Cooking with Vodka??

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Cooking with Vodka??

Postby Howie Hart » Wed Jun 13, 2012 10:01 pm

Ok, so a local restaurant has a menu item called "Chicken con Vodka" with peas, diced tomatoes and prosciutto. When I think of vodka, I think of a neutral distilled grain spirit, devoid of flavor. I can think of no reason why one would use it in cooking, except, perhaps, to use the alcohol for deglazing without adding any flavor. Am I missing something here?
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Re: Cooking with Vodka??

Postby Jeff Grossman/NYC » Wed Jun 13, 2012 10:52 pm

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Re: Cooking with Vodka??

Postby Robin Garr » Wed Jun 13, 2012 11:28 pm

Howie, the penne alla vodka that Jeff mentions is modern (20th century) Italian-American and very popular at spaghetti houses in South Florida, for some reason. I used to get it now and then at Giuseppe's, a place near where my Mom used to live in North Palm Beach.

It's basically a pink tomato-and-cream sauce, piquant with red pepper flakes, with a shot of vodka stirred in. The idea, as I understand it, is to add alcohol to release soluble flavors from the tomato but without the fruity flavors that wine would contribute.
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Re: Cooking with Vodka??

Postby Jon Peterson » Thu Jun 14, 2012 8:29 am

I make a vodka cream sauce that is fabulous. I read the recipe years ago and there are others out on the web. While I a not a vodka drinker,I am a vodka cooker.
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Re: Cooking with Vodka??

Postby Shlomo R » Thu Jun 14, 2012 2:27 pm

Maybe if one keeps an ice-cold glass of the stuff to sip while cooking? :wink:
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Re: Cooking with Vodka??

Postby Carl Eppig » Thu Jun 14, 2012 2:53 pm

We first encountered this dish during visits to Utica and other Mohawk Valley localles with Italian-American populations. This is the recipe with devoloped after such visits:

RIGATONI IN PINK VODKA SAUCE:

1 lb Rigatoni
5 T Butter
2/3 C Vodka
1/4 tsp Red pepper flakes
1 14 1/2 oz can Muir Glen Fire Roasted diced tomatoes lightly pureed
1/2 tsp Salt
3/4 C Freshly grated Parmesan
3/4 C Heavy cream
Cook Rigatoni for 14 minutes and drain. In the same pot melt the butter and add Vodka and red pepper flakes; simmering for two minutes. Add tomatoes and cream and simmer an additional five minutes, adding salt at end. Return the drained Rigatoni to pot with cheese, and simmer on very low heat for ten minutes or so until pasta absorbs most of the sauce. Serve. The recipe can be halved.
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Re: Cooking with Vodka??

Postby Howie Hart » Fri Jun 15, 2012 8:54 am

OK - so the purpose of the vodka is to introduce alcohol, which acts somewhat as a solvent to extract flavors from other ingredients in the sauce. And since it does not seem to used as a de-glazing agent, or reduced and not in the sauce for long before serving, very little of the alcohol is cooked off.
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Re: Cooking with Vodka??

Postby Robin Garr » Fri Jun 15, 2012 9:19 am

Howie Hart wrote:OK - so the purpose of the vodka is to introduce alcohol, which acts somewhat as a solvent to extract flavors from other ingredients in the sauce. And since it does not seem to used as a de-glazing agent, or reduced and not in the sauce for long before serving, very little of the alcohol is cooked off.

Dunno, Howie ... in Carl's recipe it looks like the sauce simmers for 2 + 5 + 10 minutes after the vodka is added. Given the high volatility of alcohol in distillates, I'd think there's not enough left to pack much of a punch after that process.
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Re: Cooking with Vodka??

