Spicy, smoky, saucy Chicken Tinga is a classic Mexican shredded chicken recipe prepared with tomatoes, onions, and chipotle peppers. Make this big-batch pollo tinga recipe on your meal prep day for easy lunches and dinners all week long!

Green platter with three chicken tinga tostadas with refried beans, shredded chicken tinga, shredded lettuuce, sliced radishes, fresh cilantro, and crumbled cheese.

I want to thank my dear friend Cesi who introduced me to this delightfully versatile dish. After much begging, she shared her family’s authentic chicken tinga recipe that has been in her family for generations. 

Despite making a few changes to suit my family’s needs and preferences, this version still has all the hallmarks of Cesi’s delicious chicken tinga recipe. I hope to make my amiga and her familia proud with my Muy Bueno version, which is also published in the first Muy Bueno cookbook!

What is Chicken Tinga?

Originating in Puebla, Mexico in the late 1800s, Mexican tinga is a versatile dish of tender meat tossed in a smoky, slightly spicy red chile tomato sauce. While the original authentic tinga recipe from the cookbook ‘La Cocinera Poblana’ listed multiple iterations made with beef, pork, and other meats, tinga chicken is the most well-known. 

Tinga de pollo is made with boneless, skinless chicken (most often chicken breasts) that have been shredded. While chicken tinga tostadas are one of the most popular applications for this quick and easy-to-make protein, this spunky and soulful Pueblan recipe is also amazing in tacos, burritos, sopes, tamales, quesadillas, and more. Read on below for plenty of tasty serving suggestions!

Why You’ll Love This Authentic Chicken Tinga Recipe 

  • Only 5 minutes of active kitchen time. If you have an Instant Pot on hand, you can even make this delicious chicken dinner using frozen chicken breasts. 
  • Meal-prep & freezer-friendly. One batch makes several meals.
  • Only 7 ingredients. Basic and simple ingredients are needed to make this recipe for chicken tinga.
  • Versatile. Once made, this spicy, smoky, meaty deliciousness can add protein and flavor to everything from tacos and tostadas to nachos, burrito bowls, pasta, and sopes de tinga.

Ingredients & Substitutions 

The complete list of ingredients, quantities, and instructions can be found in the printable recipe card below.

  • 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 tomatoes on the vine or Roma tomatoes.
  • Chipotle Chiles 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 freeze them and their sauce for up to a year.
  • Canola Oil: Or swap in any neutral-flavored cooking oil.
overhead shot of ingredients for making instant pot chicken tinga tostadas measured out in bowls on a white table.

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 that holds all the deliciousness together on the tostada. 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. Feel free to swap in your favorite cheese.
  • 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 Mexican chicken tinga is how little active time it takes. It is seriously so easy, you’re going to want to make it all the time!

Here’s how it’s done, step-by-step:

Step 1: Poach & Shred Chicken. Poaching chicken is a great way to cook lean breasts because it keeps the meat tender and moist. 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. (Want to use your Instant Pot? Directions are in the Optional Variations section below.)

Once the chicken is poached, drain it and reserve the onion, garlic, and poaching liquid for later use. After it is cool enough to handle, shred the chicken using two forks or a hand mixer.

Step 2: Blend chicken tinga sauce. 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.

overhead shot of mexican tinga sauce in a blender.

Step 3: Saute onion, tomatoes and garlic. 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 for about two more minutes. 

Step 4: Assemble. Now you’re ready to put it all together! Add the chipotle sauce from the blender and the shredded chicken to the pot with the sauteed onions, tomatoes, and garlic. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for about 10 minutes. 

More of a visual learner? Watch this instructional video about how to make pollo de tinga.

cast iron skillet with shredded chicken and tinga sauce being stirred together.

Optional Variations

As much as I love this recipe for chicken tinga just the way it is written, there are plenty of opportunities for you to make it your own. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Spicy level: The recipe as written is moderately spicy. If you love spice, feel free to add extra chipotles to the blender with the remaining tinga sauce ingredients. If you lean more towards mild foods, simply halve the amount of chipotle peppers.
  • Added spices: Try adding a dried bay leaf to the poaching liquid, a teaspoon of oregano (preferably Mexican), and/or some freshly ground black pepper to the tinga sauce if you’d like. 
  • 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 poached chicken, then toss in the magical Mexican tinga sauce.
  • Pork tinga: Follow my pork tinga recipe using pork shoulder in place of pulled chicken.
  • Instant Pot Chicken Tinga: Make tinga sauce as instructed in the recipe card. Pour the sauce in the Instant Pot, then add fresh chicken breasts. Place lid on Instant Pot and 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. Remove chicken to shred, then place back in Instant Pot and toss with sauce.

Serving Suggestions

If you’re looking for an easy party meal, shredded chicken tinga is a winner. I love to set up a serve-yourself tostada buffet where guests can assemble their ideal plates. 

If you’re just planning on serving the family, there are tons of other ways to enjoy this yummy Mexican chicken! I love making a big batch at the beginning of the week and enjoying it for easy lunches and dinners all week long. 

