Instant Pot Chicken Tinga tacos are truly a weeknight winner and great for the whole family! Shredded chicken is stewed in a heavenly combination of tomatoes, tomatillos, onion, garlic, and chipotles in adobo sauce. Stuff the smoky-sweet tinga into tacos, quesadillas, burritos, and enchiladas. Also fantastic served alongside rice or salad. With its pleasing jolt of heat and intense flavours, chicken tinga is just the thing to get us over the dragging days of winter.
I have been feeling impatient for winter to end and desperately shovelling paths to my grill. Unfortunately, winter weather is not nearly over and I won’t be hanging out by the barbecue sipping glasses of cooling gazpacho quite yet. So for now, I am still turning to stew-y meals that come together quickly with the Instant Pot.
This recipe for chicken tinga is one of them. Easily made on the stovetop, but even easier in an Instant Pot, this chicken tinga tastes like something you would get at a taqueria. No joke. And if, like me, you keep stacks of frozen corn tortillas in your freezer right beside the small ziplock bags with frozen leftover chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, you are halfway there to making these chicken tinga tacos.
What is Chicken Tinga
In Mexico, “tinga” is referred to meat that is torn or shredded. Tinga de pollo, or chicken tinga, is a dish originating from Puebla Mexico. It is made from shredded chicken that stews in a blended tomato and smoky-chipotle based sauce. It is a wonderfully tasty recipe that couldn’t be simpler to make. Primarily stuffed into quesadillas, enchiladas, burritos, tostadas, or tacos, chicken tinga is also great served alongside rice.
If you aren’t fond of spicy dishes, this is a dish where you can easily adjust the heat, without compromising flavour. In fact, I add a lot more chipotles to my chicken tinga than most recipes call for because the chicken, tomatoes, and liquids really temper/dilute the spice. In other words, as written, this recipe is not spicy at all. If you like spice, take it up a notch by adding a few extra chipotles or a few extra tablespoons of the adobo sauce.
Other tinga dishes are made with beef or pork which may also include Mexican chorizo. Though it sounds delicious, a chicken tinga sounds more appealing to me, and a lot easier to make.
Ingredients for Instant Pot Chicken Tinga
- The chicken: Use boneless skinless chicken thighs or breasts for this recipe. Both will be tender and juicy from simmering in the stew.
- Tomatoes: Fresh roma tomatoes are traditionally used to make chicken tinga which lend vibrancy and mild sweetness to the stew. Even when they aren’t in season and looking rather sad, that is what I prefer to use. However, I have used canned tomatoes before and they work fine in a pinch.
- Tomatillos: Though traditionally used in authentic tinga stews, you won’t find too many recipes that include tomatillos in a chicken tinga. Mainly because tomatillos are not always easy to find. Tomatillos are not in fact small green tomatoes. They are from a gooseberry plant commonly found in Mexico. Tomatillos are tart, citrusy, and slightly herbal and lend a distinct complex flavour to the stew that I really like. You can read more about tomatillos here. Omit them if you can’t find them but in that case, consider adding a few tablespoons of apple cider vinegar to the sauce.
- Onions and garlic: The most common aromatics to any stew; no need to dice the onions, or mince the garlic since it all gets blended with the sauce. I use white onions for my chicken tinga but red or yellow work fine.
- Chipotle Peppers and adobo sauce: Chipotles are the ripe-red, dried and smoked versions of green jalapeños. After smoking, the peppers are canned and preserved in a marinade of tomato, sugar, garlic, and spices called adobo sauce. Chipotles in adobo sauce can be quite spicy straight out of the can. I find there can be varying degrees of spice level between brands and even from can to can. However, when added to stews and sauces the heat significantly diminishes. For this recipe, I like to start with 2 chipotles and a few tablespoons of the adobo sauce. Inevitably, I always need to add more in the last phase. For reference, I love a bit of heat but I do not enjoy a burn. Tip: place any leftover chipotle peppers and adobo sauce in a small freezer bag and freeze for up to 6 months.
- Mexican oregano: Aside from salt and pepper, the only seasoning I use is Mexican oregano which is classic in chicken tinga. If it’s too inconvenient to seek out, use marjoram or regular oregano.
Chicken broth: You won’t need a lot of broth because in the Instant Pot the sauce does not lose any moisture. This is my favourite store-bought chicken broth but you can use water if you prefer.
How to make instant pot chicken tinga
Making chicken tinga in the Instant pot takes about 30 minutes to make, start to finish. The sauce will need to get blended in a blender or food processor, but aside from that, it is a one pot dish.
Here is the step-by-step:
- Using the sauté function, cook the onions in a little oil until softened, about 3-4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another minute then add the chopped tomatoes and tomatillos. Cook for about 3 more minutes or until the tomatoes and tomatillos have broken down and become pulpy.
- Transfer mixture to a food processor or blender, add the oregano and chipotle peppers and blend until mostly smooth (a bit chunky is okay).
- Add the sauce back in the instant pot, along with the broth and stir well to combine. Nestle the chicken pieces in the sauce and cook on high pressure for 7 minutes. Let the pressure release naturally for 10 minutes, then release any remaining pressure. Remove chicken pieces to a large platter or board. Press Cancel on the instant pot then press Sauté on high to let the sauce reduce a bit.