Postby Mark Lipton » Fri Jun 15, 2012 10:19 am

What Robin said. At a simmer, the alcohol is boiling out of solution faster than the water is owing to its lower boiling point (173°F). Geek note: a mixture of alcohol and water distills as an "azeotrope," a 95:5 mixture of the two that boils one degree lower than the alcohol alone. That's why Everclear is 190 Proof -- that's the highest proof one can get by straight distillation. To get a higher Proof, one has to add benzene to the mixture as it forms an even lower boiling azeotrope with water, thereby permitting the azeotropic distillation of a benzene-water mixture (91:9 for the interested) followed by a secondary distillation of pure alcohol (200 Proof). Because of the presence of a minor quantity of benzene in that "absolute ethanol," it's not generally considered safe to drink, alas. :mrgreen:

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Re: Cooking with Vodka??

Postby Paul Winalski » Fri Jun 15, 2012 11:36 am

Mark,

Couldn't one filter Everclear through calcium chloride or some other powerful hygroscopic material to remove the water?

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Re: Cooking with Vodka??

Postby Mark Lipton » Fri Jun 15, 2012 3:15 pm

Paul Winalski wrote:Mark,

Couldn't one filter Everclear through calcium chloride or some other powerful hygroscopic material to remove the water?

-Paul W.


Of course, Paul. The best thing for such a purpose is "molecular sieves" (a zeolite that selectively sequesters water). The three problems with such an approach are cost, potential toxicity of the drying agent and (worst of all) the fact that absolute ethanol rehydrates rapidly when exposed to atmospheric moisture. Who wants to drink their liquor in a glove box? :?

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Re: Cooking with Vodka??

Postby Jeff Grossman/NYC » Fri Jun 15, 2012 4:33 pm

Mark Lipton wrote:Who wants to drink their liquor in a glove box? :?

I've drunk in worse places. At least I've got a flashlight and some maps to keep me busy in there. :wink:
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Re: Cooking with Vodka??

Postby Robin Garr » Fri Jun 15, 2012 6:07 pm

Jeff Grossman/NYC wrote:
Mark Lipton wrote:Who wants to drink their liquor in a glove box? :?

I've drunk in worse places. At least I've got a flashlight and some maps to keep me busy in there. :wink:

In here!? :shock:

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Re: Cooking with Vodka??

Postby Max Hauser » Sat Jun 16, 2012 4:26 pm

Howie, to get back to your point (albeit from the interesting excursions into distillation, glove boxes, &c.*), I remember wonering similarly when I first saw the penne-with-vodka recipes being published by smoked-salmon producers in the 1980s.

I experimented at the time with those recipes (basically, hard smoked salmon such as Sockeye, cooked very briefly with cream, black pepper, finished with a little vodka, then served with pasta), and occasionally other recipes since then, like the tomato-cream-pepperflake sauce that Robin cited. Whether or not it actually extracted any flavors, the vodka also introduced a small distinct alcohol "bite" that was part of the spiciness of these dishes. Indeed it did so without also adding other strong flavors, as another spirit, or wine, would add.


* My own absolute-alcohol anecdote, posted long ago on another forum and maybe familiar already to Mark or others, was from a physics lab I worked at where 95%, or occasionally absolute, alcohol was used daily to clean equipment (specifically, metal samples to generate ions electrically in vaccuum). Squeeze dispenser bottles of the alcohol were all around the lab, and a problem that developed with labeling it straightforardly was when building custodial personnel came through after hours, lab workers next day sometimes found the alcohol in some of the bottles replaced with water, which interfered with its normal use (and there was also the safety concern of someone potentially drinking pilfered benzene-contaminated absolute alc.). Thus the bottles came to be re-labeled Final Anode Cleaning Solution, which was both actually accurate, and empirically unappetizing. No one ever touched them after that.
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Re: Cooking with Vodka??

Postby Paul Winalski » Mon Jun 18, 2012 12:49 pm

Max,

When I was a college freshman, my Chemistry professor told our class about an incident that happened when she was in grad school and was put in charge of the Chemistry stockroom. There was a problem with students stealing absolute ethanol for frat parties. They were being subtle about it and only taking small amounts at a time, but just cracking the seal let in enough moisture to render the rest of the carboy unusable for its intended purposes. She solved the problem by topping up a ruined carboy with phenolphthalein and then noting which students were out of class due to diarrhea the next day. She warned those students that it was dangerous to steal things from the Chem stockroom because of the possibility of contamination. The thefts of absolute ethanol stopped.

