This Chicken Tinga recipe is one of the easiest dinners you will ever make – on your table in less than 25 minutes!
Chicken Tinga, or tinga de pollo, is a Mexican dish consisting of shredded chicken in a saucy, smoky, spicy tomato chipotle sauce. It’s not only quick and easy, but healthy, exploding with flavor and wonderfully versatile. It’s the ideal weeknight dinner and can be made into tacos, burritos, burrito bowls, tortas, tostadas, etc. or serve it buffet style and let everyone choose their chicken tinga adventure. This Chicken Tinga recipe also freezes and reheats beautifully for meal prep lunches or dinners the whole family will love!
CHICKEN TINGA Recipe
You know I love my Mexican Chicken recipes from my Crockpot Mexican Chicken, Salsa Verde Chicken, Chipotle Chicken, Cilantro Lime Chicken, and Fajita Chicken – and now you can add this Chicken Tinga to the list! Of all my Mexican Chicken recipes, this Chicken Tinga is certainly the quickest and belongs in your back-pocket arsenal of easy dinners.
This Chicken Tinga recipe is my uber quick and easy version of Chicken Tinga without sacrificing any of the flavor. It utilizes a couple shortcuts to make dinner (AKA your life) easier while still boasting tinga’s characteristic robust, smoky, spicy flavor.
Authentic Chicken Tinga begins by cooking a whole chicken and then shredding it whereas this recipe uses shredded rotisserie chicken (with directions to make your own shredded chicken if you wish). It also uses canned fire roasted tomatoes instead of roasting or boiling your own, which I personally prefer. The resulting Chicken Tinga recipe is a spectacularly QUICK AND EASY, flavorful answer to all your dinner woes!
Here’s why you’ll love this recipe:
- FLAVOR. Onions, garlic, fire roasted tomatoes, garlic, chipotles, adobo sauce simmer together to create layers of saucy flavor that envelop every nook and cranny of your tender, juicy shredded chicken.
- QUICK AND EASY. This Chicken Tinga recipe will literally have you eating Chicken Tinga tacos/tostadas/rice, etc. in 20 minutes while everyone sings your praises! It’s not only fabulous for weeknight dinners but fun to serve friends because it’s SO easy but tastes AMAZING, looks fancy but requires minimal effort – and everyone can choose their own toppings!
- PANTRY FRIENDLY. If you’re craving some authentic-tasting Chicken Tinga, this recipe is just the ticket to satisfy your cravings. The ingredients are easy to find at most grocery stores so you an keep them stocked and ready to go.
- PREP AHEAD FRIENDLY. It also reheats beautifully so you can make some on Sunday and be grateful for leftovers all week long.
- VERSATILE. Remember those leftovers? You can reinvent Chicken Tinga every time you serve it for the perfect impromptu meal loaded with flavor. It’s fabulous just with rice, beans and lettuce or wrapped in tortillas, burritos, tacos, flautas or piled on tostadas, tortas or nachos. It’s seriously delicious every way you serve it!
- FREEZER FRIENDLY. Whether you want to prep ahead or stash leftovers, Chicken Tinga freezes beautifully. Now, just grab some from the freezer for quick and easy lunches or dinners throughout the week.
What Does Chicken Tinga mean?
“Tinga,” literally means stew and refers to shredded chicken, beef or pork that stews in a combination of tomatoes, onion, garlic, chipotle peppers, and oregano.
Chicken Tinga, or tinga de pollo, is the chicken version resulting in shredded chicken in a smoky, tomato and chipotle-based sauce. It is most commonly served on tostadas with a layer of refried beans then piled with your choice of toppings.
Where does Tinga come from?
Chicken Tinga originated in Puebla Mexico, the same state that the famous “Cinco de mayo” battle took place in 1862 when the Mexican army defeated the French armada. Puebla was a colonial town with many convents and as such is the birthplace to other popular dishes such as Mole Poblano and Chiles en Nogada.
What Chicken is Best?
You have three options when it comes to which chicken to use to make Chicken Tinga. You can use 1) cooked rotisserie chicken, 2) make your own shredded chicken by cooking a whole chicken or 2) make your own shredded chicken by cooking chicken breasts or chicken thighs.
- Rotisserie Chicken. If you’re looking for the fast 20-minute Chicken Tinga experience, use a rotisserie chicken. It’s a big-time saver for a quick weeknight meal and taste fabulous. Rotisserie chicken is a combination of light and dark meat so it’s extra juicy and flavorful. It is also beautifully tender, delicately seasoned and delicious plain, so it makes a fabulous starting point for Chicken Tinga.
