This quick and easy penne alla vodka with chicken is made with a silky smooth, incredibly rich and creamy vodka sauce and can be on the table in about 30 minutes.
A couple months ago, I shared my go-to vodka sauce on the blog. One of my favorite things about that sauce other than it being ridiculously good and absurdly quick and easy is that it’s the perfect base recipe.
You can take that vodka sauce and use it in a million delicious ways. And today we’re going to use it to make penne alla vodka with chicken.
This is a super quick, super easy dinner that packs a ton of flavor and totally satisfies.
You have chunks of chicken breast and penne tossed in silky smooth, ultra-rich vodka sauce that you’re absolutely going to want to eat with a spoon.
From start to finish, you can make this dish in about half an hour, making it the perfect cozy dinner for a busy evening.
Equipment and Ingredient Notes
- A large pot: Even though we’re not making a ton of sauce, use a large pot instead of a skillet because it will help contain splatters while making the sauce and give you plenty of room to mix in the pasta at the end.
- A spider skimmer: If you have one, a spider skimmer/strainer is really helpful for scooping up the pasta out of the pasta water.
- Boneless skinless chicken breasts: You can also substitute boneless skinless chicken thighs here if you prefer.
- Tomato paste: Check out my post What to Do With Leftover Tomato Paste for storage tips and recipe ideas for the rest of the can.
- Heavy cream: And if you have leftover heavy cream, go check out What to Do With Leftover Whipping Cream.
Measuring tip: If you have a kitchen scale, skip the measuring cup for your tomato paste, and measure it by weight. ¼ cup of tomato paste is about 66 grams. It’s way quicker and less messy to scoop the paste onto a small plate or bowl on your scale than to pack it into a measuring cup and scrape it out again later.
How to Make Penne Alla Vodka With Chicken
1. Cook chicken: In a large pot, cook the cubed chicken until cooked through and set aside. Then deglaze the pot with a little water, scraping any cooked-on bits off the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Discard the liquid and wipe out the pot with a paper towel so the bottom of the pot is mostly clean.
The reason for cleaning the pan at this point is that if you leave the fond, it will get too dark and begin to burn over the next few steps and give the sauce a burnt flavor that we’re not going for.
2. Start your pasta: For optimal timing, once the chicken is cooked, add your pasta to boiling water just before starting the sauce.
3. Brown garlic: Cook garlic and red pepper flakes in a mixture of butter and oil until the garlic begins to turn lightly golden and smells wonderful.
4. Cook tomato paste: Add tomato paste and cook, stirring often, until paste darkens in color and begins to caramelize on the bottom of the pan, 3 to 5 minutes. This cooks the raw taste out of the tomato paste and really deepens its flavor. You’ll be able smell the difference when the paste begins to caramelize.
5. Deglaze the pan with vodka: Turn the heat down and carefully add the vodka. The sauce is going to sizzle and pop aggressively, but don’t worry, it will calm down in a few seconds. Whisk, scraping any cooked-on bits from the bottom of the pan as you go, until the vodka is incorporated into the sauce.
6. Add Heavy Cream: Whisk in heavy cream, and heat over low heat, stirring constantly, until sauce is smooth, uniform in color, and heated through. Do not allow the sauce to come to a simmer. (If the cream is allowed to get too hot, it can break.)
7. Add pasta water: When the pasta is nearly done, use a heat-proof measuring cup to scoop out ¼ cup of the cooking water and whisk it into your sauce. At this point, your sauce is definitely going to need some salt. Taste and add salt as needed.
8. Add pasta: Drain pasta or use a slotted spoon or spider skimmer to scoop cooked pasta out of the pasta water and add it to your sauce. Stir to combine. The sauce is going to seem a little thin at first, but it will thicken as it sits.
9. Add chicken: Stir in the cooked chicken. Allow the pasta to sit for 3 to 5 minutes to give the sauce a chance to thicken and the chicken time to warm up in the hot vodka sauce.
Serve and enjoy!
Can I make this dish ahead of time?
I don’t recommend making pasta with vodka sauce ahead of time because vodka sauce does not reheat super well after it’s been mixed with pasta (it separates and gets a bit oily).
If you’d like to shave off some cooking time, you can cook the chicken in advance or plan on using cooked chicken that you already have an hand (rotisserie chicken would work well).
The sauce only takes about 15 minutes to prep and make, so if your chicken is already cooked, you can have this dish on the table in about 20 minutes depending on how long it takes the water to boil for pasta.
Can I double this recipe?
Absolutely. To change the recipe yield, hover over the number of servings in the recipe card (or click if you’re on mobile) and slide the slider.
What to serve with penne alla vodka?
This sauce is pretty rich, so I like to keep the sides simple and light. A slice of garlic bread and green salad, roasted broccoli, or roasted asparagus are my go-tos.
More Easy Pasta Dinners
Penne alla Vodka With Chicken
- 4 tablespoons olive oil divided
- 1 pound (about 2 medium) boneless skinless chicken breasts cut into 1-inch chunks
- ¼ teaspoon salt plus more as needed
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper plus more as needed
- 8 ounces penne or rigatoni pasta
- 1 tablespoon (14g) butter
- 4 cloves garlic
- ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes optional
- ¼ cup (66g) tomato paste
- ¼ cup vodka
- 1 cup heavy cream
- Bring a medium pot of generously salted water to boil for the pasta.
- In a large pot, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium-high heat. Once hot, add chicken and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook until chicken is cooked through and use a slotted spoon to transfer the chicken to a bowl. Deglaze the pan with a little water, scraping any cooked-on bits off the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Discard the liquid and wipe out the pot with a paper towel so the bottom of the pot is mostly clean.
- Add pasta to pasta water and cook according to box instructions until al dente.
- While the pasta cooks, add remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil and the butter to the pot you used to cook the chicken and heat over medium heat.
- Once melted, add garlic and red pepper flakes. Cook for about 1 minute, until garlic is beginning to turn golden and aromatic.
- Add tomato paste and cook, stirring often, until paste darkens in color and begins to caramelize on the bottom of the pan, 3 to 5 minutes.
- Switch to a heat-resistant whisk and turn heat to low. Carefully add the vodka (the sauce will sizzle and pop aggressively for a few seconds). Whisk, scraping any cooked-on bits from the bottom of the pan as you go, until the vodka is incorporated into the sauce.
- Whisk in heavy cream, and heat over low heat, stirring constantly, until sauce is smooth, uniform in color, and heated through. Do not allow the sauce to come to a simmer.
- When the pasta is nearly done, use a heat-proof measuring cup to scoop out ¼ cup of the cooking water and whisk it into your sauce. Taste the sauce and add salt to taste.
- Once the pasta is al dente, drain or use a slotted spoon or spider skimmer to scoop out pasta, and add it your sauce. Stir to combine.
- Stir in cooked chicken. Allow the pasta to sit for 3 to 5 minutes to give the sauce a chance to thicken and the chicken time to warm up in the hot sauce.
- Serve and enjoy!
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