sausage
Italian sausage is another traditional pairing for vodka sauce. The bold flavor of the meat stands up to the sauce's richness.
Grill or sauté the Italian sausages until cooked through. Slice the meat and add it to the delicious sauce. Serve over pasta or on a sandwich.
Meatballs are a classic pairing for any tomato-based sauce, and vodka sauce is no exception.
Mix ground beef or turkey with breadcrumbs, egg, garlic, and Parmesan. Roll the mixture into balls and bake or pan-fry until they are cooked through.
Finally, add the balls to the vodka sauce and let them simmer for a few minutes before serving.
Also Read: Italian Meatballs Recipe
Non-Traditional Meat Pairings for Vodka Sauce
Apart from grilled chicken, sausage, and meatballs, you can experiment with vodka sauce using other unconventional types of meat.
Shrimp is a non-traditional but delicious pairing for vodka sauce. The sweetness of the shrimp complements the slightly sweet flavor of the sauce.
To prepare, sauté shrimp in olive oil and garlic until cooked. Add the shrimp to the vodka sauce and let it cook for a few minutes before serving over pasta.
Salmon is another non-traditional pairing for vodka sauce. The richness of the salmon pairs well with the creaminess of the pasta sauce.
First, grill or bake salmon fillets until they are cooked through. Serve the salmon on a bed of pasta with a generous spoonful of the flavorful sauce.
While not a traditional pairing, beef can be a delicious addition to vodka sauce. To make, pan-sear beef tenderloin or sirloin steak until it is cooked to your liking.
Slice the beef thinly and add it to the vodka sauce. Let the sauce and beef cook together for a few minutes before serving over pasta. You can also use ground beef rather than steak.
Cooking Tips for Pairing Meat with Vodka Sauce
When pairing meat with vodka sauce, it is crucial to consider the meat's texture, flavor, and intensity. For example, a bold and spicy sausage can stand up to the rich flavor of vodka sauce, while a delicate fish may be overpowered.
The cooking method for the meat can also impact how well it pairs with vodka sauce.
Grilled or sautéed meats work well with vodka sauce; the charred or browned flavors complement the sauce's creaminess. Steamed or poached meats may not have as much flavor and, thus, may not stand up well to the sauce.
Finally, it is essential to experiment with different meat pairings to find your favorite. While classic pairings like grilled chicken and meatballs are always delicious, many other options exist.
"Vodka sauce is one of those perfect marriages of cream and tomato. It's a classic Italian-American dish that's creamy, tangy, and just a little bit boozy. I love to serve it with fresh pasta and lots of Parmesan."
- Giada De Laurentiis, Chef
What Is the Best Pasta for Vodka Sauce?
Penne pasta or rigatoni are the best pasta for vodka sauce, as their tube-like shape and ridges hold onto the sauce well.
However, other short-cut types of tender pasta, like fusilli or farfalle, can also work.
Some people prefer to pair vodka sauce with long-cut pasta like spaghetti or fettuccine, but it's important to note that these shapes can be more challenging to eat, as the sauce tends to slide off.
Ultimately, the choice of pasta comes down to personal preference, but it's important to add pasta of a shape that holds onto the sauce's creamy texture.
Homemade Vodka Sauce Recipe
Here’s my all-time favorite recipe for meat with vodka sauce.
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1-2 small onions, chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/4 tsp chili flakes
- 1/2 cup vodka
- 1 can (28 oz) crushed canned tomatoes
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large pot, skillet, or saucepan.
- Add the chopped onions and sauté for 5 minutes, or until the onions are translucent and soft.
- Add the chili flakes and minced garlic and cook for an additional 1-2 minutes or until fragrant.
- Pour in the vodka and bring to a low boil until the liquid has reduced by half, stirring occasionally.
- Add the tomatoes to the pan and bring the sauce to a simmer.
- Let the sauce cook for about 15-20 minutes on medium-high heat, occasionally stirring, until the tomatoes have broken down and the sauce has thickened.
- Add the heavy cream and fresh Parmesan cheese to the sauce and stir until well combined.
- Season the sauce with salt and pepper to taste.
- Let the sauce cook for an additional 5 minutes to allow the flavors to combine together.
- Spoon the sauce over your favorite long or short pasta, meat, or seafood dish.
This homemade vodka sauce recipe makes about 4 cups and can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week. Or you can freeze vodka sauce for up to 4 months.
What Can I Add to Canned Vodka Sauce to Make It Better?
You can add other ingredients to canned vodka sauce to make it better. I often put in some lemon juice, garlic, onion, basil, or butter. The pasta sauce is forgiving, and most things taste great in it.
Can You Make Spaghetti and Meatballs With Vodka Sauce?
Yes, you can make spaghetti and meatballs with vodka sauce. Although this delicious meal is classically made with pure tomato sauce, vodka sauce adds a tasty and decadent flavor to the traditional recipe.
Does Vodka Sauce Taste Like Spaghetti Sauce?
Yes, vodka sauce tastes like spaghetti sauce, with a slight alcoholic touch to it.
Do Italians Use Vodka Sauce?
Yes, the Italians use vodka sauce in certain dishes. It is typically served as penne alla vodka or as part of a creamy chicken dish. However, it is less common than other sauces like tomato or pesto.
Are Meat and Vodka Sauce a Good Combination?
No matter what meat you decide to serve with your vodka sauce, starting with fresh ingredients is essential. One of the places I turn to have top-quality meat delivered directly to my home is ButcherBox.
This meat delivery service offers a wide variety of meats, including grass-fed beef, organic chicken, and wild-caught seafood. When paired with the delicious creamy vodka sauce, these high-quality cuts of meat make for a satisfying meal.