This Chicken Tinga recipe is remarkably quick and easy to make in 30 minutes and tossed with the best smoky, savory, and slightly-sweet tomato sauce. Perfect for serving in tacos, tostadas, burritos, quesadillas and more!
With Cinco de Mayo just around the corner, the holiday celebrating the 1862 Mexican victory over the French in the First Battle of Puebla, I thought it was the perfect time to share my favorite recipe for one of Puebla’s most famous dishes…
…tinga de pollo! ♡
This smoky shredded chicken has long been one of my favorite recipes to make on busy weeknights because it is incredibly quick and easy to whip up and incredibly delicious. If you’re new to tinga, it’s traditionally made with a chipotle tomato sauce that’s seasoned simply with onions, garlic, cumin, oregano and bay leaf. But I also like to add in an extra non-traditional ingredient too…honey! It’s not typically added to the authentic chicken tinga that you would find in Puebla, but I find that its floral sweetness adds a delicious contrast to those smoky and savory flavors in the sauce and highly recommend giving it a try sometime if you’d like.
I also love this recipe because it’s easy to make in the Instant Pot, Crock-Pot, or simply on the stovetop. It’s naturally gluten- and dairy-free. Any leftovers that you might have can also be frozen and reheated easily (and for that reason, I highly recommend making a double batch while you’re at it!). And best of all, this versatile shredded chicken can be used in countless ways. It’s most often traditionally used to make chicken tinga tostadas or chicken tinga tacos. (Stay tuned for my favorite chicken tinga tacos recipe coming later this week!) But you can also use this recipe to make chicken tinga burritos, burrito bowls, quesadillas, enchiladas, nachos, taquitos, salads and more.
So if you are looking for a good chicken tinga recipe to try, here is my favorite way to make it!
Chicken Tinga Ingredients:
Before we get to the full recipe below, here are a few notes about the ingredients you will need to make this chicken tinga recipe…
Garlic and onion: I prefer to sauté these in a bit of oil and blend them in with the sauce. But many traditional tinga de pollo recipes leave the onions unblended, so feel free to choose whichever method you’d like.
Chipotles in adobo sauce: These smoky, tangy and slightly-sweet peppers are the starring essential ingredient in tinga! I typically add about 4 chipotle peppers to this recipe, plus at least a tablespoon of the adobo sauce in which the chipotles are packed. But they are moderately spicy, so if you are averse to heat, I recommend starting with 2 and then you can always add more later if you’d like.
Canned tomatoes: Tinga is traditionally made with fresh tomatoes. But since good fresh tomatoes are often difficult to find this time of year, I’ve written this recipe using a can of diced tomatoes instead (which are always canned at their peak of freshness). If you have access to fire-roasted tomatoes, I recommend using those for some extra smoky flavor. But plain diced tomatoes will work too.
Chicken stock: This will serve as the base for our sauce (or veggie stock would work too).
Honey (optional): As mentioned above, this is a totally non-traditional ingredient — but I absolutely love how a hint of sweet honey balances out the other smoky, savory flavors in this sauce. Feel free to omit the honey if you would like, or add more/less to taste.
Seasonings: Tinga is traditionally made with a simple seasoning blend of ground cumin, Mexican oregano and occasionally bay leaf. The Mexican oregano adds a hint of extra citrus and licorice flavors to the sauce, but if you do not have any, basic (Italian) oregano will work well too.
Chicken: Tinga is traditionally made with pre-cooked shredded chicken, which makes this dish extra quick and easy. (I often make it by shredding a large rotisserie chicken or with leftover baked chicken breasts. Or you could bake, sauté or poach chicken breasts yourself to shred.) That said, I have written the Crock-Pot and Instant Pot instructions using raw chicken breasts, which will cook directly in the sauce.
Toppings: Hot and smoky tinga is at its best when contrasted with a generous sprinkling of cool and fresh toppings. So I recommend adding as many as you would like! ♡ Chopped fresh cilantro, crumbled cotija cheese, fresh lime wedges, quick pickled red onions, sliced avocado, and/or Mexican crema are some delicious traditional options to choose from.
How To Make Chicken Tinga:
Full instructions are included below for how to make chicken tinga in either the Instant Pot (pressure cooker), Crock-Pot (slow cooker) or on the stovetop. But here is a general overview of the steps for the stovetop version…
Make the sauce. Sauté the onions and garlic in a bit of oil, then blend them together with the remaining sauce ingredients.
Toss with the chicken. Toss the sauce with the chicken and a bay leaf and cook for about 5 minutes or so, to help all of those delicious flavors blend together.
Season. As always, don’t forget to taste and season the chicken to see how much salt and pepper it needs. (Also, go ahead and discard that bay leaf!)
Serve. Then serve the chicken warm however you’d like, garnished with lots of fresh toppings.
