The Vibrant Ingredient To Spice Up Your Vodka Sauce

Known for its silky texture and rich and creamy flavors, pasta with vodka sauce is a popular dish, especially in the United States (where it may or may not have originated). According to Taste Atlas, penne alla vodka ranks as the fourth most popular pasta dish in North America, after mac and cheese, baked ziti, and spaghetti with meatballs. It's also a fairly easy dish with a simple recipe and common ingredients that just about anyone can make at home, which probably adds to its popularity.

Whatever its origins (with both Italy and New York making a claim), it's traditionally made with tomatoes, heavy cream, and of course, vodka. Additions like garlic and onion or shallots are fairly common, as is the addition of crushed red peppers to give the sauce a bit of kick on top of the vodka. If you like to add a lot of chili flakes to your vodka sauce, there's one vibrant ingredient that you can add that will really elevate your sauce and add some spice and heat, and it's one that can easily be found in most grocery stores these days, despite its far flung origins: gochujang.

Adding gochujang can really add some heat and depth to your vodka sauce

A popular way to add tomatoes to vodka sauce is to use tomato paste. Gochujang, meanwhile, is a Korean paste made from red chili powder and fermented soybeans. It's become increasingly popular in recent years, showing up in recipes as diverse as seafood salad and soufflé. Its increased use has also led some chefs and cooks to experiment with using it in place of tomato paste in certain recipes, including in vodka sauce, as Sam Block of America's Test Kitchen did. According to Patrick Wong of Food52, the fermented nature of the gochujang adds an "extra layer of depth" to the sauce.

While the recipes above call for replacing tomato paste with gochujang entirely, other recipes use the savory, sweet, and spicy paste in addition to the tomato paste, and cooking the two together at the same time. Whichever recipe with gochujang you end up making, try it with some farfalle (or bowtie pasta as it's commonly known), which turns out to be the best pasta to pair with a vodka sauce.