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Does It Matter What Type Of Vodka You Use In Homemade Sauce? A Chef Weighs In

bowl of rigatoni with vodka sauce and fresh basil
bowl of rigatoni with vodka sauce and fresh basil - Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock

When it comes to making the homemade sauce for your classic penne alla vodka, your recipe will usually come down to a handful of ingredients: olive oil, butter, garlic, onions, crushed tomatoes, red pepper flakes, and, of course, vodka. Being that it's vodka sauce, one has to wonder whether the type you use has any effect on the final product — and we decided to ask Vincent Benoliel, owner of Pasta Corner restaurants in New York City and Los Angeles and the newly opened Savta in NYC.

"I've tested a lot of different vodkas and found that the end result is basically the same across the board," Benoliel tells Tasting Table. "Using a more expensive vodka doesn't really taste different than when cooking with a less expensive brand. Potato versus wheat didn't make a difference either in my experience." The only difference Benoliel did find was that, when cooking with an over-proofed vodka (50% ABV as opposed to the typical 40% ABV), you end up needing to cook it for a touch longer to give the alcohol more time to evaporate. Still, the end results will be similar. All that being said, what would Benoliel's recommendation be? As he told Tasting Table: "I find Smirnoff works well and has a good cost-to-quality ratio." However, you could honestly use whatever you have on hand.

Read more: 26 Types Of Pasta Sauce Explained

No Substitutions

creamy vodka sauce pasta
creamy vodka sauce pasta - Ezumeimages/Getty Images

While any vodka will do in your homemade vodka sauce, there is one definite thing: It has to be vodka. Benoliel told Tasting Table, "The alcohol in the vodka is an important tool for enhancing the flavor of the other ingredients in the dish while adding that extra oomph that makes the sauce what it is." While you can still make a decent sauce without it, or even with a non-alcoholic vodka alternative, it wouldn't be a true vodka sauce — and it won't taste or look like it either.

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This all comes down to vodka's unique ability to act as an emulsifier, which is what the booze in your vodka sauce is actually doing. Without it, the fat from the heavy cream and the water in the crushed tomatoes — two things that otherwise repel one another — would split, making it virtually impossible to create a smooth sauce. Furthermore, you'd be missing out on the silky texture vodka brings to the sauce as well as all of the distinct flavors that other non-alcoholic alternatives simply can't replicate.

So, while you can make a creamy tomato sauce without vodka, it won't be a vodka sauce. Do keep in mind, though, that it's not meant to be the star of the show. Whether you go with Beloniel's Smirnoff recommendation or whatever you find in your cupboard, stick to a ratio of ¼ cup vodka for every four cups of sauce so as not to overpower it.

Read the original article on Tasting Table.