Chicken Tinga Recipe (Instant Pot & Stovetop Instructions)
Spicy, smoky, full-flavored Chicken Tinga is a classic Mexican shredded chicken recipe prepared with tomato, onions, and chipotle peppers. Make this big batch tinga recipe on your meal prep day for easy lunches and dinners all week long!
What is chicken tinga?
Originating in Puebla, Mexico, chicken tinga is a versatile and authentic dish made with shredded chicken in a tomato, chipotle pepper, and adobo sauce. While it is most often served on tostadas, this quick and easy-to-make protein is delicious in any number of applications. If it’s a party entrée you’re looking for why not serve this spunky and soulful Pueblan recipe?
Why You’ll Love This Recipe
I want to thank my dear friend Cesi who introduced me to this delightfully flavorful dish. After much begging, she shared her family recipe with me which has been in her family for generations. I have to admit that I tweaked her original recipe by making it a tad lighter. I hope to make my amiga and her familia proud with my Muy Bueno version! This recipe is also published in the Muy Bueno cookbook!
Despite making a few changes to suit my family’s needs and preferences, this chicken tinga recipe still has all the hallmarks of Cesi’s original. You will love this tinga recipe because it’s:
- Quick & Easy. You only need 5 minutes of active kitchen time to get a gorgeous meal on the table. In fact, if you have an Instant Pot on hand, you can even make this delicious chicken dinner from FROZEN. How great is that?!?
- Meal-Prep & Freezer-Friendly. One recipe for this big-batch chicken tinga lasts for several meals in our hungry family.
- Made With Just 8 Basic Ingredients, one of which is WATER.
- Super Versatile. Once made, this spicy, smoky, meaty deliciousness can add protein and pizzazz to everything from tacos and tostadas to nachos, burrito bowls and pasta, sopes and flautas.
Ingredients & Substitutions
As promised, you don’t need much by way of ingredients to make this Mexican tinga. Here’s what to grab:
- Water – For poaching. Feel free to swap in chicken or veggie stock if you prefer, then strain and reuse it for soup or sauce.
- Boneless Skinless Chicken Breast – My family prefers white meat, but you can easily opt to use boneless skinless chicken thighs if you prefer. You’re also welcome to take a shortcut and use shredded rotisserie chicken meat instead!
- Salt – For seasoning.
- Garlic – Opt for fresh if possible to get the most flavor.
- Yellow Onions – White onions can also be used.
- Tomatoes – I prefer using vine-ripened tomatoes, but Roma are also perfect.
- Chipotle Peppers in Adobo Sauce – These canned spicy, smoky gems are a staple in any Mexican kitchen. If you have a larger can and don’t have any plans to use the remaining peppers, feel free to transfer them to a clean container and freeze them for up to a year.
- Canola Oil – Or swap in any neutral-flavored cooking oil.
To Serve (Optional)
If you want to go the chicken tinga tostada route, I suggest grabbing the following:
- Tostada Shells – You’re also welcome to fry up homemade corn tortillas if you prefer.
- Refried Beans – Frijoles are the glue to hold all the goodness together. Try my recipe for homemade refined beans.
- Iceberg Lettuce – Shredded crunchy lettuce is a must on tinga tosadas.
- Avocados – For added richness and color.
- Crema Mexicana – You can also use sour cream or full-fat greek yogurt if you prefer!
- Queso Fresco or Cotija – These are traditional, salty, crumbly Mexican cheeses that are similar to feta, but feel free to swap in your own favorites.
- Salsa – I prefer my Grandma’s homemade salsa casera, but simple pico de gallo or any salsa will do the trick!
- Radishes – For a bit of crunch, color, and peppery bite.
How To Make Chicken Tinga
One of the things I love most about this tinga chicken recipe is how little active time it takes. It is seriously so easy, you’re going to want to make it all the time!
Watch this video to see just how quickly this tasty shredded meat is made! Here’s how it’s done, step-by-step:
1. Poach & Shred Chicken
First up, you’re going to poach some boneless skinless chicken breasts. Poaching is a great way to cook lean chicken breasts because it keeps the meat tender and moist. Here are a few different ways to get your chicken ready to be dressed up in tinga sauce:
- Stockpot on Stovetop: Take your chicken breasts and add them to a stockpot with water, onion, garlic, and salt. All of those yummy flavors will infuse into the meat while it cooks! Simply allow to simmer for about 30 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through.
- Instant Pot Shredded Poached Chicken: Combine the ingredients in the Instant Pot. Cover with the lid and pressure cook on high for 10 minutes, followed by a 5 minute natural release, followed by a quick release.
- Instant Pot Frozen Chicken: Forgot to defrost your chicken? No problem! Place frozen chicken in the Instant Pot and add 5 extra minutes to the high pressure cook time, for a total of 15 minutes on high.
Once the chicken is poached, drain it and reserve the onion, garlic, and poaching liquid for later use. After the chicken is cool enough to handle, shred it!
TIP: While you can certainly shred the chicken using two forks, you can make life a lot easier and faster by using a hand mixer. Simply place the chicken breasts in a large bowl and use a hand mixer with the beater attachment. It’ll shred the chicken in no time!
2. Make Tinga Sauce
Next up, you’re going to need to make the sauce for the chicken tinga. That’s where most of the flavor is! Don’t worry, it’s also quick & easy.
