Rigatoni, sherry marinated chicken, and a creamy and spicy tomato and pepper sauce: let’s discover chicken riggies, the favorite pasta dish from the people of Utica, New York. This American recipe with Italian influences is as comforting as it is tasty.
What is chicken riggies?
Chicken riggies, also known as Utica riggies, is an Italian-American spicy pasta dish. It consists of chicken rigatoni pasta and a creamy tomato and sweet pepper sauce.
Chicken riggies is made exclusively with rigatoni, which is a type of tube-shaped pasta with grooves (rigato means “ridged” in Italian), whose ends are cut straight and not at an angle, unlike penne, for example. The hollow and wide aspect of the rigatoni is ideal to hold the creamy sauce of the dish well.
The recipe also includes dry sherry, a wine fortified with brandy that comes from the Andalusian region in southern Spain.
This wine with a high alcohol content (between 15.5 and 18%) is essential for the unique flavor of the dish: it perfumes the ingredients while providing them with acidity and character. If you do not have sherry on hand, a classic dry white wine, port wine, Marsala wine, Madeira or dry vermouth may also be suitable.
Apart from a pinch of pepper, the Utica riggies does not contain spices. The spiced side of the dish actually comes from adding spicy cherry peppers or red chili peppers in the sauce. They bring a tangy touch that balances perfectly with the smoothness of the cream and cheese sauce, without igniting the palate.
What is the origin chicken riggies?
Chicken riggies is the iconic dish of the city of Utica, located in the state of New York in the United States. Although this dish is an American specialty, it was strongly inspired by the Italian heritage that characterized the region after a major wave of immigration in the twentieth century.
While everyone agrees that chicken riggies was born in the Utica-Rome region between the late 1970s and early 1980s, there is more debate about the inventor of the dish.
If you visit Utica one day, you will quickly find that the dish is on the menu of most restaurants in the city. Several of them claim to be the creators and they compete for the title of the best “riggies” of the region.
It is also interesting to note that the very first version of the chicken riggies did not contain cream. All the richness of the dish actually came from the cheese (parmesan or pecorino) added at the end of the preparation. When the dish started to become more popular, many chefs decided to add cream and today it has become the official recipe.
In Utica, people do not mess with chicken riggies: it is even a real culinary pride. The city residents love it so much that they have dedicated an entire festival to honor it! The Riggie Fest is held every year and it is the scene of a competition where everyone can share their favorite version of the famous pasta dish, from the most traditional to the most revisited.
How to make chicken riggies
Making a good chicken riggies will require you to use several cooking utensils. In fact, it is better to cook the elements separately to better combine them at the end: pasta on one side and chicken cubes on the other, then the tomato sauce with peppers and cream, cream cheese and Parmesan cheese mix.
Regarding pasta cooking, it is important that the rigatoni are perfectly al dente, since once mixed with the sauce in the pot, they will continue to cook slightly.
The secret for a particularly tasty chicken riggies? The marinade! Marinating your chicken for several hours in a mixture of herbs and dry sherry will allow it to soak up all the flavors. This essential step brings a lot of taste to the dish and ensures a chicken riggies worthy of the best establishments of Utica.
- ½ cup dry sherry
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 cloves garlic chopped
- ¼ teaspoon oregano
- ¼ teaspoon thyme
- ¼ teaspoon rosemary
- ¼ teaspoon sage
- 2 lb chicken cutlets cut into cubes
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 red bell pepper cut into cubes
- ½ green bell pepper cut into cubes
- 4 spicy cherry peppers or 1 chili pepper, chopped
- 1 onion cut into cubes
- 4 cloves garlic chopped
- ¾ cup dry sherry
- 4 oz. tomato paste
- 25 oz. fresh tomatoes peeled, seeded and crushed
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ⅛ teaspoon black pepper
- 1 lb uncooked rigatoni
- 10 oz. heavy cream
- 8 oz. cream cheese cut into cubes and (at room temperature)
- 4 oz. Parmesan cheese
- Dutch oven
- In a large freezer bag, mix the sherry wine, 2 tablespoons olive oil, garlic, oregano, thyme, rosemary, sage.
- Add the chicken and seal the freezer bag, eliminating as much air as possible.
- Place the bag in a large hollow dish (in case of leakage), and put in the refrigerator for 2 hours.
- Drain the chicken and discard the marinade.
- Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large Dutch oven.
- Sauté the chicken over medium-high heat for 10 minutes, stirring regularly.
- Transfer the chicken to a dish and set aside.
- In the same Dutch oven, melt the butter.
- Sauté the red bell pepper, green bell pepper, hot peppers, onion and garlic over low heat until tender (about 7 to 10 minutes).
- Pour over the sherry and bring to a boil.
- Add the tomato paste, crushed tomatoes, salt and pepper and bring to a boil.
- Reduce heat and simmer over low-medium heat and cover for 10 minutes until slightly thickened.
- Add the chicken and simmer over very low heat for 10 minutes, stirring regularly.
- Meanwhile, cook the rigatoni al dente (see package instructions).
- Mix the heavy cream and cream cheese in a saucepan and heat over low heat stirring until they have melted.
- Pour into the chicken mixture.
- Add the parmesan cheese.
- Drain the pasta.
- Add the drained pasta into the Dutch oven.
- Mix for a few minutes to coat the sauce well.