6 Vodka Substitutes in Vodka Sauce

Vodka sauce is one of the iconic Italian sauces that seems to be a fan favorite. So, can you substitute the vodka for something else and still have a vodka sauce? Absolutely! 

Whether you don’t have any vodka on hand or maybe you want to experiment with another option there are several good substitutes. You can use: wine, other liquors, chicken broth, and even a lemon and water mixture. 

While the vodka in vodka sauce does play a specific purpose, there are plenty of things to use in replace of the vodka. Each vodka substitution will change the recipe slightly, but you will still have a delicious vodka sauce if you use one of the suggestions.

What is Vodka Sauce?

So what is this famous Vodka Sauce? Vodka sauce is simply a tomato based cream sauce that is slightly sweet, slightly acidic, and with a slight kick of heat. The vodka marries all the flavors and textures together making a harmonious and creamy sauce perfect for pasta. 

The main ingredients are: 

  • Tomatoes 
  • Cream
  • Vodka
  • Parmesan
  • Red pepper flakes
  • Garlic and onions 

Like with most Italian sauces, there are variations depending on personal preference. Some people add more red pepper flakes while others omit the spice altogether. Fresh herbs can be added for even more flavor. Some also like the addition of a cured meat such as bacon or pancetta, adding a savory and earthy flavor. 

What’s the Use of Vodka in Vodka Sauce? 

Vodka does play a key role in vodka sauce. When alcohol is used in cooking, it is generally to help enhance the flavors of the dish (similar to salt or vinegar). 

Because vodka has a mild flavor and sweet aroma, it does not really compete with the flavor profile of the sauce. Instead, it does provide a nice bite and intensifies the sweetness of the tomato and the other flavors of the sauce.

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The vodka also serves as an emulsifier between the cream and tomato, helping the sauce not to break and to stay smooth and creamy.   

Does Vodka Sauce (Penne Alla Vodka) Taste Different Without Vodka?

The original use for Vodka Sauce is in a dish called Penne alla Vodka. This simply marries the vodka sauce with penne pasta (or, sometimes even rigatoni) for a delicious, creamy bowl of pasta. 

When vodka is used to make a vodka sauce, there is a slight sweetness added to the dish which helps to offset any acidity from the tomatoes. The resulting taste is a luxuriously creamy tomato sauce. If something is used instead of vodka, there may be a slight variance in the flavor and overall balance of the dish. 

What Can You Substitute for Vodka in Vodka Pasta Sauce?

If you find yourself needing a good replacement for vodka in vodka sauce, there are some good substitutes out there. Whether you don’t have any vodka in your liquor cabinet, or perhaps you don’t want to use any alcohol, there are other things you can use. 

1. Gin

Using gin to replace the vodka in vodka sauce is a great substitution. Like vodka, gin is also a clear liquor, so no color is added and the alcohol will cook out. Unlike vodka, gin does have a distinct herbal and botanical flavor and smell to it. This can be a good thing, but it will enhance the flavors of the vodka sauce in a different way. 

2. White Wine

Most people keep wine on hand for cooking and if you happen to have some white wine instead of vodka, you can absolutely use it. It will not add to the color (for this reason, using red wine is not recommended) of the sauce, however, it will add to the flavor. When white wine is cooked down and reduced in a sauce, the flavors become concentrated. Using a drier or light and crisp white wine would be better over a fruity wine. 

3. Tequila

Tequila is another great substitute for vodka in vodka sauce. Whether you are using silver or gold tequila, the overall color of the sauce will not change. Tequila tends to be a bit fruity with a citrus undertone, so the flavor of the sauce will be slightly altered but will still be delicious.

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4. Chicken Broth

For those that don’t want to use any alcohol in vodka sauce, using chicken broth is a fine substitute. It will still act as an emulsifier for the tomatoes and cream with little added flavor. Chicken broth is a very common replacement for alcohol when cooking. 

