Zesty chicken tinga piled on top of a tostada; it's like a thin-crust Mexican pizza loaded with fresh toppings and bursting with a riot of fantastic flavours. Or tuck it all inside a taco shell or tortilla for another fun variation - less messy but equally tasty! Read on for several other ways to serve this simple Mexican pulled chicken stew. You're always going to want to have a batch on hand - it's the base for so many delicious dishes. (Skip to recipes.)
It's Mexican pizza time!
What do you get when you load a thin crispy crust with zesty strips of pulled chicken, then pile it up with a heap of luscious toppings?
Answer: Pure flavour bomb.
It's that juicy Chicken Tinga that does it. Wow. This simple and very popular Mexican dish of pulled chicken cooked with tomatoes and lots of onions (plus a nice little hit of chipotle peppers) makes for a wonderful comfort food that can be the base for a whole lotta great meals. It's commonly served on tostadas (crispy fried tortillas) but can also be stuffed into tacos, piled on top of rice, layered in quesadillas (call them Tingadillas), used in enchiladas, or piled into soft buns (Tortas) along with refried beans, cheese, crunchy vegetables and pickled jalapeños. When you've got a pot of Chicken Tinga on the go, you're set for some great meals.
The best part is how quick and easy this dish is to make, especially with the secrets I learned from a Mexican chef.
When we were in Mexico last month, we had so many fantastic adventures:
But one of the highlights for me was the cooking class I took. I had a great day shopping and cooking with Chef Isa right in the heart of Playa del Carmen. It was just my friend Alex and I attending and we had a blast, first following Chef Isa through a neighbourhood market to buy our groceries for the meal.
We came back to her place with a basket loaded with goodies: tomatoes, onions, avocados, cactus, dried chilies, plantains, fresh cheese, crema, tostadas, and fresh epazote leaves.
Then we headed into the kitchen to start chopping and cooking. With Chef Isa's expert guidance we whipped up jamaica water (a refreshingly tangy hibiscus blossom drink), that fantastic chicken tinga, chicken enchiladas, guacamole, tomatillo salsa, fresh salsa, and fried plantains for dessert.
It was a feast. The enchiladas were good, for sure, but it was the Chicken Tinga Tostadas that had me doing the salsa happy dance. I was so impressed with how easy a batch of chicken tinga is to make and how utterly fun and fantastic the tostadas are to eat (and just a bit deliciously messy, too). Chef Isa had simmered fresh chicken, which made the broth for us to use, too, but you can easily use leftover cooked chicken and a good quality purchased chicken broth.
Her little secret for making a great tasting chicken tinga is to fry up a spicy chorizo sausage first. It adds a rich and complex flavour to the tinga - definitely worth adding (but if you don't have a sausage on hand, make the tinga anyway - it's still fantastic!) I love how she cooked her chicken tinga in a traditional clay pot.
As soon as we got home from Mexico, I had to make a batch again!
Look at that pot full of luscious chicken tinga. Imagine all the different ways you can use it! You've got the base for a whole bunch of great meals.
Today, I'm making tostadas with it. That crisp, crackly tostada is really just a tortilla that's been quickly fried to make it stiff. What a great base it is for all kinds of toppings - it's light and crunchy. It's common in Mexico to start off the layers with a smear of refried beans, but we didn't bother - just drizzled the tostada with Mexican crema (I've included a good substitute below), then layered on the tinga, some green tomatillo salsa (I bought a jar, but with Chef Isa, we made our own, to which we added some hibiscus blossoms), slices or crumbles of fresh cheese, and either guacamole or avocado slices.
Whip up a pot of chicken tinga and you've not only got the makings for tasty tostadas or tacos, but a whole host of other easy weeknight dinners with a Mexican flair.
Kitchen Frau Notes: I've included the recipe for poaching your own chicken breasts - then you can use some of the broth for the chicken tinga recipe and freeze the rest, but you can also just use leftover cooked chicken, or pick up a rotisserie chicken on your way home from work and you'll have dinner on the table in no time.
Chipotle chilis in adobo sauce are sold in small cans in the international section of large supermarkets or in small latin import shops. Use how many you need for the recipe and freeze the rest by putting one chipotle pepper and a bit of sauce into each well of an ice cube tray and freezing them, then popping them into a freezer bag and keeping them frozen til you need to use them. You could also substitute by using ground chipotle powder to taste instead of the canned chipotles.
You can buy tostadas in latin import stores or in most large supermarkets. You can also make your own by shallow-frying corn tortillas in enough oil to cover them, until they are crispy.
Use leftover chicken tinga in quesadillas, on buns, or on top of rice (see the ideas at the beginning of this post.)
