This authentic Chicken Tinga Recipe, or Tinga de Pollo is made with tender, shredded chicken cooked in a delicious tomato sauce with a spicy kick from chipotle chiles in adobo. It's an exceptional choice for food enthusiasts and anyone who loves the best of authentic Mexican cuisine.
Although I have always loved good food, it was in Mexico many years ago when I first savored food I can still remember today. During my stay there, while living and working in Mexico City, I soon began to learn more about the flavors and essence of Mexican cuisine.
Friends and family were all open to sharing with me traditional easy recipes they grew up with, and one of them was this tinga de pollo. My recipe stays true to the authentic flavors and method for making the best tinga de pollo you will ever have.
The dish is part of my collection of Mexican cuisine recipes that also include Bistec Encebollado, Mexican Pork Tinga(Tinga Poblana), Chicken Fajitas, Ensalada de Nopales, or Capirotada, just to name a few.
💝Why You Will Love This Tinga Recipe
- Authentic Mexican Flavors: This Tinga de Pollo recipe embodies the essence of Mexican cuisine with its rich tomato flavor and chipotles.
- Versatile: It's not just a meal on its own but also a fantastic filling for tostadas, tortas, burritos, and tacos. You will end up with multiple meal options from a single preparation.
- Easy Preparation: This easy tinga recipe cooks in an Instant Pot, slow cooker, or stovetop. This recipe is incredibly easy to prepare, making it perfect for busy home cooks. In less than an hour, you have dinner on the table.
🍲 What is Tinga?
Tinga, a Mexican delicacy, originates from Puebla's colonial era, blending Spanish and Mexican influences to create a beloved main course.
This dish combines onions and garlic for a flavorful base, enriched by a tomato and stock-based sauce. Cooked meat such as chicken, beef, pork, or chorizo adds another layer of taste, while canned chipotle peppers provide a spicy kick, capturing the essence of Mexican cuisine.
It's important to note that tinga chicken is a unique stew very different from moles. While moles grind all the ingredients together, tinga sauce blends only the tomatoes and chiles while onions and garlic are sliced and sautéed separately.
Before we get to the recipe, here are a few notes about the ingredients we will use.
- Chicken: The traditional Mexican recipe uses boneless skinless chicken breast, but chicken thighs are also great to use. Rotisserie or leftover chicken works beautifully for shortcuts. If you happen to have pre-cooked chicken or rotisserie chicken handy, feel free to use it to speed up the process.
- Onions: White onions are typically used in Mexico for most recipes. They are milder and sweeter than regular yellow or red onions. Use what is available.
- Tomatoes: Tomatoes and chipotles form the base of any tinga sauce. You can use fresh tomatoes, but canned tomatoes, like fire-roasted or crushed, work well, especially in the off-season.
- Vegetable Oil or Lard: Both types of fat are very popular.
- Seasonings: Salt, pepper, oregano, thyme, whole garlic cloves, marjoram, and bay leaf are the perfect seasoning for making tinga. Use traditional Mexican oregano if possible; omit marjoram and thyme if they're not your preference.
- Chipotle Peppers in Adobo: A chipotle is essentially a ripe, red jalapeño pepper that has been sun-dried, smoked, rehydrated, and preserved in a tangy adobo sauce, which consists of vinegar and various spices. You can find them in any supermarket with a Mexican food section or buy them online. Use dried chipotle if cans are not available.
- Chicken Stock: For added flavor control, use low-sodium chicken stock instead of water.
For the entire list of ingredients, please consult the recipe card at the bottom of this article.
👩🏼🍳 How to Make Chicken Tinga
- Cook the chicken in salted water with some onions, garlic, bay leaves, and oregano. Cook until the chicken is done, and remember to skim off any foam that forms during cooking.
- Simmer the tomatoes covered with water in a saucepan until softened but still holding their shape. After cooking, use a blender (affiliate link) or a food processor to combine the cooked tomatoes, garlic, salt, pepper, and 2-3 chipotle chiles from the can.