Wondering what goes with chicken tinga? Aside from piling it on top of a crispy tostada shell, you can also use it for:

  • Chicken Flautas are crispy rolled and fried snacks that are perfect for dipping in guacamole.
  • Chicken Tinga Tacos are also lovely, and can be made using the same toppings you’d use for tostadas. As a bonus, you don’t have to fry the corn tortillas! 
  • Chicken Tinga Molotes.  In Puebla, they slow cook their tomatoes until they are sweeter and more of a thickened sauce and then they also add piloncillo giving the chicken tinga a hint of sweetness. These Oaxacan empanadas are made with masa harina, which gives the pastry a lightly sweet flavor I can’t get enough of. 
  • Chicken Tinga Nachos are another great option for big gatherings. They’re one of my favorite go-tos for game day!
  • Chicken Tinga Burritos or Burrito Bowls are super filling and easy to customize for picky eaters. 
  • Chicken Tinga Quesadillas combine buttery flour tortillas, melty cheese, and spicy chicken for a delightfully quick meal.
  • Baked Potatoes are the perfect rent-week meal, especially when you stuff them with tender shredded meat. 
  • Chicken Tinga Enchiladas are great for weeknights. 
  • Salads can also get a flavorful boost from a scoop of this spicy protein. 

What are your favorite ways to serve your braised chicken tinga? Let me know in the comments below!

Expert Tips

  • Leftovers. 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.
  • Shortcut. Cut back on prep work by using leftover cooked chicken or shredded rotisserie chicken.
  • Shredding 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!

Storage & Heating Instructions 

  • Refrigerate: Allow leftover tinga to cool, then place in airtight containers. It will keep well in the fridge for up to 5 days.
  • Freeze: You can also freeze chicken tinga for up to 3 months.
  • Reheat: To serve, allow the chicken to defrost in the fridge overnight, then gently heat on the stovetop until warmed through. If needed, add a splash of broth or water to thin out the sauce.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is chicken tinga spicy or sweet? Is it hot?

My family likes spicy foods, so I’d consider this recipe for tinga to be medium-spicy. You’re welcome to make it spicier by adding more chipotles to the sauce. You can also dial it back by using half of the can of chipotle peppers. While you technically could eat it cold, I think it tastes best when served hot.

Is chicken tinga white meat?

I typically use chicken breasts because I think white meat shreds better than dark. That said, some families prefer using chicken thighs. It’s totally up to you!

What does “tinga” mean?

Most commonly, “Tinga” refers to a delicious Mexican dish, especially Chicken Tinga (tinga de pollo in Spanish). This flavorful dish comes from the state of Puebla, which is known for its amazing food scene and rich history.  Fun fact: Puebla is also the place where the famous battle that Cinco de Mayo celebrates took place!

What if I don’t like spicy foods? 

If you lean more towards mild foods, simply halve the amount of chipotle peppers. If you lean in the opposite direction, feel free to heat things up with the addition of one of my favorite Mexican chiles!

Can I make chicken tinga ahead of time?

Absolutely! Chicken tinga is a 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.

Do I need any special equipment to make chicken tinga?

This recipe calls for just a few basic kitchen tools, including a Blender, Large Pot, & Skillet. You  can also make Instant Pot chicken tinga if you prefer.

More Yummy Mexican Meat Recipes

green serving plate with 3 chicken tinga tostadas on a colorful woven placemat, a blue rimmed glass of water, a bowl of shredded lettuce, a molcajete filled with pico de gallo, a halved avocado, 2 radishes with their stems attached, and a bunch of cilantro.

If you make this recipe, please let me know! Leave a ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ rating on this recipe below and leave a comment, take a photo and tag me on Instagram with #muybuenocooking.

chicken tinga tostadas on a green plate

Chicken Tinga

4.71 (24 ratings)
Chicken tinga is a versatile dish of shredded chicken in a tomato and chipotle sauce. Tinga is great for a taco bar or tostada buffet, where guests can create their own mountain of goodness.

Ingredients

  • 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

Toppings (optional):

  • 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

Equipment

Instructions 

  • 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.

Tostadas:

  • 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.

Assemble:

  • 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.

Video

Notes

  • Instant Pot: Make sauce as instructed in recipe. Pour sauce in the Instant Pot, then add fresh chicken breasts. Place lid on Instant Pot and 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. Remove chicken to shred, then place back in Instant Pot and toss with sauce.
  • Spicy level: The recipe as written is moderately spicy. If you love spice, feel free to add extra chipotles to the blender with the remaining tinga sauce ingredients. If you lean more towards mild foods, simply halve the amount of chipotle peppers.  
  • 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. 
  • Easy shredding: 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.
  • Refrigerate: Allow leftover tinga to cool, then place in airtight containers. It will keep well in the fridge for up to 5 days.
  • Freeze: You can also freeze chicken tinga for up to 3 months.
  • Reheat: To serve, allow the chicken to defrost in the fridge overnight, then gently heat on the stovetop until warmed through. If needed, add a splash of broth or water to thin out the sauce.
Calories: 548kcal, Carbohydrates: 30g, Protein: 29g, Fat: 37g, Saturated Fat: 12g, Cholesterol: 99mg, Sodium: 1793mg, Potassium: 1150mg, Fiber: 8g, Sugar: 8g, Vitamin A: 1604IU, Vitamin C: 19mg, Calcium: 255mg, Iron: 2mg

Originally published: May 2011. This recipe is also published in the Muy Bueno cookbook.