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Vodka Sauce... what's the point?

Vodka is a nearly colorless, nearly flavorless, nearly odorless distilled spirit. When you add heat (and especially if you flame it) there is even less flavor and odor, with the alcohol gone. So why add it to a nice tomato cream (pink) sauce anyway?

When I first heard of Vodka Sauce, I thought it was a recently invented gimmick. This was the 80's when the USA was starting to wake up to the wonders of food, and almost anything was accepted, even lionized. (remember the blackening craze!?)

Can anyone confirm when vodka sauce was invented? And why?! Does it exist to sell vodka? Or maybe so tough guys don't have to ask for "pink sauce?!"

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  1. THere are flavor compounds in foods, esp in tomatoes, that are alcohol soluble. That means these flavors are not released unless they are mixed with alcohol. That is why we add alcohol to many dishes. We could add wine, vodka, etc. The alcohol in vodka is cheap, compared to wine, and hence bottled vodka sauce. When most people make tomato sauce at home and want to add alcohol, wine is more common because it adds both alcohol and other flavors.

    There are a lot of recent thread on vodka sauce on Chowhound. Type "vodka sauce" in the search engine and you'll get them.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Darren72

      Apparently some think that vodka sauce is a gimmick. Here's a more "official" source:
      http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage...

    2. Supposedly vodka sauce was invented in the late 1970s as a marketing tie-in for a vodka distiller. In Italy. It got swept up in the Nuova Cucina movement in Italy, then ended up as a trendy menu item in the US, where it took off a bit more strongly than in Italy-- but has thankfully waned. I prefer adding wine to Italian sauces, but I can see how a tomato-and-cream sauce might need the alcohol in vodka and not need the extra flavors wine would impart....

      1. One of my favorite Italian cookbooks, published in 1982 refers to pasta with vodka sauce as the "latest thing". To be fair to the sauce, I think the vodka gives it a slightly bitter undertone that keeps tomatoes and cream from becoming too cloying - and don't forget the red pepper!

        1. I've heard that vodka enhances the pepper that is in vodka sauces. With that in mind, I've contemplated using it in chili.

          1. Maybe I'm just imagining it, but I often taste the vodka. Perhaps it's not totally burned off, but I get a peppery, alcholic-type sensation on my tongue.

            3 Replies
            1. re: Covert Ops

              Can't cite chapter and verse on this but I've read in more than one place that when you add hooch to a simmered sauce it takes more than a few minutes for all of the alcohol to burn off. And in most tomato-cream-vodka sauce recipes I've seen, the vodka is added only a minute of two before the end of cooking. So I don't think you're imagining things.

              1. re: carswell

                Right. I do recall a friend who was a fabulous Italian cook but whose husband was allergic to alcohol in all forms, including wine. She couldn't bear to cook without it, but she told me she'd have to make sure to cook it for a LOOOONG time.

              2. re: Covert Ops

                Alcohol incorporated into cooked foods rarely completely cook off, in some cases around 70 percent of the alcohol remains (Even in a flambe a considerable amount of alcohol remains). There's a site that talks about this, but I don't have the URL