A theme in my life appears to be not taking advantage of the food resources around me. Even though I grew up mere hours away from the border, my pre-college exposure to Mexican food was limited to Taco Bell’s crunch wrap supreme and Tina’s frozen burritos. To be fair, both foods still hold a very dear place in my heart (oh, the joys of a microwaved spicy beef and bean!) but, thankfully, I’ve explored options beyond the highly commercialized and processed. Now, whenever I fly into southern California, I make a beeline for my favorite hole-in-the-wall taqueria or scrappy food truck.
It was at one of these dingy, street food establishments that I discovered a world of proteins beyond “premium seasoned beef” or microwaved “bean and cheese.” I became intimately acquainted with spit-roasted al pastor, gamey carne asada, intensely umami chorizo. I was beginning to think myself relatively well-versed on Mexican meats until I came across a recipe on Serious Eats:
Chicken tinga is the only taco stuffing on the menu that matches the complexity of al pastor, although it does it in a completely different way with its deeply smoky, spicy, and earthy flavor. It’s completely satisfying, making a couple of small tacos taste like a larger, grander meal than they really are.
Oh. Yes. I’d never heard of chicken tinga before, but I was sure I wanted to make and devour it. Better yet, the recipe looked incredibly simple. However, because I am nothing if not lazy, I chose to skip a step or two to make this a total weekday dinner. Why lug out my food processor to puree the sauce, when I could just… not do that? My minimal effort still yielded maximal pay-off. The chicken tinga, once loaded onto a tortilla with garnishes and sides, was everything promised and more. I’ll most certainly be making this again, especially if any taco parties come my way! (… and no, I probably won’t ever follow the full directions — but better that than taking the truly easy way out and reheating a frozen burrito, right?)
- 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 medium-sized (3-4 pound) chicken, cut into eighths
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 large onion, thinly sliced
- 1 large tomatillo, diced
- 3 large garlic cloves, minced
- 1/4 teaspoon cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon oregano
- One 28-ounce can fire-roasted tomatoes
- 3 canned chipotles in adobo, coarsely chopped (I would actually add in a fourth pepper, but you may want to adjust to your own taste/spiciness preference)
- 1 cup chicken broth
- To serve
- Corn tortillas
- Chips and salsa
- Scallions and cilantro, chopped
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large, nonstick skillet. Season the chicken with salt and pepper, add to the skillet, and cook over moderately high heat, turning once, until browned (about 12 minutes) — you want to get lots of color on the meat! Transfer the chicken to cool on a baking dish, pouring off the fat.
- Add the remaining olive oil the the skillet, along with onion. Cook on medium-high until lightly browned (about 5 minutes). Add the garlic and tomatillos and cook until fragrant (about 5 minutes). Add the tomatoes, their juices, the chipotle peppers, and the chicken broth. Bring to a boil and then turn down to a simmer over moderate heat, stirring occasionally. The aim is to get a nice, thick sauce; about 20 minutes should do, but keep an eye on it.
- Traditionally, you will puree the sauce (typically in a food processor) until smooth and let it cool. However, this sauce is “rustic” (e.g. I am laziness), so I forwent this step with no adverse effects. If you’re a purist and/or don’t suffer from my same condition, feel free to blend up a nice, consistent sauce.
- Pour the sauce over the chicken and bake it, uncovered, for about 45 minutes. The meat will become tender and the sauce will darken and thicken around the edges. At this point, you can wrap your tortillas in foil and throw them in the oven to warm up.
- Remove the chicken from the sauce and shred the meat, discarding the bones. Return the chicken meat to the sauce and mix thoroughly. Serve on tortillas, sprinkle with your toppings of choice, and enjoy.