5. Lemon Juice

Another nonalcoholic replacement for vodka in vodka sauce is by simply using a little freshly squeezed lemon juice and water. This is the most cost efficient substitute for vodka as you just need lemon and water. The tartness of the lemon balances the acidity of the tomatoes while the water helps to thin the sauce, making sure it stays smooth and creamy. 

6. White wine vinegar 

Replacing the vodka with equal parts of a white wine vinegar would make a good alternative. The vinegar still provides that sharpness and acidity you’re looking for to balance out the heaviness of the cream.

Mixing a little vinegar with water will serve as a good substitute for vodka in vodka sauce. If you don’t have white wine vinegar, other good choices would be: distilled, champagne, and rice wine vinegar. 

How to Make Vodka Sauce (Penne Alla Vodka) Without Vodka

Making Penne Alla Vodka sans the vodka is doable! Whether you are using no alcohol or a different alcohol, you can still create a luscious and creamy pasta sauce, perfect for your next dinner! Here’s a great recipe using chicken broth in replace of the vodka. 

Ingredients

The flavors will intensify as everything cooks, so using high quality ingredients is a good idea since there aren’t too many of them. 

  • Butter
  • Yellow onion
  • Garlic
  • Crushed tomatoes (good quality canned works great!)
  • Tomato paste 
  • Cream
  • Chicken broth
  • Grated parmesan cheese
  • Red chili flakes
  • Salt and pepper
  • Penne pasta

Steps

Penne Alla Vodka starts with a delicious and simple sauce. Follow these steps for a meal that’s ready in no time at all! 

  1. Heat butter over medium low heat in a large saucepan and add your chopped onions. Cook for 5-6 minutes until the onions are softened, making sure to stir so the onions don’t brown. 
  2. Add the garlic and stir for a minute before adding the tomato paste, salt, pepper, and chili flakes. 
  3. Next, slowly pour the chicken broth in, scraping up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan.  
  4. Bring the mixture to a low simmer, then add the crushed tomatoes and stir. 
  5. Season with salt and pepper to taste, then cover the pan with a lid and allow to simmer for 10 minutes.
  6. Uncover the sauce and add in the cream. Stir and simmer the sauce, uncovered, until slightly thicker. 
  7. Add parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper. 
  8. Add your cooked penne pasta to the sauce along with any pasta water needed to help thin the sauce. 
  9. Top with more parmesan and enjoy!
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This Penne Alla Vodka uses chicken broth in replace of the vodka. It’s so rich and creamy, you won’t even notice there’s no vodka!   

Related Questions

There’s so many versions of vodka sauce and different ways to use it, let’s find out more!

Can you get drunk from vodka pasta sauce?

No, you can’t get drunk from the vodka in vodka pasta sauce. It is safe for children and anyone else concerned with alcohol to consume. The alcohol evaporates during the cooking process leaving just the flavor of the vodka.

How much alcohol is in vodka sauce?

If using vodka in vodka sauce, you can use anywhere from 1 tablespoon to one-fourth of a cup of vodka. As it cooks in the sauce, the alcohol evaporates. 

Is vodka sauce just Alfredo and marinara?

It may seem like vodka sauce is simply the combination of Alfredo and marinara, but it is not. The main difference being the addition of vodka.

What else can you do with vodka sauce? 

There are several other ways you can use vodka sauce besides just tossing it with penne pasta. Using vodka sauce in dishes such as: chicken parmesan, baked ziti, and lasagna make for a fun twist on the classics. It’s even good to dip breadsticks in! 

Conclusion 

Vodka sauce is a simple Italian sauce with complex flavors. It’s great served as a special dinner but also makes for a quick weeknight meal. If you find yourself out of vodka, or not wanting to use vodka, there are so many options to use as a replacement. From other clear liquors, to nonalcoholic substitutes such as chicken broth, you can always find a way to make a delicious idea sauce!