Moist shredded chicken bathed in a smoky chipotle-tomato sauce, spooned over crisp tostada shells on a layer of creamy refried beans; garnished with cabbage, white onion, jalapenos and sour cream. This tinga recipe does double duty: start with a whole chicken and have tinga for dinner tonight and a batch of homemade chicken stock for the freezer in no additional cooking time!
What is Chicken Tinga?
Tinga is a traditional Mexican preparation of poached and shredded meat, usually chicken, mixed through a smoky tomato-based sauce. Chipotle peppers in adobo sauce are the key ingredient that creates the smoky flavor and mild heat.
Tinga is great for its versatility. You can eat it simply with a side of rice, or use it as a filling for a variety of Mexican dishes like tacos, enchiladas, burritos, or empanadas. Or, you can do what I’ve done here and pile your chicken on top of crunchy fried corn tostadas.
Why try this Chicken Tinga Recipe?
A lot of tinga recipes are just plain bland. Your tinga should taste like more than shredded chicken mixed through a can of crushed tomatoes. This recipe makes a really flavorful tinga sauce that remains richly smoky and mildly spicy even after it’s mixed with the chicken and combined with the other tostada toppings. This sauce stands out because:
Extra Smoke & Star Anise
Most of the flavor in the sauce comes from the chipotle chiles in adobo sauce. It’s essential to the dish. I’ve added a bit more than seems to be called for in most tinga recipes, because I find the smoky spice, so delicious when the sauce is first made, can be lost once it’s mixed into the chicken.
But the extra-special ingredient that makes this sauce stand out is star anise, inspired by Edson Diaz-Fuentes’ use of the ingredient in his chicken tinga pasties. It might seem like an unusual addition to a Mexican dish (though anise flavors are traditionally used in Mexican cooking in moles, coffee and thick hot chocolate drink) but the anise flavor of this spice - the seed pod of an evergreen tree native to China - beautifully complements the smoky ancho chiles, giving the sauce a smoke flavor that is more pronounced and complex.
Roast the tomatoes, keep the Onion Raw
Roasting the tomatoes and garlic deepens and sweetens their flavor and adds a bit of smoky char. The onions, however, are left raw and added to the sauce when the roasted vegetables are blended.
It may feel unnerving adding a large raw onion to your dinner, but once combined with the other ingredients and generously seasoned with salt, all that remains of the raw onion flavor is a hint of sharp bite that contrasts beautifully with the deep sweet roasted flavors of the oven roasted tomatoes and garlic and the smoky notes of the chipotle chiles and star anise.
How to Make Homemade Tostada Shells
You don’t have to make your tostadas from scratch. If you have access to store bought tostada shells, save time and effort and use those. However, if, like me, store bought tostada shells are not available near you, making your own from store bought corn tortillas is surprisingly easy.
Fill the bottom of a small pan or cast iron skillet, one just large enough to fit the circumference of the tortillas you are using, about ½ inch up the sides with canola oil (or any oil with a high smoke point). Set the pan over medium heat and wait until a drop of water splashed onto the surface of the oil immediately sizzles, or until bubbles form as soon as you touch the surface of the oil with a corn tortilla.
Working one at a time, submerge each corn tortilla into the oil and fry, about 1 minute per side until lightly golden. Remove and set aside on a paper towel lined plate or wire rack set inside a rimmed cookie sheet. Sprinkle with salt immediately after removing from the oil to season.
If you are a brave soul who makes their own corn tortillas from scratch, I don’t recommend doing so if you want tostadas that night. It’s too much work for one day of cooking and tostadas are best made with slightly stale tortillas anyway. Tostadas are, however, a great idea for using up any leftover corn tortillas you may have made fresh the day before.
Looking for something else to do with your chicken? Try these spicy Jerk Chicken Sandwiches or this Easy Burmese-Inspired Chicken and Eggplant Curry.
