Vodka sauce is a beloved pasta topping in Italian cuisine, made creamy and bright with a splash of vodka and fresh tomatoes. This gochujang vodka pasta recipe takes the classic in a new, flavorful direction by swapping in the Korean chili paste gochujang in place of tomato paste. The result is a crowd-pleasing pasta with subtle heat and sweetness that will upgrade your weeknight dinner routine.
Keep reading for a step-by-step guide to making this easy skillet pasta, as well as tips for customizing the dish to suit your tastes. This pasta comes together in just 30 minutes, so it's perfect for busy weeknights. The ingredients are simple pantry staples you likely have on hand. Let's get cooking!
What is Gochujang?
Before we get to the recipe, let's do a quick rundown of the star ingredient - gochujang. This thick, sticky Korean condiment is made from fermented soybeans, glutinous rice, salt, and chili peppers. It has a deep red color and adds a complex savory, sweet, and spicy flavor to dishes. You can find gochujang at major grocery stores, Asian markets, or online. The flavor can vary between brands, but any will work well in this pasta.
Once opened, gochujang will keep for several months in the fridge. It's extremely versatile for cooking beyond this vodka pasta recipe. Try mixing it into marinades, salad dressings, soups, stews, and more. The flavor profile pairs especially well with pork, chicken, and tofu.
Making gochujang vodka pasta starts with gathering a few simple ingredients:
- Pasta - rigatoni or penne work best
- Olive oil
- Butter or vegan butter alternative
- Shallot or onion
- Tomato paste
- Heavy cream or vegan cream alternative
- Vegetable broth or pasta cooking water
- Parmesan or vegan cheese alternative
- Optional garnishes like sesame seeds, red pepper flakes, scallions
Double-check your pantry for gochujang and vodka before getting started. Otherwise, this sauce comes together with easy pantry staples.
Make the Gochujang Vodka Sauce
With your ingredients assembled, it's time to start cooking! Here are step-by-step instructions for making the sauce:
Cook the aromatics
- Heat the olive oil and butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the diced shallot or onion. Cook for 3-5 minutes until softened and translucent.
- Add the minced garlic and cook for 1 minute more until fragrant.
Bloom the gochujang
- Add the gochujang and tomato paste to the pan. Cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly, until the mixture darkens slightly. This helps intensify the flavor of the gochujang.
Deglaze with vodka
- Pour in the vodka, scraping any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Allow to simmer until most of the vodka cooks off, about 2 minutes.
Make it creamy
- Stir in the heavy cream and bring to a gentle simmer. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring often, until the sauce thickens slightly.
- Turn off the heat and stir in the grated Parmesan. Add pasta cooking water or vegetable broth to thin and loosen the sauce if needed.
Cook the Pasta
While the sauce simmers, cook the pasta:
- Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Cook the pasta according to package directions until al dente.
- Reserve 1/2 cup of the starchy pasta cooking water before draining. This helps emulsify the sauce.
Combine and Serve
Now it's time to bring everything together:
- Add the cooked pasta and reserved pasta water directly to the skillet with the vodka sauce.
- Toss well until the pasta is thoroughly coated in the creamy, spicy sauce.
- Serve warm garnished with Parmesan, sesame seeds, red pepper flakes, and scallions if desired. Enjoy this easy, flavor-packed gochujang vodka pasta!
Customize the Dish
One of the great things about this recipe is how customizable it is to your tastes and pantry. Here are some easy ways to put your own spin on gochujang vodka pasta:
- Make it vegan: Swap the butter for olive oil and use vegan cream cheese or cashew cream. Omit the Parmesan or use vegan cheese.
- Add protein: Chicken, shrimp, or crispy tofu make excellent additions.
- Use different pasta shapes: Try fusilli, farfalle, orecchiette, or mini shells.
- Adjust the spice level: For less heat, use 1-2 tbsp gochujang instead of 3. For more kicks, add an extra pinch of red pepper flakes.
- Switch up the garnishes: Toasted sesame seeds, scallions, parsley, basil, and lime wedges all make great toppers.
What vodka should I use?
You don't need an expensive vodka here—anything you would be happy drinking will work well. Some people prefer to use soju, a Korean spirit, as a nod to the gochujang.
Can I use jarred minced garlic?
Absolutely! 3-4 teaspoons of jarred minced garlic can be in for fresh cloves if that's easier.
How long does the sauce keep?
The sauce will keep covered in the fridge for 3-4 days. The flavors may deepen over time. Reheat gently before tossing with pasta.
Can I make this sauce ahead?
Yes, you can prep the sauce up to step 5 a day in advance. Then simply reheat and finish the recipe when ready to serve.
Can I freeze any leftovers?
Freezing pasta dishes is not recommended, as the texture tends to suffer. This pasta is best served fresh or refrigerated for up to 4 days.
For a quick, flavorful meal that will become a new favorite, give this gochujang vodka pasta a try. The combo of creamy, spicy, and subtly sweet is addictive, and the recipe easily customizes to your tastes. With just 30 minutes of active cooking time, it's an ideal weeknight dinner option to keep in your regular rotation. Let the gochujang spice up your usual pasta routine!
Gochujang Vodka Pasta
- 1 pound pasta (rigatoni or penne)
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 shallot, diced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 2-3 tablespoons gochujang (to taste)
- 1/4 cup vodka
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 2 scallions, sliced, for garnish
- 1 tablespoon sesame seeds, for garnish
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta according to package directions until al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup pasta cooking water before draining.
- Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add shallot and cook 3-4 minutes until translucent. Add garlic and cook 1 minute until fragrant.
- Stir in gochujang and cook 2 minutes. Add vodka and simmer 2 minutes.
- Add heavy cream and simmer 5 minutes until slightly thickened. Remove from heat and stir in Parmesan.
- Add cooked pasta and reserved pasta water to skillet. Toss to coat.
- Drizzle with sesame oil and garnish with scallions and sesame seeds before serving.