Make these delicious Chicken Tinga Tacos in less than 20 minutes! Shredded chicken in a slightly spicy chipotle tomato sauce piled high in corn tortillas with all the best toppings.
Chicken tinga is one of those easy Mexican taco recipes I find myself making all the time. Tender, shredded chicken in a smoky, slightly spicy tomato sauce is just hard to beat.
While there are so many ways to serve tinga, my absolute favorite is these Chicken Tinga Tacos. The combination of warm corn tortillas loaded with this smoky chicken, pickled onions, fresh cilantro, avocado, and some crumbled cotija cheese is seriously delicious.
The other great thing about these chicken tinga tacos is that there are lots of easy ways to make the chicken. Make it in the slow cooker, Instant Pot, or stovetop. You can even simply make the chipotle tomato sauce and toss it with some shredded rotisserie chicken!
Serve the tinga tacos with refried beans, baked chips, Mexican rice, or this Mexican chopped salad. Dinner is done!
What are Chicken Tinga Tacos?
Chicken Tinga is a shredded chicken dish from Puebla, Mexico. Traditionally chicken tinga is made with chicken that is cooked in a smoky, slightly spicy tomato sauce made with Roma tomatoes, chipotle peppers in adobo, white onion, garlic, and Mexican oregano.
It is what’s called a “guisado” in Mexican cuisine, meaning it is a stewed or braised dish. It is most often used in tacos, flautas, and tostadas, but you will also see it used in enchiladas, quesadillas, or burritos.
Ingredients and Substitutions
Here is what you need to make these delicious tacos.
- Chicken: Tinga can be made with chicken breasts, chicken thighs, or chicken legs. Boneless and skinless chicken is the easiest option. It can also be made with precooked shredded chicken.
- Chipotle peppers in adobo: Chipotle peppers are smoked jalapeno peppers packed in a smoky adobo sauce. They are an essential ingredient in chicken tinga. Since chipotles can be spicy, start with a couple and add more as needed. Make sure to add some of the adobo sauce since it is packed with flavor.
- White onion and garlic: Onion and garlic add flavor to the tomato sauce. While you could use onion and garlic powder, fresh ingredients are better for a more flavorful sauce.
- Tomatoes: Traditionally tinga is made with Roma tomatoes but I like to use canned diced tomatoes since they tend to have a better flavor. Use any type of canned tomatoes, but fire-roasted tomatoes and tomatoes with green chilies add the most flavor.
- Corn tortillas: In Mexico, chicken tinga is almost always served on warm corn tortillas. With that said, flour or alternative tortillas can be used, it’s just not as authentic.
- Pickled onions: Adding some lime soaked pickled red onions really makes these tinga tacos special. Regular diced red or white onions are also delicious for some tang and crunch.
- Cilantro: Cilantro adds some brightness to these tacos. If cilantro isn’t your favorite, consider adding some fresh parsley or a sprinkle of oregano for some herbal notes.
- Queso cotija: Queso cotija or queso fresco adds saltiness and some tang that really works with this slightly spicy shredded chicken. Feta cheese could be swapped in for a similar flavor.
- Optional toppings: Add fresh lime juice, avocado, guacamole, sliced jalapenos, extra chipotle peppers, or shredded cabbage to the tacos if you like.
How to Make Chicken Tinga Tacos
There are lots of ways to make the chicken for these tinga tacos.
With Pre-Cooked Shredded Chicken
To make chicken tinga with rotisserie chicken or leftover cooked shredded chicken, you just need to make the sauce. Start by sauteing 1 white onion in a touch of olive oil until it begins to become tender and translucent. Add 4 cloves of minced garlic and cook for one minute.
Add one can of diced tomatoes (about 1.5 cups) and 2-4 chipotle peppers in adobo to the skillet. Season with salt and Mexican oregano if you like. Bring to a simmer and cook for 5-10 minutes.
Add everything in the skillet to the blender, or leave it chunky if you prefer. Blend until smooth and toss with the chicken.
Start by poaching the chicken. Add the chicken breast in a single layer in the bottom of a large pot. Season with salt and pepper. Cover the chicken with broth or water until there is about half an inch of liquid above the chicken.
Bring to a boil and then immediately turn down to a simmer. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Then turn off the heat and let the chicken continue to cook, covered, for 15 minutes. Remove the chicken and chop or shred once cooled.
While the chicken is cooking, blend together the diced tomatoes, onions, garlic, chipotle peppers, and Mexican oregano (if using.) Season with salt. Then add the blended tinga sauce to a pot. Bring to a simmer and cook over medium-low heat for at leats 5-7 minutes until the sauce darkens in color.
Once the chicken is cooked, add it to the cooked chipotle tomato sauce and stir to coat.
Start by sauteing the onion in the Instant Pot for 3-4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for one minute. Add the chicken, tomatoes, chipotle peppers in adobo, and Mexican oregano if using.
Close the lid and seal. For fresh chicken breasts, cook on high pressure for 10 minutes. For frozen chicken, cook on high pressure for 13 minutes.
Let the pressure naturally release. Carefully open the pot and shred the chicken using two forks. Please note, the cooking time may vary slightly depending on the size of the chicken breasts. Smaller breasts cook more quickly and very large breasts may take a bit longer.
Add the chicken, tomatoes, chipotle peppers in adobo, onion, garlic, and Mexican oregano (if using) to the slow cooker. Cook on low for 4 hours. Remove the chicken and shred. Leave the sauce chunky or blend if you prefer and toss with shredded chicken.
Assemble the Tacos
Start by prepping all of the toppings. Then warm up the corn tortillas. If possible, char them slightly on a gas flame or in a pan if you have an electric range. Wrap the tortillas in a towel to keep them warm.
Fill up the corn tortillas with the chicken tinga. Add fresh cilantro, pickled onions (or diced onions), queso fresco, and any additional toppings. Add some fresh lime juice if you like.
Recipe Ideas and Variations
This recipe is really versatile and there are lots of ways to customize the recipe to make it work for you.
- Make the crispy: Serve the chicken tinga in some homemade crispy taco shells or turn them into tostadas with these baked tostada shells.
- Change the protein: Use the tinga sauce with other proteins like shredded pork, beef, shrimp, tofu, or even with beans for a vegetarian taco.
- Add beans or rice: Make the tacos heartier by adding some black beans, pinto beans, or cooked rice to the taco.
- Change the spice level: Adjust the number of chipotle peppers in the recipe to change the heat level. You can always serve extra chipotle peppers or chipotle salsa on the side.
- Make taco or burrito bowls: Swap out the tortilla for rice and make your own chicken taco bowl or chicken burrito bowl.
- Make tinga quesadillas: Fold this chicken tinga inside flour tortillas with some shredded queso Oaxaca, quesadilla cheese, or Mexican cheese to make really tasty chicken quesadillas.
Storing and Freezing Leftovers
If you have extra chicken tinga or extra sauce, it keeps well in the fridge and freezer.
- Fridge: The tinga sauce or combined chicken tinga will last in the fridge for 3-5 days, depending on the freshness of the chicken being used. Pack the chicken, toppings, and tortillas separately for leftover tacos.
- Freezer: The sauce will keep in the fridge for up to 3 months. The chicken tinga will also keep in the freezer for up to 3 months.
- Freezer meal prep: Combine the sauce with raw chicken in a freezer-safe bag or container. Cook from frozen in the Instant Pot (15 minutes on high and then naturally release) or defrost and cook in the slow cooker.