How to Eat Tostadas
This may seem like a ridiculous question to some, but not everyone grows up eating tostadas. I avoided trying tostadas for a long time, despite how good they look, because I was honestly confused about how to eat them without making an enormous mess. If you pile toppings on a giant chip, won’t it fall apart as soon as you bite into it?
One day, while watching the Mexico City episode of Netflix’s “Somebody Feed Phil,” one of Phil’s Mexican dining companions tells him: “the taco or tostada doesn’t move. It stays there. You move your head.” It’s not my favorite food travel show (I’d recommend Netflix’ Street Food or any of Anthony Bourdain’s shows), but this tip was gold. Move your head, not the taco.
Pick up the tostada and rest it on your fingertips like a server carrying a tray of drinks. Then try to keep the tostada in the same position as you eat, maneuvering your head to take each bite rather than bringing the tostada up to your mouth. No matter how you eat them, Tostadas are not the neatest food, but this little trick minimizes the mess.
Make it Easier
What I love about this recipe is that it is a two-in-one. You get the shredded chicken with homemade chicken stock for the sauce AND an extra batch of chicken stock for the freezer with no additional cooking time. Yes, this works out to be more time consuming the night you cook the dinner, but it makes cooking easier for future you, who will undoubtedly be making soup, or something else that calls for a small amount of chicken stock, at some point. To me, that is “easy” cooking, just not in the way we usually think about it.
If you've never broken down a chicken before, don't worry, it's not that hard. Here's a great video that shows the process.
However, if it works better for you to save time by skipping the step of poaching the chicken, simply replace the whole chicken (and the stock ingredients) with a store-bought cooked rotisserie chicken, shred the meat, and add it to the tinga sauce along with store-bought chicken stock.
Another time saving option is to skip the tortilla frying process and use store bought tostada shells instead, provided you can find them in your grocery store. Usually freshly homemade ingredients are ideal, but in this case, tostadas are best made with day-old slightly stale tortillas. Which makes tostadas a perfect use for store-bought corn tortillas - which can be more dry than homemade.
How To Store or Freeze Leftover Tinga Sauce and Chicken Stock
Refrigerate or Freeze the Chicken in the Tinga Sauce
Freshly made chicken and sauce will keep in the refrigerator for 3-4 days.
If you want to keep it for longer, if you’ve made your chicken and sauce in advance, or if you’ve doubled the recipe with the intention of freezing half for another time, simply transfer the chicken in the sauce into freezer containers or freezer bags (flattened for easy storage) and freeze. The chicken and sauce will keep in the freezer for up to 3 months.
To reheat from frozen, defrost overnight in the refrigerator and, when ready to serve, transfer the chicken and sauce to a saucepan set over medium heat and cook until warmed through.
Freeze the Extra Chicken Stock
My favorite way to freeze chicken stock is to allow the stock to cool down to room temperature, then fill a muffin tin with the stock and place the tin into the freezer. (Measure how much stock fits into each muffin WORD, mine hold about ½ cup of liquid) Once frozen, pop the cups of stock into a labeled freezer bag. It will keep in the freezer for up to six months.
Having Frozen homemade chicken stock on hand is invaluable. Use it in this Shrimp Scampi with Greens or This Braised Fennel over Hummus or This Cabbage, Sausage and White Bean Soup.
If the stock does not easily come out of the tins, pour hot water halfway up the sides of a cookie sheet and place the muffin tin into the sheet pan for 30 seconds-1 minute. The stock cups should then be easy to pry out with a fork.
This method makes it easy to grab only as much stock as you need - without having to cut it out of the bag or remember to defrost it overnight.
Freeze the Leftover Ancho Chile in Adobo
Ancho chilies in adobo are a key ingredient for achieving the signature smoky flavor of a tinga sauce. They have become relatively easy to find in most grocery stores with an international foods section, but most recipes that call for them only use a small portion of the can.
