Chicken tinga is the very best way to make authentic Mexican shredded chicken. It's super easy to make and can be used for everything from tacos to quesadillas to burritos and bowls. You'll love this easy tomato and chipotle chicken.
This easy chicken tinga is the best way to make shredded chicken for Mexican dishes. The chicken is cooked in a smoky, slightly spicy tomato sauce and comes out perfectly tender every time. Serve it with some Shortcut Refried Beans or a Mexican Corn Salad for the perfect meal.
Mexican chicken tinga is one of those dishes you get used to seeing all over the place when you live in Southern California. It's a staple on most Mexican menus and used to fill all kinds of classic dishes like tacos, enchiladas, burritos, and more.
In fact, many times chicken tinga is the default filling, even if the menu doesn't specifically mention it. It's a true staple in Mexican cooking.
The thing I love most about making chicken tinga is that it couldn't be easier to make and it is super versatile. Normally we use it for chicken tinga tacos the first night that I make it. Then a couple of days later, I will use it to make another dish - think tostadas, burrito bowls, taquitos, flautas, or as a stuffing for peppers.
It also works great for lunch prep. I love it as a topping for a taco salad, filling for quesadillas, or protein for taco bowls. I even throw it in store-bought black bean or vegetable soup. This stuff tastes good with everything.
What is chicken tinga?
Basically, chicken tinga is a Mexican shredded chicken dish from Puebla that's made with white onions, tomatoes, garlic, and chipotle chile peppers in adobo. It is used as a filling for all types of tacos, burritos, enchiladas, and numerous other delicious Mexican dishes.
Tinga gives the dishes a little extra kick and is a great substitute for plain shredded chicken.
Ingredients and Substitutions
- Chicken: Any type of chicken can be used to make tinga. Use chicken breasts, chicken thighs, or chicken legs. Although boneless chicken is easier, bone-in chicken can also be used. Just remove the bones and skin when shredding the chicken. Adjust the cooking times as needed if using bone-in chicken since it can take longer to cook.
- Diced tomatoes: Any type of canned tomatoes can be used in this recipe. Fire-roasted will add a smoky flavor. Diced tomatoes with green chilies have some extra heat. Plain tomatoes will be milder. Fresh tomatoes could also be used since they will cook down as the chicken cooks. Roma tomatoes are the most traditional.
- Chipotle peppers in adobo: Chicken tinga should have some heat and a slightly smoky flavor. Chipotle peppers bring both of those elements. For something very mild, just use a few spoonfuls of the sauce. For more spice, add one or more diced chipotle peppers. Chipotle chiles are smoked jalapeno peppers. The canned version is the easiest, but you could use rehydrated fried chile peppers or even chipotle sauce or salsa.
- Onion and garlic: These aromatics are key to building flavor and fresh provides the most flavor. Use garlic powder and/or onion powder if needed. White onions are the most traditional but any kind will work.
How to Make Chicken Tinga
There are three easy ways to make tinga using the slow cooker, Instant pot, or cooking it on the stove. Here's how to make each option.
- Slow Cooker: This is the easiest method. Simply add the chicken, tomatoes, onions, garlic, chipotle peppers, salt, and pepper to the slow cooker. Give it a good stir and cook on low for 3-4 hours. For bone-in chicken, cook for 7-8 hours.
- Instant Pot: Add everything to the Instant Pot, stirring well. If you are using fresh chicken, cook it for 10 minutes and let it naturally release. For frozen chicken, cook it for 13 minutes. If using only chicken breasts, cut down the cooking time to 6 minutes so the chicken doesn't overcook.
- Stovetop: Start by poaching the chicken until it is just cooked through. Set aside and shred. Make the tinga sauce by blending the tomatoes, onions, garlic, and chipotle peppers. Add that to a large pot and cook for 5-7 minutes until it turns a dark red. Then add the shredded chicken to the sauce and cook for 5 minutes.
Ways to serve chicken tinga
There are so many different ways to make use of your chicken tinga. I almost always double or triple the recipe since the leftovers work for so many dishes. Plus it freezes great so you can always store it for a quick future meal.
- Tacos: This is the most classic option for chicken tinga. I like to use warm corn tortillas, diced onion or pickled onions, cilantro, avocado, and queso fresco. We also always have extra chipotle peppers on the side for anyone who likes more heat.
- Burrito and burrito bowls: I am never one to turn down a burrito bowl from Chipotle but lately I have been making them at home. I start with some Cilantro Lime Cauliflower Rice, add sauteed peppers and onions, canned black beans, some corn, cilantro, and tons of this yummy chicken. Topped with some cheese and cilantro and it's the most delicious and filling meal. I wrap up the same thing for the husband for a more classic burrito.
- Enchiladas: One of the keys to making really great enchiladas is to use a filling that won't dry out. This tinga is just that and makes this perfect filling for enchiladas. It would also work in this yummy Chicken Enchilada Casserole.
- Tostadas: Tostadas are crispy tortillas topped with beans, protein, veggies, and cheese. We love making these Chicken Tostadas with tinga to pack in even more flavor.
- Stuffed peppers: Toss the shredded chicken with some black beans, cooked rice, and corn. Stuff it into bell peppers and top with cheese to make some tasty stuffed peppers. It also is delicious with these Stuffed Poblano Peppers.
- Flautas and taquitos: If you love cripsy tacos, consider making some baked flautas or taquitos with the leftover tinga.
