For many years, chefs have used alcohol to improve the flavor of even the most simple foods — and in the late 1970s, the velvety, creamy vodka sauce recipe made its debut with the pasta dish “pasta alla vodka.”
The traditional recipe calls for penne pasta, tomatoes, cream, onions, and of course, vodka. This spicy beverage balances the acidity of tomatoes and prevents the sauce from becoming too sweet.
That said, you don’t have to use vodka to make vodka sauce for pasta alla vodka. Here are the 6 best substitutes you can use.
Replacements for Vodka in Vodka Sauce
Although vodka is the key component, you can substitute it with other alcoholic beverages — and the first one on our list is wine.
Wine, as we all know, is naturally acidic. When added to the sauce, it balances the richness of the cream and allows the tomato aroma to shine.
But which wine do you use? The go-to is high-quality box wine — cheap yet good enough for cooking. Opt for a variety that’s both fruity and somewhat acidic, like the Italian red Sangiovese.
Another fantastic option is Sauvignon Blanc, which will give the sauce floral peach and tangy lime notes. Pick a dry wine, as sweet wines can leave a sugary taste that may change the flavor of your sauce.
Whatever you choose, avoid the so-called cooking wine because it’s filled with preservatives and additives.
Tequila is a great alternative that goes rather well with pasta alla vodka.
Tequila’s rich, silky taste will bring out the flavors of ingredients such as onions, stewed tomatoes, and cream. As the alcohol evaporates during the cooking process, its strong flavor gets milder, producing a rich flavor and enticing aroma.
Blanco and Reposado tequila are your best choices for making vodka sauce. They are renowned for their peppery, citrusy, and floral kick and add depth to your sauce.
Since gin is basically a flavored vodka, it makes sense to use it as a substitute.
Gin is clear in color, much like vodka. The only distinction is that regular vodka is neutral in taste, whereas the gin has herbal undertones that enriches the end flavor.
Alcohol can extract and accentuate flavor, so gins with higher alcohol concentration have much more flavor, like the vibrant, citrus-flavored London Dry Gin.
Another gin for vodka alla pasta is Plymouth. It’s drier than London Dry and gives the dish a spicy finish.
The famous brandy known as cognac is produced in the French town of Cognac, and it’s created from a special combination of grapes.
It’s famous for its remarkable scent, which combines vanilla, caramel, orange, prune, and apricot. It makes a tasty substitute for plain-flavored vodka.
When substituting cognac for vodka in your sauce, only use premium varieties. A Cognac of poorer grade won’t have the same depth of flavor and can taste bitter.
Can’t find cognac? You can also use cognac substitutes such as brandy.
Alcohol isn’t necessary to make vodka sauce — you can get the same result with non-alcoholic alternatives without significantly altering the sauce’s flavor or texture.
Fresh water and a touch of squeezed lemon make an easy substitute. This replacement requires simple ingredients and is also quite affordable.
The water will help thin out the sauce and prevent it from becoming too thick, while the lemon will give it a tangy taste. Additionally, it is far healthier than conventional vodka sauce recipes.
One of the most common alcohol-free substitutes for vodka in the sauce is chicken broth and chicken stock. These two alternatives give the sauce a comparable taste without any added alcohol.
The long-simmering chicken bones give the stock a richer taste than broth. Chicken broth is thinner than stock and isn’t as flavorful, so it’s a good idea to season your broth with herbs and spices to bring out its natural flavors.
The broth could be a better option when you want other tastes to take center stage. The stock has a richer, deeper flavor that adds body to the sauce.
Alcohol can bond different flavors together and accentuate the aroma of the dish.
Alcohol bonds with both water and fat molecules in the dish, heightening the aroma and flavor. What’s more, alcohol molecules are volatile, meaning they evaporate quickly into the air. It’s why we swirl wine and then smell it to get a sense of its quality.
So when we add alcohol to a recipe, the aroma fills the air more readily than it would normally. Plus, the taste is more pronounced. This can elevate the dish as its smell heavily influences our taste sensation.
If you’re on a diet, alcohol can replace oil and butter in sauces and other recipes to add moisture and flavor. You can halve the amount of butter or oil in a recipe and use the beverage of your choice to replace it.
In pasta alla vodka, vodka adds a bit of spice to balance the sweetness of the tomatoes and the cream.
Although vodka doesn’t have a robust flavor on its own, it enhances and brings out the nuances of the sauce. Additionally, vodka can act as an emulsifier, enhancing the sauce’s consistency.
Still, there are other alternatives that give the same results. Gin and cognac are the best options if you want to add more flavor to your dish. Tequila can add a spicy finish to the sauce. If you’re looking for a cheaper alternative, boxed-wine is a perfect choice.
You can also make pasta alla vodka with non-alcoholic substitutes like lemon water, chicken broth, or chicken stock. Bon appetit!