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May 4, 2009 10:39 AM

what's the point of Vodka in Penne ala Vodka?

I have my kids make a pretty mean vodka-less tomato cream sauce but they've asked why put aa flavour-less liquor in a flavorful tomato sauce? I have some of my own BS theories, but they really are only theories. Would love to hear your reasonings..

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  1. The vodka makes a restaurant able to justify charging $4 per plate more for it, while only adding $.25 per bowl to the cost--if that...

    1. Please see the thread titled "Vodka Sauce... what's the point?"

      Best answer is, 'Vodka releases flavors from the tomatoes that are only alcohol-soluble.
      The alcohol coaxes those flavors out, then disappears. But the alcohol, or rather the ethanol, does lend some flavor of its own accord, sort of a sweet, caramel-like flavor that translates as making the tomatoes taste sweeter." - maria lorraine

      2 Replies
      1. re: KTinNYC

        thanks for the thread! apparently, my bs theory has some merits (something about solubility was the "anchor" to my theory) ...

        1. re: KTinNYC

          Yep, some things are water soluble, some are fat soluble, and others are alcohol soluble. Almost any recipe has water and some type of fat, the alcohol brings out the final flavors.

        2. From Arthur Schwartz's website:

          "This is not a traditional Italian recipe. I know because I was there -- more or less -- at its invention. It was the early 1970s and vodka was a relatively new spirit to Italians. To promote the consumption of vodka in Italy, vodka distillers provided restaurants with gizmos that kept both the vodka and vodka glasses chilled and they held recipe contests among Italian chefs. This dish was the rage in fashion-conscious Italian circles in the mid '70s. I never see it anymore in Italy. But Americans are entranced by the idea, even though it is nothing more than a tomato cream sauce with hot pepper and a good dose of vodka, which, to be frank, is hardly detectable in the finished dish."

          1. This is good info about using it to draw out the tomatoes flavors rather than its own flavor. My one attempt at vodka sauce I kept adding more vodka 'cause I couldn't taste it. Oops. Needless to say, it was not good pasta sauce, not bad for a bloody mary though. I think I'll try again and actually follow the recipe's measurements. Thanks for the tip KT and KMan!

            1. Right. The vodka is added only for the purpose of creating more complex flavors from the tomatoes.

              It was chosen over, say, wine (which will do the same thing) because of its neutral flavor.

              Wine on the other hand both flavors the sauce and releases the flavor components from the tomatoes.