If you buy a package of chorizo sausages, you can freeze the unused ones on a cookie sheet, then pop them into a freezer bag and next time you make chicken tinga, you won't need to buy more.
for the tinga:
- 1 tablespoon oil
- 1 link (100gms) fresh uncooked chorizo sausage or spicy Italian sausage
- 1 large or 2 medium onions (about 2½-3 cups, sliced)
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1 to 3 chipotle chili peppers in adobo sauce, depending on preferred spice level (make sure the brand you use is gluten free) - I like to use 2
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 4 to 5 ripe plum/roma tomatoes (1 lb/450gms/about 2½ cups diced) or one 28oz/800gm can of diced tomatoes, drained of most of its juice
- about 3 cups/45ogms shredded, cooked chicken - from 1 whole chicken breast (both halves, bone in, skin on), cooked as below (or 2 large or 3 small cooked chicken breasts) or from shredded rotisserie chicken
- 1 cup (240ml) chicken broth (from cooking the chicken below, or use store-bought), plus more if needed
- tostadas or corn tortillas
- refried beans (or lentils), optional
- crema (or sour cream thinned with a bit of cream or milk, or see the recipe* below)
- Mexican fresh cheese (or crumbled feta; it's saltier, but works fine)
- tomatillo salsa or your favourite salsa (pico de gallo recipes here)
- avocado slices or guacamole
If you are cooking up chicken breasts, make them first - you can even cook up the chicken and broth a day ahead. The recipe below will make extra broth which is wonderful to have on hand for other recipes or making soup, or freeze it for future use. If you can get chicken breasts with the bone on or the back attached, you'll have the best flavour for the broth.
When the cooked chicken is cool enough to handle, pull the meat apart into shreds about the thickness of a pencil, and set it aside. If you shred it too finely, it will not retain it's shape nicely when mixed with the tomato and onion and will look mushy.
Make the tinga:
Heat the oil in a heavy bottomed saucepan or skillet over medium heat. Slit the chorizo sausage down its length and pull off the casing. Crumble the sausage into the hot oil and cook it, stirring and breaking up the meat, until it is no longer pink.
Cut the onion in half lengthwise, then cut each half into slices crosswise. Finely mince the garlic. Coarsely chop the chipotle peppers. Add the sliced onions, minced garlic, chopped chipotle, and the salt to the browned chorizo sausage, and cook for 5 minutes, until the onion is translucent.
Dice the tomatoes, or if using canned tomatoes drain enough juice from the can that you have 2½ cups of tomatoes with a bit of their juice remaining. Add the tomatoes and cook everything together for 5 to 10 minutes, just until it is nice and saucy. Add the shredded chicken and 1 cup of chicken broth. Cook the tinga for 1 to 2 minutes to reheat it. Add more broth if needed.
Makes 5½ cups of Chicken Tinga; for use in tostadas, tacos, quesadillas, or to serve in buns (tortas) or over rice.
Assemble the tostadas:
Spread each tostada with a layer of refried beans (if using), then top with a drizzle of crema. Spread a few spoonfuls of chicken tinga mixture (drained of most of its liquid by scooping the spoonful against the side of the pot to drain) over the crema. Layer with sliced or crumbled fresh cheese (or feta cheese), a dollop of spicy green salsa (or use red salsa), then top with a dollop of guacamole or a couple slices of fresh avocado and a bit of chopped cilantro.
* * * * *
*Substitute for Mexican Crema
- ½ cup (120ml) sour cream
- 3 tablespoons (45ml) heavy/whipping cream
- ½ teaspoon sugar
Stir the ingredients together.
For the Chicken and Broth - How to Make your Own:
- 1 whole chicken breast (including both sides), preferably on the bone with skin on (about 1½ lbs/675gms) or 2 to 3 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (1 lb/45ogms) *see notes above
- 6 cups (1.5l) water
- 1 carrot
- 1 stalk celery
- ½ medium onion
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon whole black peppercorns
- 2 or 3 sprigs of cilantro (optional)
* Or just use 2½ to 3 cups of cooked, shredded chicken (rotisserie chicken is fine) and 1 cup of good quality chicken broth
Place all the ingredients into a large pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a low simmer, cover the pot, and simmer the chicken for 30 minutes. Allow the meat to cool in the broth for best flavour, but if you're in a rush, remove the breasts from the broth, pull the skin off and discard, pull the meat off the bones in big chunks and allow to cool, then shred it for use in the Chicken Tinga. Strain the broth and use some of it for the Chicken Tinga: reserve the rest for other recipes or freeze it for future use.
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