- Whole Chicken. Cooking a whole chicken on the stove takes about 30-35 minutes including chopping the chicken into pieces, so it is also relatively quick, tastes great and you get the added bonus of homemade chicken stock. You can also make the chipotle tomato sauce while the chicken is cooking, so its all ready to receive your shredded chicken when it;s done. Instructions to follow.
- Chicken Breasts or Thighs: You can make your own shredded chicken with either chicken breasts or chicken thighs so you can always make this Chicken Tinga recipe with whatever chicken you have on hand. Chicken thighs will give you juicer, more flavorful chicken, but chicken breasts will work as well. You will need about 2 pounds chicken breasts or thighs to equal the 4 cups we need for this recipe. Instructions to follow.
HOW TO MAKE SHREDDED CHICKEN WITH A WHOLE CHICKEN
If you’ve never cooked a whole chicken before, it’s easy! You will need:
- 1 4 5-pound whole chicken cut into pieces
- 1 onion, thinly sliced
- 3 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
You can ask the butcher to cut the chicken up into pieces or you can do it yourself. If you’ve never cut up a chicken before, do a quick google search and watch a HOW-TO video. You really can’t go wrong and you don’t need to worry about it being pretty because we are shredding the chicken anyway.
- Add chicken, onions, garlic, salt and pepper to a Dutch Oven or large stock pot.
- Add water until it reaches about 1-inch above the chicken. Cover and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer (covered) until chicken is cooked through and tender enough to shred, about 25 minutes.
- Transfer chicken pieces to a cutting board using tongs. Once cool enough to handle, discard skin and bones and shred chicken with your fingers into bite size pieces.
HOW TO MAKE SHREDDED CHICKEN WITH THIGHS OR BREASTS
- Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.
- Add chicken and cook 3-5 minutes, or until golden brown on one side.
- Flip chicken and add 2 cups chicken broth or water.
- Cover and reduce heat to medium and simmer 10 minutes, then flip chicken over and continue to cook 10 minutes (thighs will take less time) or until chicken is cooked though and tender enough to shred. Add additional chicken broth or water if the liquid absorbs before the chicken is cooked through.
- Cooking time will vary depending on thickness of chicken and actual temperature. If your chicken does not shred easily, then continue to cook, adding additional broth/water if needed.
- Remove chicken from skillet and let rest 5 minutes before shredding.
CHICKEN TINGA RECIPE INGREDIENTS
In addition to chicken, the other main component to Chicken Tinga is the easy, chipotle tomato sauce. You will need:
- Chipotle peppers and adobo sauce: chipotle peppers are jalapeno chiles that are picked when ripe and red. They are smoke-dried, rehydrated then preserved in adobo sauce. They come in 7 oz. cans found in the Latin aisle of any grocery store. They have a distinct, smoky, spicy, slightly sweet flavor. The adobo sauce they are preserved in is also highly flavorful, composed of various spices such as paprika, oregano, and garlic as well as vinegar, onion and tomato which all enhance the taste of the chipotle peppers. For this Chicken Tinga recipe, you will need 2 tablespoons chopped chipotle peppers which is usually 2 peppers and one tablespoon of the adobo sauce.
- Fire roasted diced tomatoes: are located next to the traditional diced tomatoes. Fire roasted tomatoes have been roasted which gives them a complex smokiness which I prefer to just diced tomatoes or boiling tomatoes as many Chicken Tinga recipes call for. If you can’t find fire roasted diced tomatoes, then you may use traditional diced tomatoes.
- Onion: one sweet onion thinly sliced. The sweetness helps offset the spicy chipotle.
- Garlic: 4 garlic cloves, more or less to taste.
- Green chiles: you will need 2 tablespoons from one 4 oz. can mild diced green chiles. They are not spicy, just add tangy flavor, just take care you get the MILD vs HOT. I have mistakenly purchased the hot diced green chiles before and they will knock your socks off!
- Seasonings: chicken bouillon, dried oregano, dried cumin, dried coriander and salt add a complex layer of flavor.
How do I store Chipotle Peppers?
Most recipes only call for 1-2 tablespoons of minced chipotle peppers and so you are left with an open can of smoky, spicy goodness. I love spice, but that is a lot of chipotle peppers to use up before their fridge life expires! To make the most of your worthy investment, I suggest storing the chipotle peppers in the freezer.
First, spread out saran wrap on a small baking tray, plate, or ice tray that will fit in your freezer. Next, mince the chipotle peppers, (or you can use a food processor), and plop them onto the saran wrap in 1 tablespoon increments a few inches apart (if using an ice tray, place them in each ice cube compartment on the saran wrap). Put the tray in the freezer and when the chipotles are frozen, cut the saran wrap apart, individually wrap each tablespoon, and find your chipotles a new home in your freezer.
