If you’ve read my previous blog posts, you know that food and cooking are very meaningful to me. This recipe for chicken tinga, a type of shredded chicken in a spicy chipotle and tomato sauce, is particularly special. It’s also one of the easiest and most versatile Mexican dishes that you can prepare.
Chicken tinga was the first Mexican dish that I learned to cook when I moved the U.S. I’ve always loved Mexican food, but never thought to make it at home when I lived in Costa Rica because a lot of the ingredients were difficult to find. When I moved here, I got really close to another student in my department who was born in Durango, and we quickly started cooking a lot together. She learned how to cook from her grandmother and mother, and I was very thankful that she was happy to pass these family recipes on to me.
My favorite part of cooking with my friend was that there were no recipes to follow. I learned to make the dishes by watching what she was doing, asking questions, and helping. I then started to make them on my own, perfecting them through repetition and practice. I love cookbooks and food blogs, but there’s something about learning to make a dish from another human being that makes the experience more special. For me, the act of building memories together and knowing that I was part of a line of women who had taught each other how to cook this same dish was what made it meaningful. Since then, I’ve taught this recipe to other people in my life in much the same way: by showing them how to make it rather than by writing it down. Until now that is.
Chicken tinga is traditionally eaten on tostadas, or crispy corn tortillas. You can top it with pretty much anything including shredded lettuce, crema (Mexican sour cream), cotija cheese, or avocado.
For this version, I’ve decided to do away with the tostadas just to show you how versatile it is. Instead, I’ve made my own version of a loaded baked potato but using sweet potatoes instead. The sweet potato not only adds a hint of sweetness that balances out the smokiness of the chipotles in the sauce really well, but it is also a great alternative if you are on a paleo diet. Sweet potatoes are also full of vitamins and nutrients, and a single one topped with this chicken tinga makes for a filling and comforting meal.
When you are choosing sweet potatoes for this recipe, I would recommend that you try to find some that are not super sweet. I made this recipe using both a sweeter type of sweet potato (inaccurately called a “yam” at the supermarket) and Jewel sweet potatoes, which are less sweet. The version I made with the Jewel sweet potatoes came out more balanced and tasty. You can also make this with regular baking potatoes — my husband’s favorite! — if you can’t find this particular kind.
You will have plenty of chicken tinga left over, so here are some ideas on how to use it throughout the week.
- Chicken tinga nachos: just top your favorite store-bought tortilla chips with some shredded cheese and the tinga and pop the whole thing in the microwave for 30 seconds. Then add more toppings. I love to top my nachos with sliced green onions, sour cream, and pico de gallo.
- Chicken tinga bowl: make some Mexican-style rice or quinoa and top it with some tinga, sliced avocado, sour cream, and sliced green onions.
- Chicken tinga taquitos: Put a little bit of tinga in the middle of a store-bought corn tortilla, roll it up, and secure it with toothpicks. Fry the taquitos in some hot oil until crispy. Top with guacamole, shredded lettuce, and pico de gallo.
- Chicken tinga sandwiches: tinga is similar in consistency to pulled pork, so why not turn it into a sandwich? Just grab some soft buns, add some tinga, and top them with some homemade coleslaw.
As you can probably tell, there are endless ways to use tinga. I usually make a big batch on Sundays and eat it throughout the week. It also freezes well.
I hope you enjoy this recipe. And don’t forget to leave a comment with your own ideas for how to use the leftovers!
Spicy Chicken Loaded Sweet Potatoes
These spicy chicken loaded sweet potatoes are paleo and gluten free. You can make a big batch of the chicken in advance and use the leftovers in many different ways throughout the week. The chicken makes great nachos, quinoa bowls, sandwiches, and tacos.
- 4 medium sweet potatoes
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 large skinless chicken breasts (bone in if possible), about 2 pounds total
- 1 tablespoon of salt
- 1 clove of garlic
- 1 medium yellow onion, quartered
- One 14 oz can of fire-roasted tomatoes
- 4 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, chopped (or to taste)
- 1 tablespoon of adobo sauce (from the chipotle peppers)
- 1 teaspoon of salt
- 1 tablespoon of canola oil
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic
- 1 medium yellow onion, sliced thin
- Suggested toppings: sliced green onions, sour cream, pico de gallo, avocado slices, cotija cheese.
- Step 1 Preheat the oven to 400℉. Clean the sweet potatoes well with a vegetable scrubber. Use a fork to poke holes all over them. Rub them with olive oil and wrap each one of them in foil. Don’t wrap them too tight.
- Step 2 Once the oven is preheated, place the sweet potatoes on a baking sheet and slide them in the oven. Cook for 45-60 min or until a knife pierces them easily.
- Step 3 While the sweet potatoes are cooking, place the chicken breasts in a large pot and cover them with water. They should be totally submerged. Add a tablespoon of salt, the onion quarters, and the clove of garlic and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Once it boils, turn the heat down to low and simmer for 20 min or until a thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the breast registers 165℉.
- Step 4 Remove the chicken breasts from the water and set them aside to cool for at least 10 min. Reserve the chicken stock.
- Step 5 Once the chicken has cooled, shred it with your fingers or using two forks. Set aside.
- Step 6 Transfer the onion and garlic out of the poaching liquid and into a blender. Add the chipotles, adobo sauce, fire-roasted tomatoes, ½ cup of the reserved chicken stock, and one teaspoon of salt to the blender. Blend until smooth.
- Step 7 Heat up a tablespoon of canola oil over medium high heat in a large pot. Once the oil is hot, add the sliced onions and cook until starting to soften, about 5 mins. Add the minced garlic and cook for another 30 seconds. Add the tomato and chipotle sauce and the shredded chicken to the pot. Turn the heat down to low and simmer for 10 min.
- Step 8 Taste the chicken tinga and add more salt if necessary. Tinga should be wet, so if the mixture came out too dry you can add more of the reserved chicken stock to thin it out.
- Step 9 To assemble the sweet potatoes. Slice the sweet potatoes open, but not all the way through. Top generously with the chicken tinga and with any of the suggested toppings. Serve warm.
- All of the components for these loaded sweet potatoes can be made in advance and reheated on the day you intend to serve them.
- Don’t throw out the liquid in which you cooked the chicken breasts. It’s essentially homemade chicken stock and you can use it to make rice, quinoa, soups, and sauces.