Culinary Chemistry: Bull Run Medoyeff Vodka Sauce

by | Jul 28, 2016

Alcohol is a common ingredient in Italian cooking. In addition to the fact that’s it’s just kind of fun to add a glug (or two) of whatever you’re sipping on to your stock pot, adding a splash of wine to your bolognese or Alfredo can help release flavors that would otherwise go unnoticed.

Although, while there’s nothing unusual about adding wine to Italian cooking, other types of booze — such as vodka — can aid in the flavor and texture of your sauce as well.

Vodka sauce, most commonly found in the dish penne alla vodka, is essentially a marriage of red and white sauce, held together by a generous helping of vodka. In fact, without the vodka, this sauce would fall apart. The alcohol in the vodka helps emulsify the acidic red sauce with the oily white sauce, allowing the two to come together as one.

For this classic vodka sauce, use a traditional style vodka like Bull Run Distillery‘s Medoyeff. This Eastern European-influenced vodka adds just a touch of sweetness to this sauce, further helping to accentuate the flavors masked by the acidity of the tomato sauce.

In addition to the vodka, I also like to add a bit of white wine toward the end, like Tranche Cellars’ oaky Chardonnay, for an added burst of flavor.

Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 1 hour
Makes: 12 servings

2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons butter
2 yellow onions, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup Bull Run Distillery Medoyeff vodka
1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 14-ounce cans tomato puree
2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon sugar
Salt and pepper, to taste
½–1 cup Tranche Cellars Chardonnay
Crushed red pepper flakes, to taste (optional)
Fresh basil sprigs (optional)


In a large pot over medium heat, warm olive oil and butter until melted. Add onions and garlic and sauté until nearly caramelized, 2–3 minutes.

Add vodka and continue cooking until most of the vodka has evaporated, 3–5 minutes.

Stir in diced tomatoes, tomato paste and tomato puree and bring to a simmer. Once well combined, slowly whisk in cream until evenly incorporated.

Reduce heat to low and add dried basil, oregano, sugar, red pepper flakes (optional), and salt and pepper to taste.

Cover and cook for 45 minutes. Add Chardonnay and cook for 15 more minutes. Garnish with fresh basil and serve over your favorite pasta.


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