It only takes a few minutes and then you always have chipotle peppers on hand and don’t have to stress about them going bad in your fridge. Win, win!
How to Make chicken tinga
Cook onions. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Once hot, add the onions and sauté for 4-5 minutes. If you’ve made your own shredded chicken, you can skip sautéing the onion and instead use a slotted spoon to scoop out the onion simmered with the chicken (which is what I did here). If this is your plan, then use a sweet onion when cooking the chicken.
Add sauce ingredients. Add garlic and sauté for 30 seconds. Stir in chipotle peppers, adobo sauce, fire roasted diced tomatoes, green chiles, chicken bouillon, dried oregano, dried cumin, dried coriander and salt. Bring to a gentle simmer, and cook for 5 minutes.
Blend sauce ingredients. Transfer the tomato mixture to a blender and blend until smooth, taking care to let some of the steam escape or it can explode.
Add chicken. Return sauce to the skillet and stir in chicken. Heat over low heat for 3 minutes. Taste and season with additional salt, pepper or chopped chipotles.
SLOW COOKER CHICKEN TINGA
This Chicken Tinga can also be made in the slow cooker using boneless chicken and the same sauce ingredients/method.
- Lightly grease slow cooker with cooking spray. Add two pounds of raw boneless chicken breasts or thighs.
- Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Once hot, add the onions and sauté for 4-5 minutes. Stir in all remaining ingredients.
- Transfer the tomato mixture to a blender and blend until smooth. Pour over chicken and stir to coat.
- Cover and cook on HIGH for 2-4 hours, or on LOW for 6-7 hours or until the chicken is tender enough to shred.
- Shred chicken directly in the crockpot (or you can shred on cutting board) and turn heat to LOW. Continue to let chicken cook an additional 20-30 minutes.
CAN MAKE CHICKEN TINGA LESS SPICY?
I would say this Chicken Tinga recipe is medium spicy but may taste more or less spicy to you depending on your heat tolerance and your particular peppers. Chipotle peppers, like jalapenos, can vary widely in heat, so your two tablespoons might be more or less spicy than my two tablespoons. If you are cautious about not making it too spicy, then start with 1 tablespoon chopped chipotle pepper.
This Chicken Tinga recipe is mellowed out by the fire roasted tomatoes and the chicken. It is further mellowed by serving with rice, beans, etc. so it ends up tasting less spicy than you might think.
TIPS AND TRICK TO MAKE CHICKEN TINGA
- Rotisserie Chicken: I like to purchase my rotisserie chicken from Costco because you get almost twice the amount of chicken on one bird for the same price. If you have leftover shredded chicken that you aren’t going to use in this recipe, you can freeze it for later.
- Frozen Chicken. In anticipation of making this recipe or any other using shredded chicken, you can portion chicken into sandwich bags and freeze for later. When ready to make Chicken Tinga, simply defrost and stir into the sauce.
- Customize heat. Add 1 tablespoon chopped chipotle pepper for mild heat, 2 for medium and 3 if you love spicy. After you add the chicken, you can taste and stir in additional minced chopped chipotle pepper if you would like it spicier. Just make sure to finely mince the peppers so the heat is evenly distributed.
- Add sugar: Just like tomato-based sauces marinara and Bolognese, I find it helpful to add some sugar to mellow the acidity of the tomatoes. You can make the sauce completely then taste and decide if you would like to add sugar or not.
- Double Batch: This Chicken Tinga is a fabulous recipe to double, or break out your Dutch oven and triple! Freeze leftovers in portion size bags for a quick thaw and heat dinner.
- Serve buffet style: Line up chicken tinga, rice, tostadas and/or tortillas along with all the favorite toppings (lettuce, pickled red onions, cilantro, avocados, jalapenos, sour cream, cotija cheese or queso fresco etc.,). Let family or guests pile on all their favs.
HOW TO CUSTOMIZE CHICKEN TINGA
Traditional Chicken Tinga is minimalistic – just the chicken in the robust, spicy sauce. That being said, I like to replace some of the chicken with beans, veggies or rice. Here are some ideas:
- Add Beans. Add your favorite beans – black beans, black, pinto, etc. directly in with the chicken.
- Add Veggies. You can add any veggies your heart desires from corn, bell peppers, zucchini, cauliflower, sweet potatoes, spinach etc.
- Add cheese. Stir in shredded Mexican cheese blend, cheddar or Monterrey cheese for CHEESY Chicken Tinga.
- Add rice or quinoa. Stir in cooked rice or cooked quinoa for added texture.
- Different Protein: Although this is called “Chicken Tinga,” the sauce can be combined with shredded pork, steak, ground beef, ground turkey, etc.
How do you serve CHICKEN TINGA?
