Chicken riggies is a beloved Italian-American pasta dish with a spicy tomato cream sauce that the whole family will love!
As a native Upstate New Yorker, born and raised, there are a few beloved dishes that we can claim wholly as our own - chicken riggies is one of those dishes.
With roots in Utica, New York, chicken riggies is a pasta dish with a rich, creamy tomato sauce that has become a hugely popular regional delicacy.
Bursting with flavor and the kick from pickled cherry peppers, chicken riggies makes one seriously delicious dinner any night of the week - you have to try it!
What Is Chicken Riggies?
In a nutshell, chicken riggies is a popular pasta dish believed to have originated in Utica, New York, although some make claim that Syracuse, New York is the true birthplace of chicken riggies. (My money is on Utica!)
Chicken riggies are traditionally made with rigatoni pasta, chicken, bell peppers, onions and a spicy tomato cream sauce that is out of this world flavorful.
Some variations may include other ingredients such as mushrooms, capers or olives, but the key elements are rigatoni, chicken and the signature sauce.
The dish is known for its flavorful, slightly spicy sauce, which is rich, decadent and creamy. A staple of Italian-American cuisine in the Utica area and beyond, people often have a favorite version that has been passed down for decades.
Why Is It Called Chicken Riggies?
The exact origin of the catchy name "chicken riggies" is not entirely clear, but it is believed to be a mashup of two main ingredients - chicken and rigatoni.
While there's much we don't know about the origin of chicken riggies, the dish is thought to date back to the 1980s with growing popularity ever since.
Today, chicken riggies is a mainstay at Italian-American restaurants throughout the region, with an increasing following in other parts of the country as well.
Chicken Riggies Ingredients
While there are a few steps to creating the signature sauce for chicken riggies, the entire dish is made with just a handful of simple ingredients:
- Rigatoni pasta
- Chicken breast
- Bell peppers
- Crushed tomatoes
- Tomato pasta
- Heavy cream
- Cream cheese
- Parmesan cheese
- Italian seasoning
- Olive oil and vinegar
- Red pepper flakes
- Salt and pepper
Again, different versions of chicken riggies recipes may feature slight modifications. For instance, some simplified recipes used a jarred vodka sauce.
Others include the addition of mushrooms, capers, olives, or a dash of hot sauce to kick up the spiciness. It's definitely a dish you can truly make your own.
How To Make Chicken Riggies
Chicken riggies is generally prepared by cooking the pasta and chicken separately, sautéing the vegetables, and then combining everything with the tomato cream sauce.
Some people opt to bake the assembled dish until it's bubbly, but I generally skip this step since it saves time and doesn't impact the flavor of the final dish.
Step 1. First, prep and marinate the chicken per the recipe. Then melt butter in a cast iron dutch oven or another large, heavy bottom pan. Add the chicken.
Step 2. Cook the chicken in the melted butter over medium heat until it's cooked through, but still tender and juicy. Remove and set aside.
Step 3. Add the vegetables to the pot and continue to cook over medium heat.
Step 4. While the vegetables are cooking, add the heavy cream and cream cheese to a second pot. Warm over medium heat, whisking regularly until the cream cheese is fully melted and well incorporated. Set aside.
Step 5. As you're making the cream mixture, continue letting the peppers and onions cook until the peppers are tender and the onions are translucent.
Step 6. At that time, add the crushed tomatoes and tomato paste.
Step 7. Stir well to combine and continue to simmer over medium to medium-high heat so the flavors can develop.
Step 8. Add the cooked chicken and cream mixture to the tomato base and mix everything together until it's fully integrated.
Step 9. Add the prepared rigatoni to the pot and use a big wooden spoon to mix everything up until the pasta is evenly coated in the cream sauce.
Step 10. Garnish with basil and crushed red pepper (optional) and serve!
How To Serve Chicken Riggies
Chicken riggies is a hearty dish that stands entirely on its own. Serve it with red pepper flakes or hot sauce so people can spice it up to their liking.
Of course, any pasta dish is delicious served alongside a salad like a spinach salad with strawberries and feta. (Trust me! It makes sense when you taste it.)
Tips for Making the Best Chicken Riggies
- Add cream cheese to the sauce along with heavy cream as called for in the recipe below - it creates a rich, creamy texture and flavor. Some recipes only call for heavy cream, but I love the extra flavor and creaminess you get by adding the cream cheese.
- Unless you’re in a real time crunch, make the sauce from scratch. It adds so much flavor. Otherwise, some people substitute a jarred vodka sauce for the cream sauce, but the flavor is a bit different.
- Marinate the chicken for a bit before cooking it - it adds an extra depth of flavor that is worth the little bit of extra effort.
- Choose your pickled cherry peppers to suit your palate. For a spicier sauce, use pickled hot cherry peppers. For a mild sauce opt for pickled sweet cherry peppers and let friends and family spice things up to their liking with crushed red pepper flake or hot sauce when serving.
- Experiment with different vegetables, use shredded rotisserie chicken or skip the chicken entirely for a vegetarian option - make it your own!
How To Store and Reheat Leftover Chicken Riggies
Leftover chicken riggies (while quite rare) store nicely in the fridge for a couple of days and reheat beautifully for lunch or dinner the following day.
Transfer the leftovers to an airtight container and immediately place them in the fridge to avoid bacteria growth - you can safely keep leftovers for 2 to 3 days.
To reheat, simply warm your chicken riggies in an oven safe dish in the oven or microwave, or in a skillet sprayed lightly with nonstick spray over medium heat.
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