Make Chicken Tinga for dinner tonight, and you’ll thank yourself all week long for the leftovers. They’re smoky, spicy, and just what you need on Taco Tuesday, Tostada Thursday, or any weeknight at all!
Of all the Mexican Chicken dishes, Tinga de Pollo could be the best. It’s certainly the easiest— especially this Tinga recipe, which has a couple shortcuts to make dinner (and therefore life) a whole lot easier. Eaten with easy Mexican Rice, some shredded lettuce, cheese, and tortillas…quite possibly the perfect dinner.
Not only is Chicken Tinga the best taco filling ever, it’s fabulous in rice bowls, grain bowls, tostadas, you name it. I definitely wouldn’t say no to a casserole of Chicken Tinga enchiladas, either. It's seriously delicious stuff that you'll find an excuse to make again and again.
Cooking up Chicken Tinga for a giant taco party? What time, and where? Click and slide the number next to “servings” on the recipe card below to adjust the ingredients to match how many you’re feeding—the recipe does the math for you, it’s that easy.
What is Chicken Tinga?
Chicken Tinga is a recipe that originated in Puebla, Mexico. It’s a shredded chicken recipe, stewed in tomatoes and chilies, that is traditionally served on tostadas with a layer of refried beans.
When it comes to this chicken Tinga recipe, Old El Paso doesn't factor into things. This is a made-from-scratch recipe that I learned in Ojuelos, Jalisco (Mexico). As a bonus, cooking a whole chicken, as opposed to chicken breasts, leaves you with a batch of homemade chicken stock that's begging to be made into soup.
How do you make Chicken Tinga?
1. Buy a whole chicken, and grab a big pot. Cut the chicken up into pieces (or have your butcher do it for you). Cook the chicken in water with onion, garlic, and a little salt. This should take about 20 minutes or so.
2. While the chicken cooks, make the sauce in the blender. Skinless tomatoes, onions, garlic, chipotles in adobo sauce, chicken bouillon, and some of that delicious chicken stock from the cooking chicken on your stove.
3. Purée it all up until uniform and relatively smooth. It should look like this:
4. When the chicken is cooked through, take it out of the pot and clean the meat off the bones. The bones and skin can be returned to the chicken stock pot and slowly simmered for an extra rich broth at this point. Shred the chicken meat and set aside
5. Then heat up a large Dutch oven and sauté the remaining onion until soft and translucent. Add half the sauce to the onions and bring it up to a boil to reduce somewhat.
6. Stir in the chicken, and take a taste. You could add the rest of the sauce at this point, but if you do, it will be spicier. It might be best to add a little at a time until it's spicy enough for you.
If it ends up being a little too spicy, serve the Tinga with a dollop of sour cream of lime wedges to counterbalance the heat.
Can you make Chicken Tinga in the Instant Pot?
Yes, you can, but it’s not going to save you all that much time, considering the warm-up, cook time, and de-pressurizing that a pressure cooker has to go through. You’d probably be able to cut the cooking time from 20-30 minutes down to 10-15 in a pressure cooker.
Also, cooking Chicken Tinga in a pressure cooker may be easier if you use boneless, skinless chicken.
SO…here’s how to make Instant Pot Chicken Tinga:
- Blanch and peel the tomatoes (or use canned), then purée all sauce ingredients together in a blender.
- Add sauce to the Instant Pot along with about 3 pounds of boneless, skinless chicken.
- Cook on high pressure for 10 minutes.
- Remove chicken from Instant Pot, shred using two forks, return to sauce and serve.
How to make Chicken Tinga in a slow cooker:
It's easy to make one pot spicy Chicken Tinga in a crockpot when you use boneless, skinless chicken.
- Blanch and peel the tomatoes (or use canned), then blend all sauce ingredients together. Add to the crockpot with the chicken.
- Cook on LOW until chicken is no longer pink in the center, 2 to 3 hours.
- Remove chicken from slow cooker and shred using two forks; return to the slow cooker.
- Cook on LOW for 45 minutes to 1 hour. You're ready to serve.
How to Warm up Tortillas:
Corn or flour tortillas both are delicious with Chicken Tinga, so pick your favorite, or heat up a few of both. Here's how to heat up tortillas at home.
- On a gas stove: You can char your tortillas right on the burners of a gas stove, over the open flame and using tongs, until charred at the edges. Careful-- it should only take a few seconds each! Place tortillas on a plate, covered with a towel, until you have enough.
