Chicken Tinga Tacos

tinga tacos

Do you know anyone who, upon seeing the Sriracha bottle on the dinner table, says: “That’s a good sign.”? Or who likes to enjoy a side of scrambled eggs with his hot sauce in the morning? Or who, when watching Rick Bayless make chilaquiles on the cooking channel nods his head and says, “Amen, brother, amen.”?

Well, if you do, tinga is something you should add to your repertoire. Made with only a handful of ingredients, tinga derives most of its flavor from chipotles in adobo sauce, which offer both smoke and heat. Traditionally, the dish begin by boiling a chicken, then pulling and shredding the meat from the carcass. Once the meat is off the bone, it stews with onions, chipotles, tomatoes and chicken stock. Chopped fresh cilantro finishes the dish.

I first tasted tinga in tostada form layered with crispy corn tortillas, shredded lettuce and crumbled cotija cheese, and while I love tostadas, I prefer eating tinga this way: wrapped in warm, soft flour tortillas — I know, I’m a wimp — topped with grated cheddar cheese, diced white onion, a dollop of sour cream and a squeeze of lime.

The heat of tinga precludes the need for salsa, though some sort of fresh, crisp, minimally spiced tomatillo or cucumber salsa would be really nice. As noted, tinga can be used in tacos and tostadas but it’s also delicious in burritos or quesadillas, and while I’ve never made them, I suspect it would work well in enchiladas, too.


Tinga starts by boiling a chicken:
boiled chicken

Meanwhile, you sauté an onion:
sautéed onions

Then add half a can or a heaping quarter cup of chipotles in adobo:
adding the chipotles

Into the sauce go crushed tomatoes and chicken stock, and when the chicken has cooked and cooled, you shred it and add it to the sauce:
adding the chicken

Stir it around:

Add cilantro:
adding the cilantro

And that’s all there is to tinga:
tinga with cilantro

You can use tinga in tacos, burritos, tostadas, enchiladas, etc.:
tinga tacos


Serves 8

Feeling ambitious? Make those tortillas.

1 3-4 lb. chicken
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 white onion, sliced
1 small can chipotles in adobo sauce (you’ll only need half the can or about 1/4 heaping cup)
1½ cups canned crushed tomatoes, I use the Pomi brand
2 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
kosher salt to taste
1 bunch cilantro

flour or corn tortillas for serving
grated cheese for serving, cheddar or monterey jack or whatever you like
diced white onion for serving
sour cream for serving
lime wedges for serving

1. Place chicken in a large pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, turn off the heat, cover the pot and let sit for 25 minutes. Transfer chicken to a large bowl or a colander placed in the sink to cool. Return the pot with the cooking liquid to the stove.

2. Meanwhile, in a large sauté pan or pot, add the oil and place over medium heat. Add the sliced onion to the pan with a pinch of kosher salt and sauté over medium heat until translucent or lightly brown, about 5 minutes. Add half the can of chipotles in adobo or about 1/4 cup including two or three of the chilies. (If you are really sensitive to heat, add just a tablespoon or two of the sauce. You can always add more.) Stir for a minute until the onions are nicely coated in the sauce, then add the tomatoes and chicken stock. Season with a pinch of salt.

3. Let the sauce simmer over low heat while you pull the chicken meat from the skin and bones. Shred the meat and add to the sauce. (Discard the skin; place bones in the reserved cooking liquid and let simmer for a couple of hours. Strain, and transfer the stock to storage containers. Refrigerate overnight. The following day, scrape off the fat and discard. Freeze stock.)

4. Bring the pan with the chicken to a simmer and let cook for 15 minutes over low heat. Coarsely chop the cilantro, add to the pot and stir to incorporate. Taste mixture, add more salt if necessary. You can pull out any chipotles that are still intact or you can just avoid pulling them from the mixture when you are serving.

5. Serve with heated tortillas, grated cheese, lime wedges, chopped onion and sour cream on the side.

Note: Can be made a day ahead. To reheat, simmer mixture very slowly adding chicken stock if liquid becomes too thick.

Making chicken stock with carcass and onion scraps:
making stock


  1. jamie says

    ha! my husband would love me forever if I made this for him. question: how spicy is this? tolerable for children?

    • says

      NO! Unless you have the most awesome children in the world :) 1/4 cup of chipotle in adobo is really spicy. I make a note in the recipe, but I think even a tablespoon of sauce would be pretty spicy.

  2. says

    This is my kind of dish, great pics and instructions. I’m thinking this is pretty spicy with the adobe chilies but the smokiness from them is perfect for a dish like this. Pinned and printed.

    • says

      Cheri, the smokiness is really nice. I always feel like I’m cheating when I use cans of chipotles in adobo, because the sauce gives so much flavor, but I can’t imagine making them from scratch. It’s kind of how I feel about thai red/green curry paste.

  3. Trish says

    I quite literally just finished perusing a wonderful, local restaurant’s menu where I saw Chicken Tinga Tacos and wondered what they were. Now, I know. These look really good. My husband would love them! As alway, thanks for sharing.

    • Trish says

      Hey Ali- I just noticed in your good stock video you have a recipe for mexican tinga and the directions for the chicken say to bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer for 45 minutes. But this recipe, for chicken tinga, says to bring to a boil then turn off heat and let sit for 25 minutes. Which do you prefer? Thank you!

