Chicken Birria (Birria de Pollo)

Chicken Birria, or Birria de Pollo, is an authentic Mexican dish made with tender braised chicken in a smoky and spicy red chile sauce. This tasty chicken is perfect for tacos, enchiladas, tortas, and more.

Birria is having a moment and we are here for it. Today’s Birria de Pollo (chicken birria) switches things up by using chicken instead of beef or goat. It has all the spicy and smoky flavors of traditional birria, just lightened up with chicken. 

When it comes to Mexican recipes, Beef Birria has skyrocketed in terms of popularity. It is being used for everything from traditional birria tacos with consome to quesadillas to burritos and even ramen.

If you have had it, you know why! Birria is just so good.

With super tender meat cooked in a spicy birria sauce made with dried chiles, tomatoes, garlic, onion, and spices – this dish is packed with flavor and tastes incredible, 

While we love the beef version, today I am here to tell you that chicken birria is just as good! It has all the same great flavor, but it is lighter, cooks more quickly, and is more affordable. That’s a winning combination!

Why You’ll Love Chicken Birria

  • Authentic flavor: Too many birria recipes include only one type of dried chile pepper or canned chipotle peppers. Traditional birria needs at least 3 types of chilies and lots of spices for a deep, rich flavor. This recipe is a bit labor-intensive, but it’s worth it for that authentic flavor. 
  • Versatile: Chicken birria can be eaten in so many ways. Serve it in the consome for a traditional Mexican chicken stew. Shred it and make the best quesabirria chicken tacos, use it for enchiladas, or add it to burrito bowls. 
  • Lighter: As delicious as traditional birria is, it can be a pretty heavy dish. Swapping in chicken has all the same great smoky and spicy flavor, but is lighter and healthier.

Looking for more authentic Mexican chicken recipes? Don’t miss these chicken tinga tacos, chicken in salsa verde, and pollo ranchero

What is Birria de Pollo?

Birria de Pollo, or chicken birria, is a twist on traditional Mexican Birria made with chicken instead of beef, goat, or lamb. 

Birria is a traditional Mexican dish that comes from the state of Jalisco.  It’s made by stewing meat in a rich adobo sauce made from dried chile peppers, onions, tomatoes, garlic, and dried spices.

Normally is made with goat, beef, or lamb but it can also be made with chicken. 

Once the birria meat is tender, it is usually served in its own braising liquid as a soup or stew with corn tortillas on the side. This braising liquid is called consome.

As it has grown in popularity, birria is often served as tacos, many times with melted cheese, called quesabirria tacos. Birria tacos are almost always served with the consome (braising liquid) on the side for dipping. 

If you are looking for more authentic Mexican recipes, don’t miss this Chicken Tinga, Beef Machaca, Pozole Rojo, and Chile Verde

Ingredients to make chicken birria including tomatoes, onions, garlic, guajillo peppers, ancho peppers, and chile de arbol.

Ingredients and Substitutions

Here is everything you need to make this chicken birria.

  • Chicken: There are a few options when it comes to chicken. The most traditional option would be using bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs or legs. This will give the consome richness from the fat in the skin, similar to what you would get from beef. For a lighter option, boneless skinless chicken thighs work really well. They stay tender and have tons of moisture. Chicken breasts can be used, but the meat and sauce won’t be quite as rich.
  • Dried chile peppers: Birria sauce needs different types of dried chile peppers to get that smoky and spicy flavor it is known for. This recipe uses a combination of dried guajillo peppers, dried ancho chile peppers, and dried chile de arbol peppers.  These chile peppers can be found in most grocery stores in the Mexican or international section or can be found online.
  • Tomatoes: Roma tomatoes are classically used in Mexican sauces and salsas. Swap in any tomatoes you like or canned tomatoes. 
  • Onions and garlic: Most Mexican recipes use white onions, but any onion can be used. Make sure to use fresh garlic for the best flavor.
  • Spices:  To add depth to the sauce, it needs Mexican oregano, cumin, coriander, black pepper, cinnamon, cloves, and bay leaves. Regular oregano can be used if you don’t have Mexican oregano.
  • Vinegar: A touch of vinegar adds balance to the sauce. use apple cider vinegar or white vinegar for the best flavor.
  • Chicken Broth: If you are using boneless, skinless chicken, make sure to use a really flavorful broth or stock since you won’t be getting a lot of extra flavor from the chicken. 

Birria de pollo in a slow cooker with a rich red chile sauce and cooked chicken thighs.

How to Make Chicken Birria

This recipe is hands-on and time intensive, but the results are worth it. Follow these step-by-step instructions.

1. Toast the Dried Chiles

Toasting dried chile pepper is a critical step when making so many Mexican and Southwestern dishes. It brings out their natural flavors and aroma. 

