Chicken tinga, served as tacos with pico de gallo, avocados and cheese - Diversivore.com

Chicken Tinga

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Chicken Tinga

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I think it’s time we talk about the “Mexican Food” label hanging mockingly over that one aisle in the grocery store. I’m sure things vary a little depending on where you are (not to mention the size of the Mexican population wherever you live), but in my experience, very little of what you’ll find there is even remotely representative of the average Mexican kitchen.

I’m not pointing this out to sound snobby or elitist – it’s simply frustrating when you want to cook genuine Mexican cuisine only be steered towards the same middling processed foods time-and-again. And I care about these issues of accessibility – I’m sure it won’t come as any surprise that I’ve had to do a fair bit of hunting for resources in order to make many of the meals I put on Diversivore, but I always try to figure out just what can be sourced from a conventional grocery store. After all, that’s the first place that a lot of readers are going to head to. In the name of research, I scoped out the ‘Mexican’ sections in three different grocery stores to see just what the choices look like, and as you’ve no-doubt surmised, the results were not exactly encouraging. It was about 90% taco kits and salsa with a decidedly Tex-Mex spin. (For what it’s worth, I’m not railing against Tex-Mex either – I’m just opposed to junky, highly-processed Tex-Mex masquerading as authentic Mexican food).

Normally I wouldn’t give this kind of thing much thought – after all, the ‘ethnic’ sections of grocery stores tend to be pretty mixed bags at best. But mixed in with all the boat-shaped tortillas and fajita kits was something that surprised me – a seasoning packet for chicken tinga. Now I had never made chicken tinga before I started working on this recipe, but I can comfortably tell you three things: it’s incredibly delicious, surprisingly versatile, and something that really, really shouldn’t be made from a packet. Packaged seasoning blends like this are what I like to call ‘manufactured convenience.’ They give you the impression that you can shortcut your way to an excellent dish (you can’t – the seasoning pack was mostly salt and garlic powder, and that’s certainly not going to provide the backbone of this meal), but in doing so they give the false impression that you actually NEED that kind of help. You don’t. This is healthy, hearty, easy, weeknight fare – and I can also happily report that despite the sorry state of the average ‘Mexican’ section, you can actually make this meal, from scratch, without having to visit a specialty/Latin American grocery store. So nuts to the package.

My aversion to packaged sauces probably doesn’t come as a surprise, but given how good and how EASY this actually is, I can’t imagine why you’d even want to use a packaged seasoning blend. This recipe, adapted with a few little tweaks from Pati Jinich‘s version (found in her wonderful book “Pati’s Mexican Table” which I can whole-heartedly recommend) is packed with fresh ingredients and incredible flavours that could never be replicated by a by using something that came out of a packet. And I want to reiterate – this isn’t difficult to make at all; you boil and puree some tomatoes and tomatillos, saute it with some onion and garlic, add spices, chicken (a pre-roasted rotisserie chicken is ideal), cook things down, and you’re good to go. Minimum input, maximum flavour.

So it’s delicious, it’s easy, and you don’t have to shop around too much for the ingredients. That’s all wonderful – but I’ve saved the best thing about chicken tinga for last. The best thing about it is that you can eat it in SO many wonderful ways. This meal easily serves 6-8, but I’m not at all kidding when I say that two people could make this and eat it all week. Tacos (like in the banner image and the image below), quesadillas (like the image above), tortas, tlayudas, tostadas and any other tortilla-based preparation works amazingly well. If you wanted to do something a little more unconventional, this would make an incredible topping for pasta too (in fact it rather reminds me of a Mexican version of my mom’s chicken cacciatore recipe). Frankly, you could just straight-up eat this as is like a sort of stew, maybe with a little crema and avocado on top. You can’t get tired of this dish. I miss it already.

Recipe Notes

As I’ve mentioned above, this is not a difficult dish to source or cook. To make it as easy as possible, and to help you figure out your serving options, I’ve broken things down by section below.

Chicken

You can roast or slow-cook your own chicken if you like, but this works incredibly well with one of those roasted chickens you can pick up ready-to-go at the grocery store – simply shred the meat while the sauce cooks and you’re good to go. In theory, I see no reason this wouldn’t also work beautifully with slow-cooked pork.

Tomatoes & Tomatillos

To make things even easier, there’s no need to peel, core, or seed the tomatoes or tomatillos.  Simply clean them, boil them whole, and puree them in a food processor or blender.

Specialty Ingredients

Tomatillos are probably the hardest ingredient to find on this grocery list, and even they’re becoming more and more common in conventional grocery stores. I was able to find them at most of the mainstream grocery stores in my area. Chipotles in adobo are, mercifully, one of the few truly Mexican ingredients that can usually be found in the Mexican section of the store. Do not be tempted to skip out on them, even if you’re spice averse – they provide unmistakable smoky depth to the meal that simply can’t be replaced.