Shred the chicken using two forks. Taste the sauce. If it seems bland, adjust the seasonings by adding more salt and pepper. If it needs more spice, add a chopped chipotle pepper and/or a few tablespoons of adobo sauce. Place chicken back in the sauce until heated through.
Now use your delicious chicken tinga to top tostadas, or to fill tacos, enchiladas, burritos or quesadillas.
Tips for the best chicken tinga tacos
As previously mentioned, chicken tinga is fantastic to use in many Mexican dishes. I of course love it stuffed in tacos. Here’s a few tips to assemble the best chicken tinga tacos:
- Use good-quality tortillas: I have a friend that is still mad at me for convincing her to make tortillas from scratch (sorry B!). Hey, I never said they were easy, just delicious and free of preservatives. That was years ago. Luckily we now have way better store-bought tortillas available to us. Corn tortilla tacos are more authentic but sometimes those are harder to find than flour tortillas. If you can find La Tortilla Factory brand, they have a corn and flour blend tortilla that is delicious. In Kitchener-Waterloo you can find them here.
- Always heat the tortillas: Corn or flour tortillas must be heated through for softening and for flavour. I like to slightly char the edges of my tortillas by heating directly over a medium flame on a gas burner. Alternatively, heat the tortillas for 1 minute a side on a hot cast iron skillet or pan. Keep the tortillas warm by covering with a towel.
- Serve with avocado sauce: It goes without saying that all tacos should be served with avocados. I like to make a quick avocado crema sauce to serve with these tacos that is super easy and delicious. If you don’t have time to make the sauce, simply mash up some avocado with a little lime juice and salt.
- Toppings: These are not tacos that require additional salsa. The chipotles and tomato sauce have enough complexity of flavour to act as a salsa on their own. In Mexico, tinga tacos are not typically served with a lot of toppings. Keep it simple; avocado crema (or avocado slices), chopped or sliced red onions, crumbled queso blanco (or feta), cilantro leaves, a few squirts of lime.
Chicken tinga tacos are a delicious healthy dinner for the end of a busy day. Any chicken tinga leftover will reheat wonderfully making it perfect for lunches or other meals throughout the week. And if you enjoy Mexican-style dishes, consider giving these other recipes a try:
Instant Pot Chicken Tinga Tacos
- 1 large white or yellow onion roughly chopped
- 3 garlic cloves roughly chopped
- 4 roma tomatoes roughly chopped, or 2 cups canned whole tomatoes with juice
- 3-4 tomatillos roughly chopped (optional, or 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar)
- Kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper
- 2 chipotle peppers in adobo plus 2 tablespoons adobo sauce (plus extra for a spicier tinga)
- 1 tablespoon Mexican oregano or regular oregano
- 1/2 cup chicken broth or water
- 3-4 boneless skinless chicken breast or 8 small boneless skinless chicken thighs
For the optional avocado crema, blend the following ingredients in a blender or food processor:
- 1 avocado cut in chunks
- 1/2 jalapeño seeded
- 1/4 cup vegenaise mayo or sour cream
- juice of 1 small lime
- 2 Tablespoons water
- a handful cilantro leaves with tender stems
- 8-12 6-inch corn tortillas
- avocado crema or avocado slices
- half of red or white onion diced
- 1/2 cup crumbled queso blanco or feta
- 1 lime cut into wedges
- Turn the Instant Pot to Saute mode. Once warm, add the oil followed by the onion. Cook for 2-3 minutes until somewhat softened then add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds more.
- Add chopped tomatoes and tomatillos (if using). Season with 1 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of pepper. Cook, stirring often for about 3 minutes or until tomatoes have softened and cooked down. Select Cancel.
- Transfer the tomato mixture to a blender or food processor. Add the chipotle peppers, oregano and 1 teaspoon of salt. Blend until almost smooth. Return mixture to the Instant pot and stir in the chicken broth. Nestle the chicken breasts in the sauce. Select the Manual/Pressure Cook mode on high and set the cook time to 7 minutes. When cooking time is done, allow 10 minutes of natural pressure release, then release any remaining pressure.
- Open the Instant Pot and remove chicken pieces to a large platter or board.
- Press Cancel on the Instant pot then turn to Saute mode on high to let the sauce reduce for about 5 minutes.
- Meanwhile, shred the chicken using two forks.
- Taste the sauce; if it seems bland, adjust the seasonings by adding more salt and pepper, if it needs more spice, add 1 more chopped chipotle pepper and/or a few tablespoons of adobo sauce.
- Place the shredded chicken back in the sauce for 3-5 minutes or until sauce is thickened to desired consistency. It should be saucy but not watery.
- To serve, heat tortillas directly over a medium flame on a gas burner, or in a hot, dry skillet. Transfer to a clean kitchen towel and wrap to keep warm. Continue to warm remaining tortillas.
- Assemble tacos: In each tortilla layer avocado crema (or avocado slices), chicken tinga, diced onion, and crumbled cheese. Serve with limes wedges and extra avocado-cilantro crema.