The Best Vodka For Pasta Sauce Isn't What You Might Expect

Making a classic penne alla vodka may seem intimidating, but it shouldn't be. At its most basic, the sauce this pasta dish relies on features vodka, crushed tomatoes, a little butter, chopped onions, herbs and seasoning, and heavy cream; however, when it comes to the vodka, it might surprise you to learn it doesn't need to be fancy or luxurious. A cheap vodka will work just as well as an expensive one. 

So, why doesn't your vodka's price point matter? The alcohol is going to burn off as it slowly simmers, and when it does, it will release new flavors that will play differently with the tomatoes — creating a deeper, richer flavor. This is going to happen whether the vodka is inexpensive or if you dropped a couple of Benjamin Franklins on it. That said, the technique you use to burn off the alcohol is critical. It's important to avoid making a huge fire in your pan when you are burning off the alcohol. 75% of alcohol is retained when you do this. 

Patience and frugality are key

No matter what vodka you use, there is one universal rule when simmering it: avoid immediate gratification and exercise a little patience. After an hour, your vodka sauce will still retain about 25% of the alcohol when simmered, and doesn't get down to the ideal 5% alcohol retention until it has been simmering for well over two hours. But when it does, magic happens between the tomatoes and the vodka flavors left behind, and the taste is worth the wait.

So, exactly what vodka should you use? An expensive vodka like a limited edition Stolichnaya or a premium Belvedere vodka should be saved for mixing and sipping when you are playing bartender for a friendly gathering or dinner for two. When you are making a vodka sauce for your pasta, break open a less expensive bottle of Smirnoff or Finladia grapefruit vodka. These more budget-friendly options will work just as well and no one will be able to tell the difference!