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Chicken Riggies is a delicious pasta dish with rigatoni pasta, chicken, and peppers in a spicy and creamy tomato sauce.
What are Chicken Riggies?
It’s a spicy, creamy chicken and pasta dish made with rigatoni (aka “riggies”) that originated in the Utica area of upstate New York. Sometimes, this dish is called Utica Riggies – because it’s so popular in that region.
It seems that every restaurant and home cook in Utica has their own variation of this delicious dish. But, the standard ingredients include rigatoni pasta and cooked chicken in a spicy pink marinara sauce. That heat is from the addition of cherry peppers – in the sauce as well as sometimes served on top.
Some say that the original Chicken Riggies was first served at The Clinton House restaurant in the late 1970’s. Other area restaurants have staked claim to variations of this delicious dish – and to this day, there seem to be a lot of variations of this recipe – but all with chicken, riggies, and peppers in a tomato-based sauce.
Why You’ll Love Chicken Riggies
- The sauce has an incredible depth of flavor that is uniquely delicious, and it will have you craving more!
- You can make it as mild or spicy as you’d like – but definitely add at least a little bit of heat! It’s part of the charm of this delicious recipe.
- Our version poaches the chicken in a spicy-sweet herb broth. Then the pasta is cooked in the same poaching liquid – so you’ll have layers of flavor in every bite!
Key ingredients and Substitutions
- Rigatoni Pasta – No substitutions – after all, this is a rigatoni dish! 😊 The sturdy rigatoni is the perfect shape to hold the incredible, creamy sauce.
- Chicken – We used a combination of boneless breast and thigh meat – but all breast or all thigh meat could work as well.
- Cherry peppers – This is where you can adjust the heat of your finished dish – choose sweet or hot to suit your tastes. We recommend using hot cherry peppers to flavor the poaching liquid, and to garnish the finished dish. You can just as well substitute sweet cheery peppers if you cannot handle heat – but to be honest, the hot cherry peppers only add a gentle heat, not an extremely spicy bite.
- Roasted red bell peppers – You can roast, peel and seed your own fresh red bell peppers, or simply buy jarred roasted red peppers. We vote for easy and used jarred ourselves.
- Tomatoes – We used canned, fire-roasted diced tomatoes but regular diced or crushed tomatoes are fine as well. We also add tomato paste to the sauce to add a rich deep flavor.
- Sherry – A dry sherry really adds a unique flavor to this dish and I’m not sure it would be as crave-worthy if you left it out. (A white wine can be substituted but it won’t be quite the same.)
- Mushrooms – An optional ingredient, we included white button mushrooms to add flavor and extra heartiness to this dish. Cremini mushrooms are another good option.
- Dairy – Freshly grated Romano cheese, heavy cream and butter create a very creamy and decadent sauce. Parmesan can be used instead, but Romano adds another unique flavor that makes this dish very special.
- Herbs and spices – Fresh oregano, fresh basil, crushed red pepper flakes, and kosher salt round out the flavors. You can add more or less of the red pepper flakes depending on how spicy you want the finished dish.
Special supplies needed
- Large pot to poach chicken and cook the rigatoni
- Large Dutch oven or non-stick heavy pot to make the sauce and complete the dish
Chef’s Tip – What is a bouquet garni? It’s simply herbs and other aromatics that are tied together with kitchen twine, or in a cheesecloth pouch tied with twine. Then the bouquet pouch is added to flavor your poaching or cooking liquid as it heats. The bouquet/pouch is removed before serving.
How do I make Chicken Riggies?
- Prepare a poaching liquid by creating a bouquet garni of hot cherry peppers, sliced red bell peppers, fresh oregano and fresh garlic. Make a pouch with cheesecloth tied with twine, and place it into a pot of salted water.
- Poach the chicken by plunging into the boiling liquid. Immediately shut off the burner, cover and allow the chicken to poach for six minutes. Remove from the liquid, cool and shred.
- Par-cook the rigatoni (it will finish cooking in the sauce) in the same poaching liquid. This can be done while you make the sauce.
- Sauté mushrooms in oil to brown, then set aside.
- Sauté onions until soft, then add garlic, tomato paste and red pepper flakes.
- Deglaze the pan with sherry. Then add chopped roasted peppers, canned tomatoes, basil, salt, and the cooked mushrooms. Simmer while the rigatoni cooks.
- Add par–cooked rigatoni, cooked shredded chicken, Romano cheese, heavy cream, butter and some pasta water and heat until the pasta is tender.
- Serve with more Romano cheese, sliced cherry peppers and chopped fresh basil.