The uses for this Chicken Tinga are endless! The traditional way to eat this chicken are with white rice or piled on tostadas with refried beans and topping, but feel free to serve it up any way you’d like. I always like to serve it with cooling, refrershing avocado crema or sour cream to complement the earthy spiciness. Here are just a few ideas – but don’t let this limit your imagination:
- Chicken Tinga Tostadas: Layer a tostada with refried beans or avocado mash, top with chicken, lettuce, red onions, cilantro, avocados, sour cream, cotija cheese or queso fresco etc.
- Chicken Tinga Tacos: Tacos made with tinga are called tacos de guisado. Warm tortillas then layer with chicken, black or pinto beans, and desired toppings such as lettuce, onions, cilantro, homemade guacamole, cotija cheese, and sour cream.
- Baked Chicken Tinga Tacos: Line a 9×13 baking dish with hard taco shells and fill each shell with 2 tablespoons refried beans (optional), followed by chicken and cheese (like this recipe). Bake at 350 degrees F for 15 minutes or until cheese is completely melted. Top chicken tacos with lettuce, tomatoes, sour cream, etc.
- Chicken Tinga Tortas: Slice French-style bread in half horizontally, spread refried beans on each side, top with chicken, cheese, avocado slices or guacamole, tomatoes slices, pickled red onions, pickled jalapenos, etc.
- Chicken Tinga Burrito Bowls: Layer cilantro lime rice with cheese, black beans or pinto beans, chicken, chopped lettuce, and your favorite toppings including crushed tortilla chips and either sour cream/Greek yogurt or I highly recommend either Tomatillo Avocado Ranch or Cilantro Lime Dressing.
- Chicken Tinga Burritos: Layer a burrito size tortilla with cilantro lime rice or Mexican Rice, black or pinto beans, cheese, chicken, guacamole, sour cream and lettuce. Serve with additional sour cream and either pico de gallo or homemade salsa.
- Smothered Chicken Tinga Burritos: Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with foil and add a baking rack on top. Prepare burritos by adding a heaping 1/2 cup chicken to each burrito size tortilla, top with desired amount of cheese and roll up burrito style. Place burritos on the baking rack and brush both sides lightly with olive oil or spray with nonstick cooking spray. Cook for 18-20 minutes or until golden. Broil to desired crispiness, flip over and broil the other side until golden. Remove baking rack and top burritos with my wildly popular Cheesy Green Chili Sour Cream Sauce like in my Crockpot Smothered Burritos. The creamy sauce beautifully offsets the tangy, spicy chicken.
- Chicken Tinga Quesadillas: Layer a burrito size tortilla with Mexican cheese and chicken and grill until golden, cheesy perfection. Serve with your favs of sour cream, salsa, chopped lettuce, guacamole, etc.
- Chicken Tinga Nachos: Pile thick restaurant style tortilla chips with cheese and beans and bake. Top with chicken and toppings such as jalapenos, salsa, sour cream, guacamole, etc.
WHAT SIDES SHOULD I SERVE WITH CHICKEN TINGA?
- Rice. I love serving Chicken Tinga with rice to soak up the saucy goodness. Plain rice is excellent because the chicken is SO flavorful or cilantro lime rice is excellent as well. You may also swap the rice for quinoa cauliflower rice. I would not use Mexican rice because it’s to much tomato on tomato flavor.
- Salad. This robust, earthy, smoky chicken also pairs well with the contrast of a bright, fresh salad. You can go as simple as a green salad and toss in some crushed tortilla chips, black beans and corn or go big with southwest salad, or corn salad.
- Vegetables. You can jam all your veggies into the salad or serve salad along with or in addition to elote (Mexican Grilled Street Corn – AH-mazing) grilled corn on the cob, baked asparagus, roasted broccoli, roasted cauliflower, roasted Brussels sprouts or roasted butternut squash.
- Fruit: keep it simple and serve this chicken with your favorite fruit such as pineapple, cantaloupe, or grapes or amp it up with any of these fabulous options: pina colada fruit salad, fruit salad with honey lime vinaigrette, grape salad, winter fruit salad, or caramelized grilled pineapple.
HOW TO FREEZE CHICKEN TINGA
This Chicken Tinga makes great freezer meals! To freeze:
- Prepare chicken according to directions.
- Cool to room temperature.
- Add chicken to a freezer size plastic bag OR portion into smaller size sandwich bags.
- Press bag flat, squeeze out excess air to prevent freezer burn.
- Seal, label and freeze for up to 3 months.
How to Reheat Chicken TINGA
- When ready to use, defrost chicken in the refrigerator overnight.
- Remove chicken and reheat in a skillet or in a microwave-safe container in the microwave.
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