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Re: Cooking with Vodka??

Postby Mark Lipton » Mon Jun 18, 2012 1:01 pm

Great story, Paul! To combat pilfering of ethanol by the custodial staff when I was in grad school, we took to labeling bottles EtOH, which led to a sharp decrease in loss. Another wit in my lab attached a warning label to his ethanol bottle: WARNING!!! This bottle is contaminated by Dihydrogen Oxide! DO NOT USE. Very effective strategy it was. :lol:

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Re: Cooking with Vodka??

Postby Max Hauser » Mon Jun 18, 2012 1:45 pm

I think Paul's anecdote gets the prize among our alcohol-antitheft stories. :twisted:

It's also a reminder of the abuse that can be (or, anyway, could often in the past be) done to college undergraduates in an instructive cause (things less likely to be done to paid staff, for example). This is something of a tradition. An MIT metallurgy professor wrote about once wreaking revenge on notoriously sticky-fingered lecture students there. He said whenever he passed around samples for inspection, the kids would steal some. So he got a research assistant to prepare medallions of a thermochemically unstable alloy. Heated slightly above room temperature, it would react and emit a lot of heat.

When these medallions, sized like large coins, were passed around, the box came back with fewer, as expected. The lecture continued for a few minutes, then a few students began jumping around and emptying their pockets. It helped to vividly demonstrate the technical point the instructor was then covering. But he relished the memory years later, remarking that the US being even more lawsuit-happy today, he was glad he'd done it earlier.
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Re: Cooking with Vodka??

Postby Bill Spohn » Wed Jun 20, 2012 7:15 pm

Max - hilarious story!

Mark - only thing I ever used EtOH for from the lab (other than its intended functions) was injecting it into oranges when we went to public events. They'd stop you and check for bottles, but didn't care about fruit! :twisted:
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Re: Cooking with Vodka??

Postby Mark Lipton » Thu Jun 21, 2012 11:55 am

Bill Spohn wrote:Max - hilarious story!

Mark - only thing I ever used EtOH for from the lab (other than its intended functions) was injecting it into oranges when we went to public events. They'd stop you and check for bottles, but didn't care about fruit! :twisted:


I may have previously related this story, but in my senior year of college I was appointed to the most prestigious position of social director for the local chapter of the American Chemical Society. For one ill-fated meeting, I decided to brew a punch of 95% ethanol mixed with cranberry juice that ended up about 40 Proof. I served it with fair warning to all about its potency, but alas several of my classmates, mostly very diminutive Asian-American women, didn't take my admonitions seriously and our meeting eventually dissolved in a haze of loopy Chem majors. Lesson learned for all. :oops:

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Re: Cooking with Vodka??

Postby Bill Spohn » Thu Jun 21, 2012 12:29 pm

Some of the guys in the lab used to mix it with grape Koolaid to make something horrid that I wouldn't touch. I was never into maximum alcohol for minimum cost and damn the taste.

On cooking with vodka - never been convinced it does much. If you cook awhile it is all gone, and if you don't, you are just adding some bite when some other sort of spice bite would probably suit me better.
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Re: Cooking with Vodka??

Postby Jeff Grossman/NYC » Thu Jun 21, 2012 1:02 pm

Ah, memories of 'Everclear' and Orange Crush.... A friend in the chem labs would bring us ethanol occasionally. He used to put it in a cut-crystal bottle that was labeled:

Old Wilkins

A combination of battery acid
and embalming fluid,
not to be drunk by pregnant women
who wish to remain that way.
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Re: Cooking with Vodka??

Postby Jeff Grossman/NYC » Thu Jun 21, 2012 1:04 pm

Bill Spohn wrote:On cooking with vodka - never been convinced it does much. If you cook awhile it is all gone, and if you don't, you are just adding some bite when some other sort of spice bite would probably suit me better.

It seems to work with tomato sauce. I read that tomatoes have some compounds that are not water-soluble but will dissolve in alcohol.

Anyway, a skoosh of red wine in a pot of sauce don't hurt. :wink:
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