Chicken penne alla vodka is so delicious and comes together in less than 30 minutes. The simple combination of pasta, roasted chicken, and a creamy tomato vodka sauce appeals to adults and kids, making this dish perfect for a weeknight family dinner!
What is penne vodka with chicken?
Penne alla vodka is a classic Italian-American meal that became popular in the United States in the 1980s when it was sold at nightclubs.
Typically, a vodka sauce recipe is made of vodka, crushed tomatoes, onions, and heavy cream.
Chicken penne alla vodka is made by tossing penne pasta and roasted chicken in a creamy vodka tomato sauce.
It’s a delicious entrée, and you can substitute bacon, sausage, shrimp, or pancetta to make it different each time.
Garnish each serving with fresh basil and a sprinkle of freshly grated parmesan and enjoy it with garlic bread for a satisfying, restaurant-worthy meal.
Let’s chat about the ingredients in penne alla vodka with chicken. Please see the recipe card below for exact measurements.
- Penne pasta: The recipe calls for penne noodles, but feel free to substitute another short pasta such as farfalle, ziti, rigatoni, or medium shells.
- Chicken: Boneless skinless chicken breasts are perfect for this recipe. You could also use chicken tenders. If you do, keep an eye on them, as they tend to cook a bit faster. There’s also nothing wrong with some shredded rotisserie chicken if you’re in a rush.
- Vodka brightens the other flavors in the sauce and acts as an emulsifier for the cream and tomatoes. You can substitute white wine or chicken broth if preferred.
- Cherry tomatoes form the base of the vodka sauce and give the recipe rich tomato aroma.
- Heavy cream lends the sauce a rich, creamy texture and velvety mouthfeel.
- Olive oil is needed to sauté the chicken, tomatoes, and garlic.
- Garlic adds lots of savory flavor to the sauce. Fresh garlic is preferred, but garlic powder will also work.
- Salt + black pepper enhance the flavors in the dish.
- Crushed red pepper flakes add a touch of heat.
- Sugar helps to balance the acidity from the tomatoes.
- Fresh basil adds a classic Italian flair.
- Parmesan cheese (optional) is the garnish to complete the meal. I recommend freshly grated parmesan for the best taste. The pre-grated kind is fine if that is what you have.
How to make chicken penne alla vodka
Have all your ingredients prepped and ready to go because vodka chicken pasta comes together quickly!
1. Cook pasta
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil.
- Add the penne pasta and cook until al dent according to package instructions.
- Reserve 1/2 cup pasta water, then drain the noodles and place back into the pot.
- Stir in 1 tablespoon of olive to prevent sticking.
2. Fry chicken
- Season the chicken breasts generously with salt and pepper.
- Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large cast-iron skillet over medium heat.
- Once heated, add the chicken breast and fry for 3 to 4 minutes on each side.
- Transfer onto a plate and cover with tin foil to keep warm.
3. Soften tomatoes
- Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil to the same skillet and warm over medium heat.
- Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds, until fragrant.
- Then add the cherry tomatoes, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, and sugar.
- Cook, occasionally stirring, until the tomatoes burst and release their juices, about 5 minutes.
4. Add vodka and heavy cream
- Remove the pan from the store. Stir in the vodka and heavy cream.
- Return the pan to the stove and mix in the basil. Simmer on medium-high heat for 10 minutes.
5. Incorporate pasta
- Add the pasta to the pan and toss with the tomato sauce. Simmer for 2 minutes.
- Spoon the pasta into serving dishes. Slice the chicken breast and arrange on top of the pasta.
- Garnish with grated parmesan cheese and extra basil. Serve warm and enjoy!
Here come a few helpful tips and tricks for the best chicken penne alla vodka recipe.
- Cook the penne pasta just until al dente: Al dente means tender but with a firm bite. The total time necessary will depend on your specific brand, so check the instructions on the package.
- Use a high-quality vodka that you would actually enjoy drinking since this is an essential component of the sauce.
- Have a gas stove? Then please take the pan off the flame when you add the vodka. Vodka is highly flammable. So turn off the flame or remove the pan from the stovetop before adding the vodka.
- Have the cream at room temperature when you pour it into the sauce. This will prevent the cream from “breaking” or separating.
- Simmer the sauce for at least 10 minutes so the alcohol cooks off – otherwise, you will be able to taste it.
Serve for special occasions or just because it’s Tuesday. Chicken vodka pasta is the right dish for everything!
One great thing about chicken penne alla vodka is that you can easily adapt the recipe with different ingredients. Here are a few ideas:
- No vodka: Substitute with dry white wine or low-sodium chicken broth if you prefer to make the sauce without vodka.
- Swap the pasta: Although this calls for penne, any short pasta will work as a substitute. Good options include farfalle (bowties), ziti, rigatoni, medium shells, gemelli, and rotini.
