Chipotle Chicken Recipe (Copycat)
Make your own Chipotle Chicken recipe at home! This recipe yields 2 cups of marinade, enough for 10 lbs. chicken. Make some now, freeze some for later!
I could eat Chipotle every single day. It’s the one “fast food” restaurant I can visit and feel like I got my money’s worth and didn’t ruin all previous exercise and dietary efforts. If I haven’t had enough vegetables recently (something that happens over the holidays or when I’m traveling), I can reset my system with a healthful, filling burrito bowl or salad. If your food allergies aren’t affected by potential cross-contamination, virtually all people with dietary restrictions can find something to eat at Chipotle.
I am not the first person to undertake the quest for Chipotle’s chicken marinade. Many have come before me, most notably Matt Silverman of ChipotleFan. His recipe has inspired my version in a very direct sense. However, I have made it enough times that I think I can offer some original unique insights into the preparation and use of the ingredients as well as the recipe itself. In fact, over time I have developed a lot of useful recipe information as you’ll see below.
Please note: I offer two methods based on whether you choose to soak the dried chiles overnight or use Ancho Chile Powder. Although the two marinades have a different consistency, I have found that the chicken tastes the same either way. Deliciously, of course. I also now have cooking directions based on whether you want a grill/skillet method or a baking method as well as a preferred method each for dark and white chicken.
This Chipotle Chicken Recipe will yield about 2 cups of marinade. 1 cup of marinade will flavor 5 pounds of chicken. If you do the math, that means this recipe will give you enough marinade for 10 pounds of chicken. I always use 1 cup right away and freeze the other for later. I have also been known to give away my second cup of marinade to a friend to share my joy in this recipe. Either way, because this recipe is somewhat labor-intensive, it’s nice to get a huge batch of marinade out of it.
Marinade Method 1: Soaking Dried Ancho Chiles (Slow-Soak and Quick-Soak Methods)
Slow-Soaking the dried ancho chiles takes some time – at least 12 hours. It also requires the least amount of thought. The longer you soak them, the more water they absorb, and the more marinade you wind up with (to a point, anyway). Once the chiles are soft, I like to open them up, remove the stems, and rinse out the seeds. For additional heat, add in seeds from the chipotle peppers.
The Quick-Soaking method was identified by one of my readers (THANK YOU, RYAN!). I tested it and it exceed my expectations. To shave 12 hours off this recipe is nothing short of a miracle.The short explanation is, you toast the dried chiles in a dry skillet (stemmed and seeded), then microwave them in water and a bit of adobo for exactly 6 minutes. And that’s it. Drain (reserving a bit of the cooking water) and add to the food processor. Ryan, you rock my world.
Marinade Method 2: Using Ancho Chile Powder
Ancho Chile Pepper powder is available for purchase, or you may make your own. 1/4 c. of the powder is equivalent to 2 oz. of the peppers (stems and seeds removed, ground up). However, as one helpful reader pointed out, you won’t wind up with 2 cups of marinade if you simply use Ancho Chile Powder. The process of soaking the dried chiles adds more liquid to the marinade, so you need to add that in if you are using the powder.
I have tested this, and it’s pretty easy to compensate for the missing liquid. Once your marinade is finished (the last step is adding the oil), pour the marinade into a measuring cup. If you don’t have quite 2 cups, add water until you do. This marinade will SEEM runny, but it works just as well. And it should: There is a lot of water in the chiles when you soak them overnight in Method 1. Obviously you can add water to your Ancho Chile Powder.
I would love to be able to tell you exactly how much water to add, but as you’ll find out in the next section, the yield of Adobo Sauce varies widely by brand.
Chipotle Peppers in Adobo Sauce
If you aren’t familiar with Chipotles in Adobo, this ingredient gives food a distinct smoky taste. You only need the Adobo sauce for this recipe, not the chipotle peppers (you can discard them or use them in another recipe such as my Vegetarian Stuffed Peppers). I use a strainer to separate the peppers and seeds from the adobo. I definitely recommend wearing latex or vinyl gloves during this process.
There are many brands of Chipotle Peppers in Adobo Sauce. It turns out that some brands have more chipotles in the can, others have more adobo in the can. You should be able to extract at least 1/4 cup of adobo sauce out of any 7-ounce can you buy, but Embasa in particular has 1/2 cup or more of adobo sauce in a 7-ounce can. Why does that matter? If you are using Method 2 above, the amount of water you will add to reach 2 cups will be more or less depending on which brand of chipotle peppers you are using.
A note on gluten in chipotle peppers with adobo sauce: Many brands do not have gluten, especially imported brands such as La Morena and La Costeña. If gluten is of interest to you, please read the label before moving forward as some contain wheat.
Chipotle uses boneless, skinless chicken thighs which yields tender, juicy pieces of chicken. However, I have also tested this recipe with boneless, skinless chicken breasts and have some tips on cooking that, too.
