Chicken Riggies is one of my all-time favorite pasta dishes. It is an Italian-American creation that features rigatoni pasta with tender chunks of chicken and hot or sweet peppers (or both!) in a creamy, spicy, and tangy tomato sauce, with many variations, and we enjoy making this pasta very often in our household.
This classic and very special dish comes from Central New York in the Utica-Rome area, where my husband was born and raised (also home of Utica greens and tomato pie, the same as Philly tomato pie). I’ve eaten my share of Chicken Riggies during family visits over many years, and let me tell you, this dish is SO good.
Utica even hosts a Chicken riggies festival (take a look at all those delicious versions and who won)!
What Make this Recipe?
These are a must-try! Why?
Incredible Flavor Fusion: The combination of spicy tomato cream sauce with tender chicken, peppers, and pasta creates a complex flavor that is unique and delicious.
Versatility: This dish is incredibly versatile. You can adjust the spice level, use different types of pasta, add olives or mushrooms to the recipe, and adjust the heavy cream (“none,” “a touch” or “full-on blush sauce”).
Crowd-Pleaser: Whether you’re cooking for yourself, your family, or guests, chicken riggies are a crowd-pleaser at dinner parties and gatherings.
Easy to Make: Despite its impressive taste, chicken riggies are surprisingly easy to prepare! With some simple cooking and a few key ingredients, you can create this restaurant-quality dish in your own kitchen.
Leftovers Improve: Like many pasta dishes, chicken riggies often taste even better the next day as the flavors meld and intensify. You’ll have delicious leftovers for a quick and tasty meal.
Comfort Food: There’s something incredibly comforting about a plate of chicken riggies. The creamy sauce and hearty pasta make it the perfect comfort food for a cozy night in.
So have I convinced you? Let’s make some chicken riggies!
The primary ingredients for chicken riggies are pasta, chicken, and hot/sweet peppers. I’ve also discussed some variations and important notes below.
Chicken: You can use chicken thighs or chicken breast meat. I prefer thighs because they are more flavorful
Veggies: Peppers are a staple of this dish. You can use jarred sweet or hot peppers, and you can use fresh bell peppers sliced. Cherry peppers are classically used to add heat to this dish but they are sometimes hard to find in areas outside of Utica or other Italian-American areas of the country. I always must include some jarred peppers because I use the brine to impart some tanginess to the sauce, which is a must for me. Other vegetables that can be used include onions, garlic (always a must for me); mushrooms, and olives (sometimes depending on who is eating).
Sauce: Always tomato-based with many versions including chicken broth and typically a touch of cream to make the sauce a blush sauce.
The other typical ingredient is chicken broth. I feel this also gets lost in the bold flavors of this dish so I don’t add broth plus the chicken itself will flavor the sauce as it continues to cook in the tomato sauce.
Fat: You can use olive oil and/or butter.
I have encountered many chicken riggies recipes that use a stick or more butter. This dish has SO much flavor that you won’t miss the butter, which I feel gets buried in other flavors. I use olive oil in my version, but if you want to add butter, feel free.
Cheese: Grated cheese, most commonly parmesan or pecorino Romano. Adding a cup of grated cheese takes this over the top in flavor -so good! Don’t skip that step!
How to Make It: Step by Step
Here’s how to make chicken riggies step by step. Gather your ingredients!
Step 1: Prepare the Chicken: Brown chicken pieces in olive oil, season with salt and pepper. Afterwards, chop into bite-sized pieces
Step 2: Saute the Vegetables: In the same skillet, sauté onions and bell peppers until softened. You can add mushrooms and olives if desired.
Step 3: Add Flavor and Tomatoes: Stir in minced garlic, then add tomato paste and cook for 2 minutes.
Step 4: Pour in wine and let it simmer to evaporate alcohol.
Step 5: Add Tomatoes and Chicken: Combine crushed tomato sauce, hot/cherry peppers, and chopped chicken in the skillet. Simmer for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Step 6: Simmer and Combine: Let the sauce thicken while simmering. Stir in grated Parmesan cheese and add heavy cream for a creamy texture. Adjust thickness with pasta water.
Tips for Making
A few things can “make or break” your Riggies. Here are some things to look out for when making this recipe:
Perfect Pasta Texture: To ensure your Chicken Riggies turn out just right, pay close attention to the pasta cooking time. Cook the rigatoni or your chosen pasta shape until it’s “al dente,” which means it should be tender but still have a slight bite to it. Overcooking the pasta can make it mushy, and that’s a deal breaker for any pasta dish.