- Use pesto: Instead of fresh basil and parmesan, stir some basil pesto into the tomato vodka sauce.
- Substitute the chicken with shrimp or Italian sausage. Sauté the shrimp or Italian sausage in the skillet before you prepare the sauce. Then, transfer them onto a plate while you prepare the sauce and add them back.
- Pancetta or bacon are tasty additions to the sauce as well. Brown in the skillet, then remove them to a plate, reserving the drippings in the pan. Use the drippings with a little more olive oil to sauté the garlic and cherry tomatoes for the sauce. Return the cooked pancetta or bacon to the sauce at the very end.
How to store chicken alla vodka
Leftover penne vodka and chicken will last in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 to 3 days. Let the pasta cool completely before transferring it into the storage container.
I don’t recommend freezing penne alla vodka because the noodles will get mushy when thawed, and the cream sauce could break.
Reheat vodka sauce chicken pasta
To reheat, place the pasta in a skillet or saucepan, cover, and warm over low heat just until the dish reaches the desired temperature.
Avoid boiling or reheating the sauce for too long, or the pasta may get mushy.
You can also zap individual portions in the microwave.
Why make penne pasta with vodka?
Vodka, a hard liquor made from fermented grains and potatoes, adds depth of flavor to the sauce without leaving an alcoholic aftertaste. It balances the sweetness of the tomatoes and cream, and brings out the other aromas in the sauce.
The alcohol in vodka also acts as an emulsifier. It ensures the cream and tomato juices stay mixed together so that the sauce doesn’t split.
What does vodka sauce taste like?
An authentic vodka pasta sauce tastes rich and has a silky, creamy texture (thanks to the heavy cream) with a hint of acidity from the tomatoes.
Is there alcohol in penne alla vodka?
While you are adding alcohol (vodka) to the sauce, most of it cooks off as you simmer the sauce, so you and your family won’t get tipsy off of this dish.
What is the best vodka for chicken penne all vodka?
Like cooking with wine, you want to pick a vodka you enjoy drinking. Not only will you have leftovers, to enjoy, but a better-tasting vodka will produce a better-tasting sauce.
Any premium liquor you like is fine. Tito’s, Van Gogh, Ketel One, Absolute, and Skyy are all good options.
More pasta dishes
Everyone loves pasta dishes! They taste delicious and are so easy to make, with many variations to try.
- Easy Salmon Pasta
- Meatballs with Alfredo Sauce
- Truffle Pasta Sauce
- Ham and Pea Pasta
- Spaghetti Mac and Cheese
- Alfredo Pasta with Evaporated Milk
- Gnocchi Bake
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- 10 oz / 300 g penne pasta
- 2 large chicken breasts
- 5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 4 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
- 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (use less if you don't like spice)
- 1 tsp granulated sugar
- 3 pints / 1.4 kg cherry tomatoes, cut in half
- 1/2 cup / 115 ml / 4 fl oz 113 vodka
- 3/4 cup / 170 ml / 6 fl oz heavy cream
- 1 cup / 20 g / 0.7 oz fresh basil, coarsely chopped
- Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for serving (optional)
- Cook pasta. Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil. Add the penne pasta and cook until al dent according to package instructions. Reserve 1/2 cup pasta water, then drain the noodles and place back into the pot. Stir in 1 tablespoon of olive to prevent sticking.
- Fry chicken. In the meantime, season the chicken breasts generously with salt and pepper. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large cast-iron skillet or non-stick pan over medium heat. Once heated, add the chicken breast and fry for 3 to 4 minutes on each side. Transfer onto a plate and cover with tin foil to keep warm.
- Soften tomatoes. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil to the same skillet/pan and warm over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds, until fragrant. Then add the cherry tomatoes, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, and sugar. Cook, occasionally stirring, until the tomatoes burst and release their juices, about 5 minutes.
- Add vodka and heavy cream. Remove the pan from the store. Stir in the vodka and heavy cream. Return the pan to the stove and mix in the basil. Simmer on medium-high heat for 10 minutes.
Tip: Have a gas stove? Then please take the pan off the flame when you add the vodka. Vodka is highly flammable. So turn off the flame or remove the pan from the stovetop before adding the vodka.
- Incorporate pasta. Add the pasta to the pan and toss with the tomato sauce. Simmer for 2 minutes.
Tip: If the sauce seems too thick, add a little reserved pasta water until it reaches the desired consistency.
- Serve. Spoon the pasta into serving dishes. Slice the chicken breast and arrange on top of the pasta. Garnish with grated parmesan cheese and extra basil. Serve warm and enjoy!
Nutrition Information:Yield: 6 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 310Total Fat: 26gSaturated Fat: 9gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 15gCholesterol: 68mgSodium: 484mgCarbohydrates: 45gFiber: 9gSugar: 20gProtein: 23g