- On an electric stove: Place the tortillas in a steel or cast iron skillet without oil, and cook until warm, turning occasionally.
- In the oven: Just wrap a stack of tortillas in foil and place in a preheated 350-degree oven for 15-20 minutes.
- Tortillas in a microwave: Place a small stack of tortillas (6 or fewer) on a plate and cover with a damp paper towel. Cook at 30-second intervals until the tortillas a re-warmed through. Repeat as needed until you get enough.
Can you make spicy Chicken Tinga less spicy?
All you have to do is use fewer of the chilies in adobo sauce. But if you don’t want to use any, or you just don’t have chipotles in adobo, here’s what you can do:
You can reconstitute some dried chilies like guajillo or pasilla. Soak them in warm water for a few minutes, then purée them with a little vinegar—those chipotles add more than just heat and smoke, they also add a nice acidity to the recipe.
All the ways to eat Chicken Tinga:
- With crumbly cotija cheese, or crumbled queso fresco.
- With chopped white onions and chopped cilantro.
- In a lower carb quinoa bowl with avocado slices and pico de gallo.
- On tostadas with avocado mash and hot sauce.
- Skip the tortillas and eat on crispy sweet potato planks for a delicious low carb dinner.
- Enchiladas with melted cheese and Chipotle Black Beans.
- The traditional Tinga tostada with refried beans on crunchy corn tortillas.
- Chicken Tinga nachos, anybody?
What can I do with my leftover Chipotle peppers and/or adobo sauce?
Transfer to a bag and freeze for future use, or use in:
- Vegetarian Stuffed Peppers
- Chipotle Chicken (copycat)
- Chipotle Barbacoa (copycat)
- Chipotle Steak (copycat)
- Chipotle Sofritas (tofu)
- Chipotle honey vinaigrette (copycat)
- Chipotle black beans (copycat)
- Chipotle pinto beans (copycat)
Chicken Tinga Recipe
For the chicken:
- 1 4 to 5 pound whole chicken cut into pieces (see notes)
- 1 medium onion sliced
- 2 cloves garlic crushed
- 1 tablespoon Salt
For the sauce:
- 3 roma tomatoes cored
- 1 cup chicken stock reserved from boiling chicken or store-bought
- 4 chipotle chiles in adobo sauce or more to taste
- 1/4 medium onion
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 extra large chicken bouillon cube or 2 regular cubes
For the tinga:
- 2 tablespoons olive oil or lard (but only if it's the GOOD lard from Mexico)
- 3/4 medium onion sliced (the remaining from making the sauce above)
- Flour tortillas warmed, for serving
- Mexican rice for serving
- Shredded lettuce for serving
- Queso fresco for serving
To make the chicken:
- In a Dutch Oven or large stock pot, add chicken, onion, garlic, and 1 tablespoon salt. Add water to cover and bring to boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer until chicken is cooked through, about 20 minutes.
- Remove chicken from pot. Shred chicken, discarding skin and bones (you should have about 4 cups chicken). Remove and set aside 1 cup cooking liquid (chicken stock). See notes for how to save the remaining chicken stock.
To make the sauce:
- Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan bring 4 cups water to boil. Add tomatoes and boil until the skin begins to pull back, about 5 minutes. Remove and transfer to blender.
- To the blender with the tomatoes, add reserved chicken stock, chipotle chiles in adobo, onion, garlic, and chicken bouillon. Blend until smooth, about 2 minutes.
To make the tinga:
- In a Dutch oven or large saucepan over medium-high heat, heat olive oil until just smoking. And onions and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.
- Add half the sauce and bring to boil. Stir in chicken, adding more sauce if desired (the heat of the dish comes from the sauce, so use less sauce for a less spicy dish and more sauce for a spicier dish). Boil until slightly thickened, about 2 minutes.
- Remove from heat and serve in tortillas with Mexican rice, shredded lettuce, and cheese.
- Some grocery stores sell cut-up chickens so you can buy that instead of a whole chicken. Cut the breasts in half if you want, so it cooks faster.
- To reserve chicken stock (and you SHOULD), pour through a fine-mesh sieve. Transfer to the refrigerator and cool overnight. The next day, scrape the layer of accumulated fat off the top and discard. Divide broth into freezer-safe containers and freeze.