      • says

        Hi Trish! I prefer this method. This was actually how I learned to do it at the restaurant. Patricia would always just put a couple chickens in a pot in the morning, bring it to a boil, and then shut off the pan. Sometimes the chicken would stay in the pot longer than 25 minutes, but 25 minutes seems to work for me — the chicken is usually cooked through at this point, and if it isn’t, it will continue to cook while it’s stewing with the sauce. I like this method better because I think it tends to not overcook the meat. Hope that makes sense!

  4. says

    Ali!! These look beyond delicious. I’m glad you’ve taken a break from gluten-y baked goods to bring us this. It’s torture for me to look at your amazing creations and not be able to try them! xoxox

    • says

      Oh Phoebe, I know, I am such a carb monster at heart. And I have another one coming at the end of the week, though I think it could pretty easily be made gluten free. I am making your larb for a baby shower in a few weeks. Really excited to try it!

  5. says

    What a marvelous filling for a taco. It makes hamburger filling look quite mundane. What a marvelous dark rich color to the sauce. For me I might have to adjust the heat or I could be brave and stalwart, ready to conquer new territories!

  6. Kate says

    Thank you Ali! You perfectly described my husband at the beginning of this recipe. Looking forward to trying it.

  7. says

    I make your homemade tortillas at least once a week. Usually I make the beef filling to go with them, but it might be time for something new. This might be a tid bit spicy for us and considering Zach is running low on tums (heartburn is such a buzz kill) I’ll have to tone it down a bit. But how? Any suggestions? Or should I just invite friends over to eat the real thing with me and leave him with a bowl of guacamole?

    • says

      Talley, you are amazing! I am impressed you are making homemade tortillas … I don’t think I’ve made them since Ella was born.

      Do you need me to send you some Tums? We have an endless supply here :)

      OK, I would just start with a tablespoon of the adobo sauce, and then add from there — it really is amazingly flavorful, so a little goes a long way to add flavor without too much heat.

      But the alternative for Zach isn’t too bad either.

      Also hieeee. I need to go look for pics of Alice.

  8. says

    As usual, your photos caught my eye and I had to make this for my husband and I on Sunday night. His response? “Yeah, I’m gonna eat 15 of these bi*#^+s.” Success! These were so easy and so delicious. Thanks!

  9. Becca says

    Made these last night! So easy and SO delicious!!! I even got a “wow, this is really good” comment from the husband :) I’ve yet to make something on your website that isn’t amazing!!! Thank you thank you :) :)

    P.S. Do you think this would be as good if I just poached chicken breasts and used those instead of the whole chicken?

    • says

      Yay! Becca, so happy to hear this! And thank you for your kind words.

      I think you could totally just poach a couple of breasts — I would do the same method: put them in a pot, cover them with water, bring them to a boil, then turn off the heat and let the breasts continue cooking in the liquid. Now, because breasts are leaner, the overall flavor of the dish might not be quite as good, but if you like breasts, then go for it!

  10. Katie says

    Made these last night. Amazing!!!!! Leftovers for lunch with a fried egg … Heaven!! Husband devoured.

    • says

      So happy to hear this, Katie! And your leftovers sound genius. Glad the husband approved…this is one of my husband’s favorites, too. Always seems to be a hit with the dudes :)

  11. Stephanie says

    Hi! I’ve been bouncing around your website for a couple weeks now. I live right outside of philly, amd I love the way you describe your experiences here.

    Anyway, I made chicken tinga tonight with your flour tortilla recipe also. It was delicious!!

    I wanted to share after your crockpot post today – I cooked the whole chicken in the crockpot for time sake (I have a 3 month old, so I can’t watch the stove for an hour). After I pick all of the meat off, I put everything back in the crockpot and fill it to the top with water, add turmeric, peppercorns, etc, and I’ll let that simmer overnight to make delicious stock.

    I also have been making Walter sands bread for a couple weeks now, and it just gets better and better. I tried the cinnamon raisin variation with half of the doigh today too. It was sooo good.

    All of this to say, I love your recipes. They are made with simple delicious ingredients which I find refreshing in our condensed soup world (which is how I grew up!). Thank you!

    • says

      Hi Stephanie! Thank you for your nice comment. So happy to hear about the tinga and flour tortilla success — the tinga recipe is probably my favorite recipe I took away from working at the restaurant. LOVE the idea of cooking the chicken in the slow cooker and then continuing to cook the bones to make stock. Do you add anything else other than turmeric and peppercorns? I would love to try this.

      I have been craving cinnamon raising bread. Might have to do some baking this weekend. Thank you again for your kind comment, and thanks for writing in. My sister lives outside of Philly, and I get down every so often to visit her. I love that city and those suburbs.

      • Stephanie says

        Hello! I love love love the area as well. Although, I’ve never eaten at Fork. That will have to be our next venture.
        For the slow cooker stock, I add whatever I feel like, really. Sometimes I’ll have old carrots and celery leftover that I’ll stick in the freezer until it’s time to make stock. I throw them in and an onion if I have one.
        It’s the easiest way to do it!!
        Thanks for your response,

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