This spicy Italian American recipe comes from Utica, New York. Chicken Riggies are a delicious homemade comfort food, consisting of chicken cooked with hot cherry peppers in a creamy and spicy tomato sauce served over rigatoni.
My family loves pasta – and this is one of our favorite pasta recipes. This easy recipe combines pasta, chicken and hot cherry peppers in rich, creamy tomato sauce for a delicious combination of flavors.
The total cooking time is about 30 minutes, which makes it ideal for a weeknight meal for the family. It is delicious and nice change from a basic spaghetti and meatballs pasta dinner.
What are Chicken Riggies?
Chicken Riggies are also called Utica Riggies and are an Italian-American dish that comes from the Utica area of Upstate New York.
The origin of the dish isn’t really known, and it has lots of variations, but it always includes rigatoni, chicken and a creamy tomato sauce and it is usually hot and spicy. Since the tomato sauce is orange colored and creamy some people think it is vodka sauce, but it isn’t.
In the Syracuse and Utica area it is served in almost every Italian restaurant and sometimes paired with a side of Utica Greens, another classic local dish.
Although the ingredient list for this recipe looks long it is actually a straight forward and easy to make dish. Here are the key ingredients:
- Rigatoni – You have to use rigatoni to be authentic! Either regular or mezzi rigatoni work fine.
- Chicken – Either white or dark meat works well in this recipe.
- Bell pepper, onions, tomatoes, garlic – These vegetables are staples of Italian cooking.
- Hot pickled cherry peppers – These peppers are the authentic way to add spiciness to the dish.
- Cream, butter, Parmesan cheese – These three ingredients are what makes the sauce rich and creamy.
Hot Pickled Cherry Peppers
Hot pickled cherry peppers aren’t an ingredient that will be in every pantry, but they are worth getting just for this dish. The pickled cherry peppers are spicy and combine beautifully with the creaminess of the tomato sauce.
You can easily use up the rest of the jar of peppers by adding them to sandwiches. I use five hot cherry peppers in this dish, which is perfect for my family, but if you like things really spicy you can add more or add some crushed red pepper to make them even spicier.
How to Make Chicken Riggies
1. Brown the Chicken
Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the cut up chicken and season it with salt and pepper if desired.
Cook it for 5 minutes, stirring to brown it on each side. Then take it out of the skillet and set it aside while you brown the vegetables.
2. Start the Rigatoni Water
Once the chicken is browned I put a large pot of salted water on the stove for cooking the rigatoni. Put the pot on high so it comes to a boil.
3. Brown the Vegetables
Add the chopped onions and bell peppers to the skillet. I used a yellow pepper in these pictures, but any color pepper works. You can also add mushrooms if you like. Cook, stirring, for 5 minutes.
Then return the chicken to the skillet along with the garlic and cook for 1 minute.
4. Simmer the Sauce
Add the chopped pickled cherry peppers, crushed tomatoes, chicken broth and salt to the skillet. Stir to mix, then bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat and let it simmer at a low heat for 10 minutes.
5. Cook the Rigatoni
By now the pasta water for the rigatoni should be boiling. Add the pasta once it reaches a full rolling boil. Cook it, stirring occasionally, for the amount of time indicated on your box, usually 10-14 minutes.
6. Finish the Dish
After the sauce has simmered for 10 minutes reduce the burner heat to the lowest setting. Then stir in the cream, butter and Parmesan cheese.
Let the mixture cook for 3-5 minutes, or until the rigatoni is done cooking. The sauce will thicken slightly as it cooks.
Once the rigatoni is al dente drain it well. Then stir the pasta into the riggie sauce and serve.
Like many local favorite dishes every cook has their own take on this dish. Some common changes to riggies are:
- Adding more vegetables, like mushrooms
- Using sherry instead of chicken broth in the sauce
- Leaving out the cream in the sauce and instead adding extra Parmesan cheese and butter
- Adding cream cheese to make the sauce even creamier
- Using sausage instead of chicken to make sausage riggies
- Adding cayenne pepper to make the riggies extra spicy
Can I Make This Ahead of Time?
If you want to make this ahead of time the best option is to make the sauce in advance and cook the pasta right before serving.
You can make the sauce 2-3 days in advance of serving the riggies, and refrigerate it. The sauce also keep well in the freezer for 2-3 months.
When you are ready to serve the chicken riggies just heat the sauce over low heat while you boil the pasta. Then combine the sauce with the rigatoni and serve.
Once the sauce and rigatoni are combined it won’t reheat as well. But you can still reheat leftovers in the microwave, the pasta just won’t have as good a texture as freshly cooked pasta.
How to Serve Chicken Riggies
Riggies are a complete meal all by themselves. I like to add a green salad, and of course a loaf of Italian bread goes well to.
You can garnish the chicken riggies with more Parmesan cheese or with black olives if you like. Herbs like basil and parsley also make excellent additions.
Find more Traditional Upstate New York Recipes
- 1/2 pound riganoti
- 2 Tablespoons olive oil
- 1 pound boneless chicken breast (or thighs)
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 bell pepper, chopped
- 1 onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 5 hot pickled cherry peppers, chopped
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 14 ounces crushed tomatoes
- 1 cup chicken broth
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 4 Tablespoons butter
- 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
- additional Parmesan cheese, basil or parsley to garnish
- Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a skillet. Cut the chicken into bite sized pieces. Season the chicken with salt and pepper if desired and then cook for 5 minutes, turning to brown on each side. Remove the chicken and set it aside. The chicken won't be completely cooked, it will finish cooking in the sauce.
- Put a large pot of water on the stove and bring it to a boil over high heat while you continue to make the sauce.
- Meanwhile, add the chopped bell pepper and onions to the skillet and cook for 5 minutes.
- Retun the chicken to the skillet, along with the garlic and cook for 1 minute.
- Add the hot pickled cherry peppers, salt, broth and crushed tomatoes. Stir to mix, bring to a boil and then reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
- While the sauce simmers add the rigatoni to the pot of boiling water and cook for the time indicated on the package, which is usually 10-14 minutes.
- Reduce the heat on the sauce burner to the lowest setting. Mix in the heavy cream, butterand Parmesan cheese. Cook 3-5 minutes, until the sauce thickens slightly and the rigatoni is ready.
- Drained rigatoni, stir it into the sauce and serve.
- Garnished with sliced black olives, Parmesan cheese, basil or parsley, as desired.
Nutrition facts are estimates.
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Amount Per Serving: Calories: 563Total Fat: 37gSaturated Fat: 18gTrans Fat: 1gUnsaturated Fat: 16gCholesterol: 173mgSodium: 1429mgCarbohydrates: 16gFiber: 3gSugar: 8gProtein: 43g
Nutrition facts are estimates.