More Chef’s Tips –
- Most of the time involved in this dish is in the preparation. The actual cooking time is short but since there are multiple ingredients to build the flavor, everything must be prepared and ready before you start to cook. (Read about Mise en Place here.)
- Also, you will be tending two pots at once, one with the pasta and one with the sauce. If the pasta is cooked before you are ready to add it to the sauce, remove with a strainer to a bowl so it doesn’t overcook. Do not discard the pasta water. Simply plunge the pasta back in the water to warm through just before you are ready to add it to the sauce.
Frequently asked Questions
Can I make Chicken Riggies ahead of time? This is a dish that is best freshly-cooked. But you could make the sauce, and par-cook and cool the pasta in cold water ahead of time. Then, assemble closer to serving by combining the two with some of the reserved pasta water and heating to serving temperature.
How do I store any leftovers? Store in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to three days.
How do I reheat leftovers? Reheat in the microwave. Or, reserve some of the pasta water, then reheat on the stove – adding pasta water as needed to thin the sauce.
Can I freeze Chicken Riggies? No – we don’t recommend it.
You might enjoy these other Chicken and Pasta dishes:
- Chicken Pasta Salad with Arugula and Feta
- One Pot Pasta and Chicken with Spinach
- Chicken Broccoli Pasta Bake
- Avocado Chicken Pasta Salad
- Chicken & Penne with Basil Parmesan Cream Sauce
2 pounds boneless skinless chicken (half breast, half thighs)
2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
1/2 cup jarred sliced hot cherry peppers, divided
2 tablespoons fresh garlic cloves coarsely chopped, divided
1/2 large red bell pepper, cut into one-inch pieces
3 sprigs fresh oregano
1-pound dry rigatoni
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
8 ounces button mushrooms, sliced
2 cups sweet onion, diced
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, more if you like it spicy
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
1/3 cup sherry
2 16-ounce jars roasted red peppers, drained and coarsely cut up leaving some larger pieces
2 14.5-ounce cans diced fire roasted tomatoes, not drained
1/4 cup fresh basil cut up, plus more for garnish when serving
1 cup heavy cream
4 tablespoons butter
2 cups Romano cheese, grated and divided
Before beginning, make sure all ingredients are cut, chopped and measured out. (Read about mise en place here.)
Clean the chicken of visible fat. Cut the breasts into four even thickness pieces similar in size to the chicken thighs so all chicken pieces cook evenly. Set aside.
In a large pot, fill with water and place on stove over high heat. Once boiling, add 1 teaspoon of kosher salt.
Fold open a 12X12 piece of cheese cloth and fill with ¼ cup of the sliced hot cherry peppers, one tablespoon of chopped garlic, the red bell pepper pieces and the fresh oregano. Pull up into a pouch and tie off the top with twine.
Place this cheesecloth bag into the water, cover and cook five minutes.
Remove cover but leave the bag in, add the chicken pieces, cover and remove from heat. Let sit six minutes off-heat in the hot water to poach.
Use a spider or tongs to remove the chicken to a platter to cool. The chicken may not be fully cooked with a tiny amount of pink. It will cook later in the recipe. Keep the water hot on a low burner with the cover and leave the cheesecloth bag in the pot.
Once cool enough to handle, shred the chicken with two forks or simply pull the meat apart with your fingers to shred. Set aside for later in the recipe.
Bring the poaching liquid to a boil and add the rigatoni to cook. Cook it a few minutes shy of fully cooked. Do not discard pasta water. See Chef Tip in the post above on timing.
In a separate large heavy-duty pot or Dutch oven, add half the olive oil over high heat. Once shimmering hot, add the mushrooms and cook, stirring often to brown, about 8-10 minutes. Once browned, remove to a small bowl and reduce heat to medium.
Add the remaining olive oil and once hot, add the onions and cook stirring often to soften, about five minutes. Add the remaining tablespoon of garlic and cook one minute.
Add pepper flakes and tomato paste and stir continually for two minutes.
Add sherry to deglaze and cook for one minute.
Add the chopped roasted peppers, canned tomatoes, basil, cooked mushrooms and remaining teaspoon of salt along with the reserved cooked shredded chicken. Stir and simmer over a low heat while the rigatoni continues cooking.
Once the rigatoni is just slightly undercooked, use a spider or strainer and add to the pot of sauce along with the cream, butter and 1 ½ cups of the shredded Romano cheese and stir.
Add enough pasta water to make a creamy sauce while the rigatoni finishes cooking in the sauce.
Once fully cooked, portion and serve with the rest of the hot sliced cherry peppers, fresh basil and the remaining Romano cheese.
Save some pasta water to help reheat leftovers, if any. Discard the cheesecloth bag.
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