- Sauté the sliced onions in a skillet with oil for 5-6 minutes until they become soft and translucent.
- Add the blended tomatoes to the sautéed onions. Add the oregano, marjoram, and thyme. Simmer the mixture gently over low heat. Be cautious of steam and bubbling. Cook partially covered until the sauce deepens in color and thickens. Be sure to stir occasionally.
- Remove the chicken from the pot and pull it apart into shredded pieces.
- Another option is using two forks to shred it.
NOTE: Keep the broth that you cooked the chicken in. It's great for preparing flavorful Mexican rice to pair with this dish, or you can freeze it to use later in other recipes.
- Add the shredded chicken to the tinga sauce and mix together.
- Taste and adjust the salt or pepper as needed. Let it simmer briefly to allow the flavors to mingle and intensify.
🥣 How to Serve
The traditional way to eat this easy chicken tinga is with Mexican rice as a meal. However, this recipe is perfect for any gathering - think a picnic, a potluck, or even tailgating, as you can prepare it ahead of time and serve it warm from a slow cooker.
Tinga de pollo is a versatile filling for various quick Mexican dishes and is perfect for Taco Tuesday or Cinco de Mayo.
- Tostadas: Make classic chicken tinga tostadas with refried beans and tinga de pollo and then add shredded lettuce, avocado, or radish, and add cheese, crema, and salsa on top.
- Tortas: Use it to make these Mexican sandwiches on bolillos, a French-style bread. Fill up the bread with beans, chicken tinga, cheese, avocado, tomatoes, and pickled jalapeños.
- Burritos: Stuff a large flour tortilla with rice, refried beans, tinga, pico de gallo, and your choice of cheese. Serve with sour cream and guacamole.
- Chicken Tinga Bowl: Use leftover tinga and add it to cooked rice and Mexican beans for a healthier burrito bowl. Top with cilantro, scallions, crumbled cheese (queso fresco, cotija, feta, or goat cheese) and lime wedges.
- Chicken Tinga Tacos: Warm corn or flour tortillas in a skillet or over a gas flame. Fill with chicken tinga, sliced avocados, lettuce, and your favorite toppings.
- Tingadillas: Spread tinga and meltable cheese between flour tortillas to make elevated quesadillas. Cook until golden on each side. Slice it into triangles and serve with guacamole.
❄️ How to store
Refrigerate leftovers in an airtight container for up to 4 days. Freeze in a freezer-safe container for up to 3 months. Reheat leftover tinga on the stovetop or in the microwave when ready to serve.
You can make the sauce on its own ahead of time and freeze it for up to three months. Then when you're ready to serve it, cook the chicken and the onions, and add them to the sauce.
💡 Expert Tips
- Do not skip chipotle peppers. Chipotle peppers are essential for tinga; without them, it's just chicken stew.
- Adjust chipotle to taste. Original recipes use a whole can of chipotles, which may be too spicy for some. It is easier to add spice than remove. If you want more heat, use the whole can, then taste and season the blended sauce. Set aside.
- Using canned tomatoes and rotisserie or cooked chicken are two easy ways to save time making tinga!
- Do not blend the tomatoes with the onions. The onions are cooked separately and then added to the sauce giving it more texture.
- Don't waste the liquid from cooking the chicken. You can save it to use for cooking rice or soups.
🙋♀️ Recipe FAQs
Chicken Tinga is generally high in protein and low in carbs, especially if you skip the tortilla and opt for a lettuce wrap instead.
The dish can be spicy due to the chipotle peppers. You can adjust the spice level by reducing the amount of chipotle peppers.
Yes, Chicken Tinga actually tastes better the next day as the flavors meld together. Store it in an airtight container in the fridge, and it should keep well for up to 4 days.