Piloncillo (Mexican cane sugar) can be tricky to find, but it’s easily swapped for a good dark brown sugar or palm sugar.

As for the toppings, some of them are harder to find than others (Mexican crema and cotija cheese for example), but these are optional and easily swapped out with easier-to-find ingredients. Greek yogurt, mild feta, and Monterey Jack all make great toppings.

Spiciness

One of the best things about this meal is how easy it is to adjust to your preferred spice level. I cooked it for four adults and two kids with varying levels of spice tolerance and split the dish in half accordingly. One half got no chipotle peppers (but still some adobo sauce), the other half got about four chipotles. The flavour was great in both versions, but I will certainly profess a preference for the peppered version. Spice tolerances vary of course, but I didn’t find the version with peppers to be that hot at all. The spice level lingered pleasantly on the tongue, but caused no discomfort. If you were inclined to ramp up the heat, you could add a couple of seeded and soaked árbol chilies or even some diced habanero pepper while cooking the sauce to add intense bite.

Toppings & Variations

The sky is the limit here, but anything with a tortilla is a good bet. I do think a good salsa is almost a must, and I’m really partial to a fresh pico de gallo. You can put one together in a snap – stay tuned for a recipe in the next few days. Add a bit of dairy, some fresh tomatoes, avocado, radishes, cilantro, maybe a little bit of pickled jalapeño, and you’re set.


Nutrition Facts
Chicken Tinga
Amount Per Serving
Calories 327 Calories from Fat 144
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 16g 25%
Saturated Fat 3g 15%
Polyunsaturated Fat 6g
Monounsaturated Fat 6g
Cholesterol 88mg 29%
Sodium 925mg 39%
Potassium 762mg 22%
Total Carbohydrates 14g 5%
Dietary Fiber 3g 12%
Sugars 9g
Protein 32g 64%
Vitamin A 27%
Vitamin C 42%
Calcium 5%
Iron 15%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

Nutritional Summary

Note: The nutritional information given is for an individual serving of chicken only, and is exclusive of any toppings or tortillas you use.

GOOD NEWS:
Because this recipe relies on vegetables and spices to build a flavour base, it’s surprisingly healthy, and remarkably nutrient-dense. This is excellent, incredibly healthy food.

BAD NEWS:
It can be easy to overdo it on the sodium, so try to season judiciously.

TRIM IT DOWN:
Make sure to make wise choices with your toppings too – there’s no reason to smother this in cheese (a little goes a long way here). Choose lots of fresh veggie toppings (e.g. avocadoes and pico de gallo) to keep things healthier. If you use tortillas, note that the corn ones are leaner than wheat.

Ingredient Pages

No ingredient pages have been written yet for any of the ingredients in this recipe.  Like to see one?  Let me know in the comments below or by email.

Pantry Pages

No pantry pages have been written yet for any of the ingredients in this recipe (but chipotles in adobo are coming up soon).  Like to see another one?  Let me know in the comments below or by email.

  • Gluten free
  • 30-minutes

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5 from 1 vote
Chicken tinga, served as tacos with pico de gallo, avocados and cheese - Diversivore.com
Chicken Tinga
Prep Time
10 mins
Cook Time
30 mins
Total Time
40 mins
 