Here are a few more variations that you are welcome to try with this chicken tinga recipe…
Use fresh tomatoes: Use 1 pound of diced Roma tomatoes in place of the canned tomatoes and let the tomato sauce simmer for an extra 5 minutes before adding the chicken and bay leaf.
Leave the onions unblended. Many traditional tinga recipes do not blend the onions, so feel free to leave the sautéed onions and garlic in the stockpot instead of blending them in with the tomato sauce mixture.
Add chorizo: Chorizo is often added to tinga in traditional Mexican cooking and adds amazing flavor to this dish too! (Here is an authentic chicken tinga recipe you are welcome to try that uses chorizo.) To add chorizo to this recipe, simply sauté between 1/2 to 1 pound of Mexican chorizo (removed from its casing) until browned, drain off any excess grease (or you can use it to sauté the onion and garlic), and add the chorizo at the same time that you add the chicken.
Add beans: Rinse, drain and add 1 can of pinto or black beans at the same time that you add the chicken.
Make it spicier: Sauté a diced jalapeño or serrano chile along with the onion and garlic to add some extra heat.
Ways To Serve Chicken Tinga:
Traditionally, tinga de pollo is most often served either in tinga tostadas (served on a crunchy corn tortilla with refried beans) or tinga tacos (served in soft corn tortillas). But this smoky shredded chicken is incredibly versatile and could be served countless ways, such as in tinga burritos, tinga burrito bowls, tinga quesadillas, tinga taquitos, tinga nachos, tinga enchiladas and beyond. I recommend making a big batch and then you can have fun serving up the leftovers different ways!
More Mexican Chicken Recipes:
Looking for more Mexican-inspired chicken recipes? Here are a few more of my faves…
This Chicken Tinga recipe is remarkably quick and easy to make in 30 minutes and tossed with the best smoky, savory, and slightly-sweet tomato sauce. See notes below for Instant Pot and Crock-Pot options.
Sauté the onions and garlic. Heat oil in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Add the onion and sauté for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic and sauté for 1-2 minutes, stirring frequently, until fragrant. Remove stockpot from heat and transfer the onion mixture to a blender.*
Blend the sauce. Add the chipotles (and 1 tablespoon adobo sauce), tomatoes, chicken stock, honey (if using), cumin and oregano to the blender. Cover and purée until smooth, then pour the sauce pack into the stockpot.
Add the chicken. Add the chicken and bay leaf to the sauce and toss until combined. Cook over medium-high heat for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove and discard the bay leaf.
Season. Taste and season the chicken with however much salt and pepper you think it needs.
Serve. Serve the chicken warm, garnished with whatever toppings you love best, and enjoy! Leftovers can be refrigerated in a food storage container for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 3 months.
Instant Pot (pressure cooker) instructions: Complete step 1 in the bowl of the Instant Pot using the “Sauté” function. Follow step 2. Then add the sauce, chicken, and bay leaf to the Instant Pot. Cover and pressure cook on high for 8 minutes, followed by a quick release. Remove and discard the bay leaf. Remove and shred the chicken, then add it back to the sauce and toss to combine. Follow steps 4 and 5.
Crock-Pot (slow cooker) instructions: Combine all ingredients (minus the salt and pepper) in the bowl of a large slow cooker and briefly toss to combine. Cover and slow cook on high for 1-2 hours or on low for 3-4 hours, until the chicken shreds easily with a fork. Remove and discard the bay leaf. Remove and shred the chicken. At this point, you are welcome to blend the remaining sauce if you’d like (see note below) or you can just leave it as-is. Return the chicken to the sauce and toss to combine. Follow steps 4 and 5.
Chipotle chiles in adobo: These deliciously smoky chiles do pack some heat. So if you prefer this recipe to be less spicy, I recommend beginning with 2 chipotles, and then you can always mince and add more later if you’d like. I also recommend adding in 1 tablespoon of the smoky adobo sauce (in which the chiles are packed) for extra flavor.
Using raw chicken: Instead of using pre-cooked chicken, you can use 1 1/2 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts, approximately 3 chicken breasts. For the stovetop method, I recommend sautéing the chicken before you begin the recipe. Simply season it on both sides with salt and pepper, then sauté the chicken in a drizzle of olive oil over medium-high heat until cooked through. Let the chicken rest while you prepare the sauce. Then shred the chicken and toss with the sauce as directed. (Or alternately, you can simmer the raw chicken breasts in the sauce until they are cooked. Then remove and shred them and toss with the sauce as directed.)
Blending options: Feel free to blend the sauce using a traditional blender, a food processor, or an immersion blender. If you are following the Crock-Pot method and the sauce is quite hot, be sure to very carefully tent open the cap on the blender lid so that any steam can escape, since hot liquids expand (and can explode) when blended.