Can I freeze chicken tinga?
Absolutely! Chicken tinga freezes great. Just make sure to pack it in an airtight container. It comes out best if you let it defrost in the fridge overnight since a microwave will reheat it unevenly and sometimes the chicken gets dry.
Another tip for keeping the chicken nice and tender after freezing is to use boneless skinless chicken thighs.
Recipe Ideas for Chicken Tinga
There are lots of ways you can customize this recipe to make it suit your exact tastes and needs. Here are some tips and ideas for the recipe.
- Moist and tender chicken: If you are worried about your chicken drying out, replace the chicken breasts with boneless skinless chicken thighs.
- Less spicy: For less heat, cut back on the chipotle peppers and add some cumin to ensure they still have a smoky kick.
- Thicker sauce: For a thicker sauce, blend together the onions, garlic, tomatoes, chipotle peppers, and salt. This will give you a smooth, thick sauce for the chicken.
- Extra spice: If you like spicy things, add more chipotle peppers and make sure to use the adobo sauce. It has tons of flavor.
- Fresh tomatoes: If you prefer to use fresh tomatoes, start by roasting them until they are browned and charred on the outside. You can do this in a heavy skillet or in the oven.
- Add tomatillos: Add a few tomatillos to the salsa as well. This adds another delicious layer of flavor.
- Mexican oregano: For some extra flavor, add some Mexican oregano to the dish as well.
- Shortcut: To make a shortcut chicken tinga, start by blending the tomatoes, onions, garlic, chipotle peppers, and salt. Add this salsa to a pot and cook for 8-10 minutes over medium heat until the sauce darkens. Then just add some previously cooked or rotisserie chicken to the sauce and dinner is ready.
Best Way to Make Chicken Tinga Tacos
If you are going to make chicken tinga, you have to try it in tacos. Here is my favorite way to make a delicious tinga taco.
- Toppings: Get all your toppings chopped and ready to go. You will need cilantro, onion, and avocado for a traditional chicken tinga taco.
- Cheese: Crumble some queso fresco or queso cotija over top.
- Make chipotle salsa: Grab your leftover chipotles in adobo and throw them in a blender. Blend them to make a spicy and smoky salsa to serve on the side for anyone who wants more heat. If needed, you can add some tomatoes or chicken broth to thin out the salsa.
- Tortillas: Heat up your corn tortillas. My favorite way to do this is right on the flame on my stove so that the tortillas get some charred spots. Just place them right on the flame and let them cook for 15-30 seconds until they begin to bubble and brown. Flip carefully with tongs and repeat. Place the tortillas in foil to keep them warm. Use flour tortillas if you prefer, they just aren't as traditional for tinga.
- Make the tacos: Grab a warm corn tortilla, add your chicken, and top with onions, cilantro, avocado, queso fresco, and a drizzle of chipotle salsa. To counteract the heat, add a dollop of sour cream or Mexican crema.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are the most common questions about making this Mexican chicken recipe.
When making chicken tinga, there are some options if you prefer not to use chipotle peppers or don't have any on hand. The first would be to swap in fresh jalapeno peppers and add some extra cumin or smoked paprika to mimic the smoky flavor in the smoked chipotle peppers. You could also use a different rehydrated dried pepper like anaheim chile peppers (least spicy), ancho chili peppers (mild spice), or guajillo peppers (more spicy).
If you don't want any spice in the chicken tinga then simply leave out the chipotle peppers. Make sure to use fire-roasted canned tomatoes so you get some smoky flavor.
Tinga sauce is traditionally made with Roma tomatoes, white onions, garlic, chipotle peppers, and Mexican oregano. It is used for shredded chicken or beef.
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- 2 lb boneless skinless chicken breast (or thighs)
- 1 cup onion, minced
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1.5 cups diced tomatoes with green chilies
- 3 tbsp. chipotle peppers in adobo
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
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Instant Pot: Add everything to the Instant Pot. Close the lid and seal. For fresh chicken breasts, cook on high pressure for 10 minutes. For frozen chicken, cook on high pressure for 13 minutes. Let the pressure naturally release. Carefully open the pot and shred the chicken using two forks. Please note, the cooking time may vary slightly depending on the size of the chicken breasts. Smaller breasts cook more quickly and very large breasts may take a bit longer.
Stovetop: When cooking on the stovetop, I like to take a different approach to ensure the chicken comes out perfectly seasoned every time. Start by poaching the chicken. Add the chicken breast in a single layer in the bottom of a large pot. Season with salt and pepper. Cover the chicken with broth or water until there is about a half an inch of liquid above the chicken. Bring to a boil and then immediately turn down to a simmer. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Then turn off the heat and let the chicken continue to cook, covered, for 15 minutes. Remove the chicken and chop or shred once cooled. While the chicken is cooking, make the sauce. Add the tomatoes, onions, garlic, chipotle peppers, and salt to a blender. Blend until smooth. Add this salsa to a pot and cook for 5-7 minutes over medium heat until the sauce darkens in color. Once the chicken is cooked, simply add it to the sauce and cook for 3-5 minutes for the flavors to combine.
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
The Nutritional Values provided are estimates only and may vary based on the preparation method.
Adjust the number of chipotle peppers and adobo sauce to suit your spice preferences. Chipotles can be quite spicy and it's always easier to add more if needed.
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