You can make this amazing, authentic meal without venturing beyond the average grocery store. It makes amazing tacos, tortas, quesadillas, tlayudas and more. Adapted from Pati Jinich's version in Pati's Mexican Table.
Course: Main Dishes
Cuisine: Mexican, North American
Servings: 6 people
Calories: 327 kcal
Ingredients
  • 8 roma tomatoes (about 2 lbs/900 g)
  • 3 medium tomatillos (about 7 oz/200 g)
  • 3 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 cup white onion chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic minced
  • 1/2 tsp oregano preferably Mexican
  • 1/4 tsp dried marjoram
  • 1/4 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 large bay leaf
  • 1.5 tsp salt (less if you use a salt-added chicken stock)
  • 2 tsp piloncillo (or brown sugar)
  • 1-4 whole chipotle peppers in adobo sauce chopped (see note about spice)
  • 1 tbsp sauce from chipotles in adobo
  • 5 cups cooked shredded chicken (a grocery store rotisserie-cooked chicken works great)
  • 1.5 cups chicken stock preferably low- or no-sodium added
To Serve (All Optional)
  • corn tortillas
  • avocado
  • pico de gallo or other salsa
  • cotija or queso fresco cheese (substitute monterey jack, farmer's cheese, or mild feta)
  • Mexican crema
Instructions
  1. Place the tomatoes and tomatillos in a large pot and cover with cold water. Bring the pot to a boil on the stovetop and cook until soft but not mushy, about 6-8 minutes. The skins on the tomatoes will most likely split open during cooking.
  2. Remove the tomatoes and tomatillos from the water with a slotted spoon and transfer to a blender or food processor. Allow to cool for a few minutes, then blend until smooth and set aside.
  3. Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a large, heavy-bottomed pot. Add the onion and saute for about 4 minutes, or until the onions are soft and somewhat translucent - a little bit of brown or char is fine. Add the garlic and saute for another minute, then add in the pureed tomatoes and tomatillos (it will spatter, so be careful). Reduce the heat and stir in the spices, sugar, chipotles, and adobo sauce. Loosely cover the sauce and allow it to simmer over medium-low heat until it's thickened and darker - about 10 minutes.
  4. Add the chicken and stock to the sauce and combine well. Cook for an additional 10 minutes or so, or until most of the sauce has been absorbed and the mixture is thick. Season to taste with salt.
  5. Serve with tortillas and various toppings (see ingredient list for basics, but feel free to vary things based on your personal tastes). Quesadillas, tortas, tlayudas, tostadas, etc. are also great options.
Recipe Notes

You can easily vary this recipe in terms of spice by adding or subtracting chipotle peppers in adobo sauce. For a very mild version (i.e. the version I served my young children), you can use one or no chipotle peppers. For a smokier version with moderate heat, you can use 2-3 peppers. If you're looking for something fairly fiery, you can use 6-10 peppers, or the better part of a small can,. Although the adobo sauce (i.e. the sauce that the peppers are preserved in) does contribute a very small degree of spiciness, I wouldn't recommend removing it even for the spice-averse, as it contributes a lot of the smoky rich flavour necessary for the dish to work.

The tomatoes and tomatillos do not need to be seeded or cored - simply clean them and boil them whole.

Comments

  1. This looks wonderfully simple and delicious, too. I am all about strictly from scratch, never anything from a package, so this is a perfect fit for my Facebook page. I’m going there to share right away.

    1. Author

      Thanks for sharing it Colleen! I’m very much the same way – with a few exceptions (ingredients like miso for example) I tend to do all of my cooking from scratch. It’s a big part of what Diversivore is all about, and I think it’s one of the most rewarding ways to cook. Thanks so much for commenting too!

  2. Look at these pretty babies! Think I could get away with shrimp or fish tinges? Because I want this. Now.

    The “Mexican” aisle at the grocery store here is a lot more extensive than the ones in Canada, and I mean, it doesn’t surprise me considering where I live BUT… they still seem to focus on the kits and the spice packs and definitely have that overly processed Tex-Mex vibe. I think you’d LOVE the selection of Mexican restaurants around here, though. In Niagara, there was like, one. Lol. Here, they are everywhere. And they serve Mexican food so authentic I’d never even heard of most. That shows you that a) I come from where they were doing it wrong because b) here, they are doing it so right.

    1. Author

      Hey Dana! I think you could do shrimp quite easily – fish might be good, but I think you want something with a bit of bite to it, so nothing too flaky. I wonder if you could adapt something like salt cod to work with this. Hmm.

      I’m not surprised the Mexican situation is better where you are – but it is still a bit discouraging to see all the packaged stuff. Things are starting to change (and awesome local restaurants doing it right will certainly continue to push things in the right direction), but there’s still a lack of familiarity with this kind of cooking. Hopefully we can all start to change that!

    1. Author

      Why thank you Karen! I hope you enjoy it (the real version that is – your screen will probably not taste as good).

  3. Wait a sec, so you’re telling me the ‘Mexican’ aisle of the grocery store is NOT supposed to be Americanized, chemical-filled plastic food?! There’s more to life than Old El Paso??

    Haha. Seriously though, the average grocery store ‘ethnic’ aisle is brutal, but I suppose that’s what speciality stores are for! I love the versatility of this dish. It looks just as fabulous in a hard taco shell and in a quesadilla (yummmmmm look at that melted cheese!). Another great recipe, Sean. 🙂

    1. Author

      Ahhh haha, yeah, wouldn’t that be nice? Wouldn’t it be great if the Mexican aisle had Mexican food in it? Ahh well. I’ll hand it to Old El Paso – they sure have marketed their little niche well. Not that I’m going to eat it, but still…. I think once more people experience the joy of cooking (and eating) real Mexican food, the appeal of the ‘Mexican’ aisle diminishes rapidly. So hey, maybe someday things will be as they are labeled.

      Thanks for the kind words Cassie!

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