Cooking Method 1: Grilling or Stove-top Cooking (Preferred for Dark Meat)
Grilling is the best option if you have the equipment and talents. Since I recently got a grill, I have found this method to be the easiest, fastest, and cleanest of all the cooking methods. If you don’t have a grill, though, fear not! I have made this recipe dozens of times indoors. I have tried using a flat-top indoor cast-iron grill with a foil-covered brick (to flatten the chicken; please see the following paragraph) and a large cast-iron skillet with a cover. I preferred the skillet because it helps prevent a lot of grease and marinade spatters. Also, being able to cover the skillet meant the chicken could cook through more easily. Last, the cast iron skillet collected bits of fond which contributed to the most delicious, caramelized pieces of chicken in the whole batch. This was probably true with the cast iron grill pan as well, but I was so concerned about grease splattering that I failed to appreciate the fond in that instance.
Tangent: the foil-covered brick. Other Chipotle Chicken recipes recommend flattening your chicken with a brick. Yes, I went to the gardening section of my local discount store and picked up a paver for forty-eight cents. I covered it in foil. I laid it on my cooking chicken in various stages. I found the whole thing to be very awkward and scary. For one thing, the brick became extremely slippery. So here I am, trying to pick up this slippery brick while standing over an extremely hot cooking surface that is covered in splattering oil. Not a pretty picture. Add a curious toddler and you officially have a recipe for a disaster! If you’re really into that sort of thing, a safer idea is to invest in a cast-iron grill press. It has a handle and has other uses as well if you’re into grilled sandwiches. I, for one, am definitely into grilled sandwiches.
Cooking Method 2: Baking (Preferred for White Meat)
If you want to go the boneless, skinless chicken breast route, great! It turns out there is a fool-proof method for tender, juicy chicken breasts. Who knew? Place the marinated chicken breasts in a baking dish and cover with parchment paper, tucking the paper around the sides so the chicken is completely covered. It works like a charm!
I feel like you need a matrix for all the possible ways you could make chicken with this marinade. Just remember, no matter how you marinate it or cook it, it’s going to be great!
Chipotle Chicken Recipe (Copycat)
Prep Time: 10 minutes + 12 hours soak time
Cook Time: 1 hour + 8 hours marinating time
Total Time: 1 hour 10 min + soak time + marinating time
- 1 (2 oz.) package dried ancho chiles, soaked at least 12 hours or using the quick-soak method (see notes)
- 1 (7 oz.) can chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
- 1 red onion, coarsely chopped
- 6 cloves garlic
- 2 tsp. cumin
- 2 tsp. dried oregano
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup canola oil, plus more for oiling the cooking surface
- 5 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken, trimmed
- Split open each softened ancho chile and rinse the inside to the stem and all seeds (wearing gloves is recommended). Place in the bowl of a food processor or blender.
- Strain adobo sauce into a small bowl, discarding peppers or reserving for another use. Press down on the peppers to extract as much liquid as possible (you should have at least ¼ c.). For an especially spicy dish, add chipotle pepper seeds to taste. Add strained liquid to the food processor.
- Add red onion, garlic, cumin, oregano, 2 T. salt, and 2 tsp. pepper to the food processor. Pulse several times until a coarse paste develops.
- With the motor running, pour ¼ c. canola oil through the feeding tube and continue to process until smooth. You should have two cups of marinade. Reserve one cup for immediate use and freeze the remaining for future use.
- Meanwhile, place half the chicken in a large freezer-safe plastic bag. Spoon in half the marinade, close the bag, and mash around to distribute. Add in remaining chicken, remaining ½ c. marinade, and repeat the mashing until all chicken is evenly coated. Place the plastic bag in a dish and refrigerate at least 8 hours or overnight.
- To cook on a grill, indoor grill pan, or cast iron skillet (preferred method for dark meat), preheat over medium-high heat. Coat with 2 T. canola oil. Grill the chicken in batches, turning occasionally until the internal temperature reaches 165°F on a thermometer and bits of caramelized fond have begun to cling to the outside of the chicken, 10 to 15 minutes. Add 1 - 2 T. oil to your grilling surface between batches.
- To bake in the oven (preferred method for white meat), preheat oven to 400°F. Coat a baking dish with oil or nonstick spray and arrange chicken in a single layer. Cover with parchment paper, tucking the paper around the chicken so it is completely covered. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until the chicken reaches 165°F when tested with an internal thermometer.
- Remove to a cutting board and chop into small pieces. Season to taste with salt. Serve on tortillas or in bowls with additional toppings as desired.
- ¼ c. Ancho Chili Pepper powder may be substituted for the dried Ancho chiles. Skip step 1 and add the powder with the other spices in Step 3. After processing the marinade in a food processor, pour into a measuring cup. Add water to reach a total of 2 cups of marinade.
- Slow-Soaking method for ancho chiles: Place in a bowl and add enough water to cover completely. Top with a small plate or bowl to weigh down the chiles so they are completely submerged. Soak at least 12 hours or overnight. Drain well.
- Quick-Soaking method for ancho chiles: Remove stems and seeds from dried chiles (wearing gloves is recommended). In a dry skillet over medium-low heat, toast the chiles until fragrant but not smoking, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a medium bowl and add 4 cups (1 quart) water and 2 T. adobo sauce. Microwave on HIGH for 6 minutes. Drain, reserving 1/4 cup cooking liquid. Add peppers to the food processor, using the reserved cooking liquid to rinse as much adobo as possible from the canned chipotle peppers in Step 2.
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