You can save the leftover ancho chile in adobo sauce by freezing it. First, place the remaining contents of the can into a blender and blend into a smooth paste. Then, spoon into a clean ice cube tray. (My trays hold 1 ounce of sauce per cell, but measure yours to be sure). Once frozen, transfer the cubes into a labeled freezer safe container or plastic bag and store in the freezer for up to 6 months.
Chicken Tinga Tostada Recipe
For the Chicken & Stock:
- 1 3-4 pound whole chicken, broken down into parts, OR 2-3 pounds chicken parts, OR 1 3-4 pound rotisserie chicken (and omit the remaining stock ingredients)
- 3 carrots, chopped into thin rounds
- 1 white onion, chopped
- 3 celery stalks, sliced into ½ inch pieces
- 2 garlic cloves
- 5 black peppercorns
- A handful of parsley sprigs
- ½ teaspoon dried marjoram
- ½ teaspoon dried thyme
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 teaspoon table salt
- Enough water to cover the chicken and vegetables by 1 inch
For the Tinga Sauce:
- 14 ounces Tomatoes (fresh or canned, depending on the season)
- 3 garlic cloves
- ½ large white onion
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 2 ounces chipotle en adobo, minced (chilies and sauce)
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 whole star anise
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 ¼ cups chicken stock (If using rotisserie chicken)
- Store-bought tostada shells (OR corn tortillas, fried - see note above - or oven baked)
- Refried beans, homemade or canned
- Sour Cream
- ¼ green cabbage, shredded (OR, shredded romaine or iceberg lettuce)
- ½ white onion, cut in a ¼ inch dice
- 1-2 jalapenos, thinly sliced
- Handful of Cilantro, chopped finely
- Poach the Chicken & Make the Stock: (Skip this step if using rotisserie chicken and store bought stock) Place the chicken and other stock ingredients into a large stock pot or Dutch oven. Fill with water until the chicken and vegetables are covered by about 1 inch. Over medium-low heat, bring the water to a boil and quickly lower to a simmer. Simmer for 50 minutes. Remove chicken parts from the stock, remove and discard the skin from the chicken, then shred the meat and set aside in a large bowl. Strain remaining stock into a heat-proof jar and allow to cool to room temperature before freezing (see freezing instructions in post above). Set aside 1 ¼ cups stock for the tinga sauce.
- Roast the Tomatoes: Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Cut the tomatoes in half, removing the stems (and any split or brown areas, if using home grown) and place each half onto the baking sheet. Drizzle with vegetable oil and season with salt and pepper. Add the garlic cloves, still in their skins, and transfer to the oven. Roast for 30-40 minutes until soft and beginning to char. Set aside.
- Make the tinga Sauce: Place the roasted tomatoes and garlic (removing the garlic skins first) into a blender along with the raw onion. Add 1 ¼ cups of the reserved chicken stock (or store-bought). Blend until smooth. Heat the oil in a medium pan over medium heat. Pour in the sauce from the blender and cook for 8-10 minutes. Add the chipotle en adobo, bay leaf and star anise. Lower the temperature and simmer for 15-20 minutes more, stirring occasionally. Add the salt and pass through a sieve. Pour the sauce into the bowl with the chicken and stir to combine.
- Fry Tostada Shells: (Skip this step if using store-bought shells) In a small pan or cast iron skillet, heat enough oil to come about ½ inch up the sides. When a drop of water splashed into the oil immediately sizzles, the oil is hot enough to begin frying the tostadas. One at a time, submerge the corn tortillas into the oil and fry, one minute per side. Remove tortillas from oil and place on a wire rack over a baking sheet, sprinkle each with salt as they come out of the oil.
- Assemble and Serve the Tostadas: Spread a few spoonfuls of refried beans on top of each tostada, then top with a few spoonfuls of the chicken in tinga sauce, spreading out evenly over the beans. Then, garnish with shredded cabbage, chopped white onion, jalapeno slices, sour cream and cilantro. Serve immediately.