More Delicious Mexican Recipes to Love
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Tinga De Pollo (Chicken With Chipotle Tomato Sauce) Recipe
To cook the chicken:
- 1 ½ pounds chicken , about 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1 small onion cut in quarters
- 2 bay leaves
- ¼ teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 cups water or low sodium chicken stock or more to cover the chicken
To cook the onions:
- 5 tablespoons vegetable oil , like sunflower, canola, or olive oil
- 2 large onions , thinly sliced (use either sweet onion, white onion, yellow onion or red onion)
For the Chipotle sauce:
- 4-5 Roma plum tomatoes , or 1 can (28 ounces) of crushed tomatoes
- 7 ounces can of Chipotle chiles in Adobo sauce (use less if you like it less spicy)
- 2-3 cloves of garlic
- 1 ½ teaspoon salt or to taste
- ¼ teaspoon Mexican oregano
- ¼ teaspoon dried thyme
- ¼ teaspoon dried marjoram
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
Cook the chicken:
- Bring a pot of salty water to a boil and add the chicken breast to cook. Add the onion cut in quarters, garlic cloves, bay leaves, oregano, and salt. If you use chicken stock, go easy on salt. Let the chicken simmer until it is cooked through. It could take between 12-15 minutes.
- Make sure you skim the foam that forms on top of the water as it starts boiling. When the chicken is cooked, set aside.
Prepare the salsa:
- While the chicken is cooking, place the tomatoes in a medium saucepan, cover with water, bring to a simmer over medium-high heat and cook for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the tomatoes are soft and mushy but not falling apart. Note: If you use canned tomatoes, skip this step.
- In a blender, place the tomatoes (or the can of crushed tomatoes if you use one), garlic, salt, pepper, and 2-3 chiles from the can. Be careful with the chiles. The original Mexican recipe calls for the entire can of Chipotle, but I found it too powerful and spicy for us, so I added fewer chiles in the blender.
- After blending the ingredients, taste for salt and pepper and adjust if necessary.
Cook the tinga sauce:
- Slice the onions thinly. Heat the oil in a large pan(skillet) and add the onion. Cook the onion until soft and translucent for about 5-6 minutes.
- Pour the salsa over onions. Add oregano, marjoram, thyme, and pepper. (Be careful as the sauce will steam and bubble).
- Simmer the sauce, occasionally stirring, until the sauce deepens in color, becomes darker and less soupy, about 7-8 minutes.
Shred chicken and add it to the sauce:
- Take the chicken out of the broth, and with two forks, shred the meat.
- Add it to the sauce and mix well to incorporate the chicken.
- Let it simmer for only a minute and serve over rice or on warm tortillas.
- Don't waste chicken stock: Save it for rice, soup, or other dishes.
- Freezing Sauce: Make the sauce, allow it to cool, then freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw in the refrigerator before use. Cook onions and chicken, and add thawed sauce. Avoid raw chicken in the salsa; cook first. Rotisserie chicken works, too.
Bonus:Slow Cooker Tinga de Pollo: Sauté onions, blend salsa, and combine all ingredients in the slow cooker, including raw chicken. Cook on 'High' for 4 hours or 'Low' for 6 hours. This method preserves the dish's authenticity and lets flavors meld together. Instant Pot Tinga De Pollo: Starting with Raw Ingredients:
- Add oil to the Instant Pot and select the Saute function. Cook onions until soft and translucent. Cancel the Saute function.
- Prepare the spicy tomato sauce as directed and pour it over the onions.
- Add raw chicken, secure the lid, and pressure cook on high for 12 minutes. Manually release the pressure.
- Shred the cooked chicken, mix it with the sauce, and serve.
- Place sliced onions and oil in the Instant Pot, using the Saute function to cook until soft and translucent.
- Add the frozen salsa and chicken mixture to the pot.
- Pressure cook on high for 12 minutes, allowing for a 10-minute natural pressure release. Keep in mind that the Instant Pot will take longer to build pressure with frozen ingredients.