Adjusting Spice Levels: Customize the spiciness to suit your taste. You can begin with a small amount of hot peppers and add more as you’d like. I also add red pepper flakes if the sauce is not spicy enough.
Chicken Choice: Consider using chicken thighs for juicier and less dry results, although chicken breasts are also an option. You can choose the cut that suits your preference.
Mind Your Salt: Exercise caution with salt. Jarred peppers and grated cheese contribute saltiness to the dish. Wait until the end to adjust salt levels or salt sparingly initially.
Sauce Consistency: While for me, it’s rarely necessary, I still recommend keeping some pasta water on reserve to thin out your sauce if needed. This step is especially useful when making various pasta sauces.
Frequently Asked Questions
While rigatoni is traditional, you can use other pasta shapes like penne or ziti if you prefer.
Yes, you can make a lighter version of chicken riggies by using half-and-half or milk instead of heavy cream for a less creamy sauce or by eliminating the milk/cream entirely. There are some locations that make chicken riggies with no cream/milk.
You can prepare the sauce and store it separately from the pasta and chicken, although I like to add just a bit of sauce to the pasta to keep the pasta from sticking together. Reheat and combine them when you’re ready to serve. The flavors of the sauce improve overnight.
Check out the winners of Riggie Wars – although I think it’s entirely possible that you can make the best ones in your home kitchen.
More Pasta Recipes
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Homemade Chicken Riggies
For the Pasta
- 1 pound rigatoni pasta Reserve about 1 cup pasta water
For the Sauce
- 4 tablespoons olive oil divided
- 1.5 lb chicken thighs or chicken breast
- 1 large onion chopped
- 4 tablespoons tomato paste
- 3 cloves garlic smashed and minced
- 2 bell peppers chopped (or use mild sliced pepper rings in jar) (can also use 1 cup roasted peppers)
- 3/4 cup red or white wine
- 28 oz can crushed tomato sauce
- 2 cherry peppers jarred; chopped (see NOTE 1)
- 1 cup grated parmesan cheese plus more for serving
- reserved pasta water if needed
- salt and black pepper salt used sparingly (see NOTE 2)
Optional Ingredients for Sauce
- 3 cups fresh mushrooms chopped (optional)
- 1/4 cup olives chopped, (optional)
- 1/4 cup heavy cream (optional)
For the Pasta
- Bring salted water to boil in a large stockpot. Cook pasta according to package direction and set aside at least 1 cup of pasta water in case needed.
- If pasta is done before the sauce, I like to add a tablespoon of olive oil to drained pasta and then set aside.
For the Sauce
- Prepare the Chicken: Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.
- Add the chicken pieces, season lightly with salt and pepper and cook until browned on both sides and cooked through. Remove from the skillet, set aside to cool for at least 10 or 15 minutes and then chop up into small bite sized pieces.
- Saute the Vegetables: In the same skillet, add the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil.
- Add the chopped onion and bell peppers. Sauté until they start to soften and the onions become a bit translucent. (optional can add mushrooms and olives here if you are using them)
- Add Flavor and Tomatoes: Stir in the minced garlic and cook for about 1 minute or only until fragrant. Do not brown at all.
- Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring, for another 2 minutes to cook out the raw flavor of the paste.
- Pour in the wine, whisk or combine well, and let it simmer for a couple of minutes, allowing the alcohol to evaporate.
- Add Tomatoes and Chicken: Add the crushed tomato sauce, chopped hot/cherry peppers, and chopped chicken to the skillet. Stir to combine.
- Season with pepper to taste. Remember that the cherry peppers can add some heat, so adjust according to your preference.
- Simmer and Combine: Reduce the heat to medium-low and let the sauce simmer for at least 15-20 minutes with lid ajar or longer until it's reached your desired thickness. This allows the flavors to meld and the sauce to thicken slightly. Don't forget to stir intermittently.
- Add Cheese and adjust taste: Once the sauce has thickened, stir in the grated Parmesan cheese and allow it to melt into the sauce, creating a creamy texture. OPTIONAL: Add heavy cream (suggested 1/4 cup or add enough until you get. a pink/blush sauce).
- Final Touches: If the sauce seems too thick, you can add a bit of reserved pasta water to reach your desired consistency.
- Taste and adjust seasoning if needed. You can also adjust the spiciness by adding more cherry peppers if desired and you can add a bit more brine from the hot peppers, slowly, if desired (1 tablespoon at a time).
- Serve: Serve the Chicken Riggie sauce over cooked pasta and sprinkle with additional cheese if desired.