The most traditional way to toast dried chile peppers is in a hot skillet. Heat a dry skillet for 1-2 minutes until nice and hot. Then add the peppers in a single layer and cook for 30-60 seconds until they begin to puff up and become fragrant. Flip the peppers and repeat on the other side. 

If you are sensitive to the pepper fumes from toasting chile peppers, you can toast the chiles in the oven on a baking sheet at 350 degrees for 6-8 minutes. 

2.  Cook the aromatics and spices

Add the tomatoes, onions, and garlic to the skillet with the dried chiles. Cook them down for 6-8 minutes or until everything is beginning to soften and lightly brown.

Stir in all the spices – oregano, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, cloves, and bay leaves. Give everything a good stir. It should be very fragrant.  

3. Rehydrate the Chiles

Many recipes call for soaking the dried chile peppers separately from the cooked tomatoes, onions, and garlic but after lots of testing, that seemed like an unnecessary step. 

Start by deglazing the pan with the vinegar and scraping up any browned bits. Those bits have tons of flavor.  Add the broth and bring it to a low simmer. Cover the pot and rehydrate the peppers for at least 20 minutes. 

Make sure they are soft and pliable before making the sauce. 

4. Blend the Birria Sauce

Now it’s time to blend this delicious chile sauce. If you have an immersion blender, that’s the easiest option. Carefully blend the sauce right in the pan until it is nice and smooth.

It can also be added to a blender, just be careful since it is hot. Blend until smooth,

If you want a very smooth consome, run it through a fine mesh strainer. 

5. Sear and Cook the Chicken

The hard part is finished. Now all that’s left is to sear the chicken and cook it. To sear, add some oil to a heavy skillet and cook on each side until lightly browned. Boneless chicken thighs will only need 1-2 minutes per side. Skin-on chicken thighs or legs may need a bit longer. 

This dish can be cooked in the slow cooker, Instant Pot, or on the stovetop. No matter what method you choose, cook the chicken until is fork-tender and falling apart. 

Tacos with chicken birria served on a plate with cialntro, consome, and limes.

How to Serve Birria de Pollo

There are so many different ways to serve chicken birria from very traditional options to modern spins. Here are our favorites:

  • Birria Stew: Serve the tender chicken in the braising liquid as a hearty Mexican chicken stew with warm corn tortillas, sliced onion, cilantro, and avocado on the side. 
  • Chicken Birria Tacos: Heat a skillet with a drizzle of oil. Dip corn tortillas in the birria braising liquid on both sides. Add the tortillas to the skillet and fill with the shredded chicken. Add Monterey Jack or Oaxaca cheese for quesabirria tacos and fold closed. Cook on both sides for 1-2 minutes until browned and crispy.  Serve with consome, onions, cilantro, and lime wedges. 
  • Enchiladas: Roll the chicken up in corn tortillas and cover the rolled tortillas with the birria sauce. Add cheese if you like. Bake until the edges bubble for some really delicious birria-style chicken enchiladas.
  • Bowls: Serve this spicy shredded chicken in a bowl with beans, rice, corn, lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, and avocado. Drizzle with the birria sauce. 
  • More ideas: You could also use chicken birria to make nachos, burritos, tamales, pizza, ramen, or eggs. 

Storage and Reheating

Since birria takes a long time to make, I always recommend making extra sauce or stewed chicken to freeze for a future meal. In fact, like many braised dishes, this chicken birria only tastes better after a night in the fridge. 

  • Fridge: Leftover chicken birria can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for 4-5 days.
  • Freezing: Let the birria cool completely. Then store in an airtight container for 3-4 months in the freezer. Birria sauce can also be frozen for up to 6 months. 
  • Reheating: Thaw the chicken in the fridge overnight if frozen. Then add it to a Dutch oven or heavy pot on the stove and heat it over medium-low until warmed through. Add extra broth if it isn’t saucy enough.

Tips for Making Homemade Chicken Birria

Follow these tips to make the most flavorful version of this dish.

  • Use the right chicken: Traditionally birria is made with higher fat proteins like bone-in beef chick or goat. If you want this chicken birria to have that same rich flavor and mouth feel, use bone-in, skin-on chicken. This adds fat to the consome as you would see with authentic preparations. 
  • Don’t burn the chile peppers: Dried chile peppers go from toasted to burnt very quickly. Stop cooking them as soon as they are puffed up and lightly toasted. Burnt peppers taste bitter,
  • Taste and adjust: Just like fresh chile peppers vary in spice level, dried chiles do as well. Some may be super spicy and others could be mild. Usually, I like to toast some extra chile peppers on the side so I can add more spice to the sauce if needed. This sauce can be as spicy and smoky as you like. Same advice for spices. Add extra cumin for a smokier flavor. Add extra oregano or coriander for more herbal flavors. Add more cloves or cinnamon for warmth.
  • Make it in advance: If possible, make this dish a day or two in advance. It only gets better the longer the flavors have to combine.

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