Chicken Tinga is one of those dishes that tastes as if it took hella work and time but is actually super simple and fast to throw together.
Originating in Puebla, Mexico, Chicken Tinga is a dish made with shredded chicken in a sauce of tomatoes, chipotle peppers, and onions. Adjust the number of chipotles to make it spicier or milder, depending on your tastes.
From the research and reading I did while fleshing out this recipe, this is indeed Authentic Chicken Tinga! It has all the components and the flavor is the same; the method is just a bit different.
The chicken is cooked separately, shredded, then added to the pot in most recipes. This didn’t make sense to me, for a couple of reasons. Why do more dishes than I need to, and why not let the chicken soak up the flavor of the other ingredients during its cooking process? Yeah, no.
All of that is to say to my fellow Latines: this might not be how your grandmother makes it, but it is how my possible future grandchildren’s grandmother makes it, so leave me alone! ?
Chicken Tinga Ingredients
Feel free to jump to the full recipe, but here are useful notes about the ingredients you will need to make this Chicken Tinga recipe:
- Chicken: I call for boneless, skinless chicken in this recipe and I used breasts, but you can use thighs, or opt for bone-in, skin-on chicken pieces. You’ll need to adjust the cooking times, but any and all would work.
- Onions: From my research, a huge component in Chicken Tinga. The onions are cooked down before the other ingredients, and some of them break completely down during the long simmer. They add a wonderful slight sweetness that is essential.
- Tomatoes: It’s winter and I’m in North Carolina, so it’s time to rely on canned tomatoes to get the texture and taste I need. I call for crushed tomatoes in this recipe; you can substitute diced or peeled, or fresh (boiled, peeled, and blended!): whatever is easy, tasty, and accessible.
- Chipotles in Adobo: From what I’ve gathered, chipotle peppers are traditional for authentic Chicken Tinga, but we don’t like rules, right? Do what you want! You can choose to toast, soak and blend other dried chiles like guajillo or arbol, similar to what I call for in my Birria recipe, or add a hefty amount of chili powder of your choice.
- Cinnamon, garlic: Two more staple ingredients in Chicken Tinga. “It’s not tinga if there’s no canela!” said my boss, a native of Mexico that I pepper with culinary questions whenever I can. Do not use ground cinnamon. Find a cinnamon stick, or save this recipe for later. Garlic is always a welcome addition to anything, of course.
- Mexican oregano, kosher salt: We need these for flavor, obviously. Please note that sometimes I will add a pinch of granulated sugar to my Tinga if the tomatoes I’m using are super tart or acidic. Not enough to sweeten, only to soften.
Optional Chicken Tinga Ingredients
- Chicken broth: Optional, actually, but adds flavor and loosens the sauce. If you’re using chopped, fresh tomatoes I’d suggest omitting the broth and adding a little chicken bouillon powder. The tomatoes should have enough moisture on their own, but it varies. Do what feels right.
- Bacon Fat: I like to use beef bacon fat to sear the chicken and cook the onions and garlic. You can use any type of oil or cooking fat you’d like to in its place, or if you’re using non-stick cookware you can probably just skip it altogether.
- Taco seasoning: Just bumping up the flavor! I make my own Tex-Mex seasoning and I use that: you can use your favorite. Even the yellow packets of taco seasoning would work well here. Looking to be more traditional? You can opt for just salt on the chicken.
How to Make Chicken Tinga
Full instructions are included in the recipe below, but here is a basic overview of what you’ll need to do, along with some important tidbits to help you make the most of this Chicken Tinga recipe:
- Prepare the ingredients. Season the chicken liberally with taco seasoning or just salt and set it aside while you use a sharp knife or mandoline to slice your onions into thin rounds, then chop up the garlic.
- Sear the chicken. Adding the bacon fat and chicken to an already hot pan will ensure you get a nice sear. Don’t disturb the chicken for at least 5 minutes, to allow the sear to form and release from the pan. Flip and cook it on the other side until it’s the color you want – you’re not trying to cook it through – then remove it from the pan.
- Soften the onions. Add the onions and cook them until they are softened and pliable. Sprinkle over some salt to help them release their juices faster. After about 10 minutes, stir in the garlic and let that cook while you pop your cans of tomatoes and chipotle.
- Add the tomatoes, chipotle, chicken broth, oregano, and cinnamon. Stir all of the remaining ingredients in and taste. Adjust the seasonings – and add sugar – if needed.
- Add the chicken. Tuck the chicken into the sauce, making sure it’s as submerged as possible. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until the chicken is cooked through about 15 minutes.
- Shred the chicken. Remove the chicken from the sauce, allowing all excess to drip off. I hate shredding chicken so my method is to put it in a high-sided bowl and attack it with my hand mixer and the beater attachments on medium-speed. You can feel free to use two forks and a cutting board. Add the shredded chicken back to the sauce and stir it in. Cover and continue simmering for 5-10 more minutes.
How to Serve Chicken Tinga:
There are so many meals that you can make with this Chicken Tinga recipe! For example, you could…
- Chicken Tinga Tostadas. From what I’ve seen the most common way to eat chicken tinga is on a tostada with some refried beans, cojita, hot sauce, and a little crema. You can check out how I build my tostadas on TikTok or Instagram.
- Rice bowl. Picture this: A bed of cilantro-lime rice, topped with seasoned black beans, chopped arugula, sauteed peppers and corn, fresh salsa, this Chicken Tinga, shredded Asadero, and maybe some tortilla strips. *chef’s kiss*
- With potatoes. Any potatoes! Pile it on some roasted potatoes to make a hash type of thing; try it on top of french fries with some nacho cheese sauce; even on a bed mashed potatoes with some fresh cilantro and squeeze of lime.
- As a filling. There’s not a quesadilla, wrap, or sandwich that wouldn’t benefit from a bit of this chicken added!
I hope you’ll come back and let me know what you thought of this recipe if you’ll try it. Ratings help other folks considering trying it know whether or not it’s worth their time! Here’s the obligatory Pinterest graphic for you to share:Print