Step 1: Blend. In a blender add the boiled onion and garlic clove, quartered tomato, chipotle peppers and adobo sauce, salt, and enough chicken poaching liquid to fill the blender halfway. Purée until smooth.
Next, heat some oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Once shimmering, add the chopped onion and sauté until soft and translucent. Now add in the fresh chopped tomatoes and minced garlic and cook about two more minutes.
Now you’re ready to put it all together! Add in the chipotle sauce from the blender and the shredded chicken. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for about 10 minutes. Congratulations! Your chicken tinga is now ready to eat.
- Spicy – Feel free to add extra chipotles to the blender with the remaining tinga sauce ingredients for a fiery interpretation.
- Rotisserie Chicken – One of my favorite weeknight dinner shortcuts is grabbing a pre-made rotisserie chicken from the store. If you go this route, use chicken or veggie broth in place of the poaching liquid for blending the sauce.
- Beef Tinga – Use my Slow Cooker Beef Brisket instead of chicken, then toss in the magical Mexican tinga sauce.
- Pork Tinga – I wrote a whole separate post with instructions for you, but the general gist is you’ll be using pork shoulder in place of pulled chicken.
If you’re looking for an easy party meal, tinga is great for a serve-yourself tostada buffet where guests can create their own mountain of goodness.
If you’re just planning on serving the family, there are tons of other ways to enjoy my chicken tinga! I love making a big batch at the beginning of the week and enjoying it for easy lunches and dinners all week long. Aside from piling it on top of a crispy tostada shell, you can also use it for:
- Molotes (Masa Empanadas)
- Burritos, Burrito Bowls, or Grain Bowls
- Tortas, Wraps, and Sandwiches
- Baked Potatoes
- Chicken tinga tastes better after a day or two in the fridge when all the flavors have had time to meld. If possible, make it a day ahead of any party.
- Cut back on prep work by using leftover cooked chicken or shredded rotisserie chicken.
Frequently Asked Questions
If you lean more towards mild foods, no worries! Simply halve the amount of chipotles and the sauce. If you lean in the opposite direction, feel free to heat things up with the addition of one of my favorite Mexican chiles!
Heck yeah! Chicken tinga is a tasty party dish that can be made ahead. It stores well in the refrigerator and tastes better the next day after the ingredients have marinated for a few hours.
More Tasty Mexican Meats
- Carnitas en Coca-Cola (Coke-Braised Pork)
- Slow-Cooker Pork Tinga
- Slow Cooker Beef Brisket
- Quick and Easy Carne Asada
- 6 cups water
- 2 pounds skinless/boneless chicken breast
- 4 teaspoons salt, divided
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 medium yellow onion, quartered
- 1 large vine ripened tomato, quartered
- 1 (7-ounce) can chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
- 1/4 cup canola oil
- 1 large yellow onion, chopped
- 3 large vine ripened tomatoes, chopped
- 1 clove garlic, chopped
- 12 Flat tostada shells, packaged or corn tortillas
- 1 iceberg lettuce, finely shredded
- 3 avocados, pitted, peeled, and sliced
- 2 cups crema Mexicana or sour cream
- 2 cups queso fresco or Cotija, crumbled
- 2 cups salsa of your choice
- 6 radishes, sliced
- In a large stockpot, over medium to high heat, add water, chicken, 2 teaspoons salt, 1 clove garlic, and quartered onion. Cover and simmer for about 30 minutes. Reserve.
- Remove the chicken and allow it to cool. After the chicken cools off shred it. Reserve.
- In a blender add the boiled onion and garlic clove, quartered tomato, chipotle peppers including adobo sauce, 2 teaspoons salt, and enough chicken broth to fill the blender half way. Puree until smooth.
- Heat the oil in a large and deep pan over medium heat.
- Once it is hot but not smoking, stir in the chopped onion and cook until soft and translucent, about 2 minutes.
- Add chopped tomatoes and chopped garlic and cook for an additional 2 minutes.
- Add the cooked shredded chicken, the chipotle sauce from the blender and more chicken broth if it is too dry. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
- Add salt to taste.
- In a heavy skillet heat one-quarter inch of oil. Drop tortillas carefully into hot oil, one at a time, for 20 to 40 seconds on each side or until crisp and golden. Drain on paper towels. Store bought tostadas can also be used.
- To assemble, place a tostada (fried tortilla) on a serving plate; spoon on Chicken Tinga, lettuce (optional), 1 or 2 slices of ripe avocado, crumbled queso fresco, and top with crema Mexicana or sour cream.
- Garnish tostada with toppings of your choice.
- Chicken can be cooked in an Instant Pot. Combine the ingredients in the Instant Pot. Cover with the lid and pressure cook on high for 10 minutes, followed by a 5 minute natural release, followed by a quick release. If chicken is frozen add 5 extra minutes to the high pressure cook time, for a total of 15 minutes on high.
- For easy shredding of your chicken, use a hand mixer with the beater attachment. It’ll shred the chicken in a fraction of the time it will take with forks.
- Tinga is a tasty party dish that can be made ahead. It stores well in the refrigerator and tastes better the next day after the ingredients have marinated for a few hours.
- Serve on tostadas, in tacos, sopes, or burritos. Great on nachos, too!
Originally published: May 2011. This recipe is also published in the Muy Bueno cookbook.