Pueblan Style Shredded Chicken, Tinga de Pollo

An obligatory visit to the Taco House in Arnold’s Park, Iowa is a long-standing tradition to those who flock to the “Iowa Great Lakes” during the summer. As one local said, “Crowds, mess, long lines and sometimes indifferent food served up by surly local teenagers in the middle of Northwest Iowa doesn’t necessarily give one hope of a culinary high adventure!”

Chicken Tinga, Pollo de Tinga, Pollo Deshabrado, Mexican Shredded Chicken, Pueblan Chicken. Does a dish by any other name still taste as sweet?!
Chicken Tinga, Pollo de Tinga, Pollo Deshabrado, Mexican Shredded Chicken, Pueblan Chicken. Does a dish by any other name still taste as sweet?!

But one dish the Taco House (and other Mexican places just like it, sprinkled across the States) so often do right is a dish with deep roots in the street food of the Mexican state of Puebla. What we in the States commonly call Mexican Shredded Chicken (Pollo Deshrabo) and sometimes Pueblan Chicken, is becoming more commonly known by Tinga de Pollo.

Tinga de Pollo done as Soft Shell Tacos
Tinga de Pollo done as Soft Shell Tacos

In spite of the identity crisis, I think nearly everyone will recognize what I’m talking about: an earthy, slightly smoky mound of shredded chicken spiked with a touch of vinegar and a few inexplicaple flavors. The smokiness of the Chipotle melds throughout the dish, accented by mellow onion and garlic and the faintest hint of tomato. Marjoram, an herb so often ignored, brings in just an elusive taste and scent. The teensiest, tiniest pinch of clove chimes in with a back note of warmth. Chicken Tinga not normally hot but oozes with flavor.

And ooze it does. After a bite or two there may be juices running down your hands and you find yourself hunched over the paper wrapper. You can’t stop or you’ll risk disaster – as if you’d even be able to stop. Addictive. And now you have the secrets right here, to be made at home anytime you’d like. Dangerous. And best of all, you can make it as mild or as hot as you’d like. Perfect.

Tinga de Pollo - on a Tostada - slather the sour creme or crema down first to hold the chicken
Tinga de Pollo – on a Tostada – slather the sour creme or crema down first to hold the chicken

Serve it like they often do in Cali on a crisp tostada slathered first with Crema, then with Tinga de Pollo with a few wafer thin onions strewn over top. Or make it a soft taco and heap with your favorite condiments and toppings. You just can’t go wrong! And do pass your favorite hot sauce or salsa!

For serving, think about:

  • Crisp corn tortillas or softened corn tortillas to use as a soft shell taco. Flour generally won’t hold up well to this dish.
  • Very thinly sliced onion, soaked in water for about 15 minutes.
  • Very thinly sliced red or green cabbage or chopped or shredded lettuce.
  • Standard “orange” cheese or perhaps a Queso Fresco for a bit more punch.
  • Radishes, an often overlooked ingredient in Mexican foods.
  • And of course, an array of your favorite salsas or hot sauces, crema or sour cream.

This recipe is made with the standard 3 1/2 bag of frozen chicken and is a make ahead freezer meal. The total makes about 9 cups and you can count on about 3/4 cup per person for a meal, so divied up it would make 3 meals for a family of four. You’ll also end up with a about a quart and a half of marvelous left over broth that can be put to good use elsewhere.

Feel free to cut the recipe back if you’d like, but trust me, a bit of this in the freezer is an asset, to be sure! Total cost for the chicken runs about $8.10, for a meal, about $2.70.

Favorite toppings: Queso Fresco, obligatory orange cheese, thinly sliced red cabbage, onion, radish and lettuce
Favorite toppings: Queso Fresco, obligatory orange cheese, thinly sliced red cabbage, onion, radish and lettuce

Pueblan Style Shredded Chicken, Tinga de Pollo

  • Servings: abt 9 cups
  • Print

Chicken & Broth:

  • 3 1/2 pounds boneless chicken
  • 1 onion, quartered
  • 2 cloves garlic, smashed
  • Water to cover
  • 3/4 teaspoon marjoram
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon peppercorns (optional)

Place chicken, onion and garlic in a Dutch oven or large pan, add enough water to cover by an inch. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Skim off any foam that comes to the surface. Add marjoram, salt & peppercorns after skimming. Simmer for about 20 minutes until chicken is just done all the way through.

Turn off heat and allow chicken to cool in the broth for 45 minutes (for the moistest chicken) or remove and cool (for quicker chicken.) Strain and reserve broth, onion and chicken separately.

Cut chicken into several smaller pieces and shred with two forks, clean hands or remove to the bowl of a mixer with paddle attachment.

Sauce:

  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced or chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup reserved broth
  • Reserved onion
  • 2 – 4 chipotle peppers* from a can of Chipotle peppers in Adobo sauce
  • 1 large (29 ounces) canned diced tomatoes & juice, reserve juice and add back in if needed when simmering
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon marjoram
  • A very tiny pinch of ground clove
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons vinegar

In a blender add the reserved onion, chipotle peppers, salt and a cup of chicken broth. Puree. Add drained tomatoes and pulse several times.

Heat the oil in a large skillet (or deep pan) over medium heat. Add in thinly sliced onion and cook until slightly browned on the edges, stirring often. Add minced garlic and cook another minute.

Pour the sauce into the skillet, being careful of any spatters. Cook several moments, then add shredded chicken, marjoram, vinegar and a very small pinch of cloves. (Clove can be quite strong and easily overpower this dish. Add very carefully.) Taste for seasoning and add more of the Chipotle, vinegar, salt and spices if desired.

Simmer gently 15 to 20 minutes, adding some of the juice from the tomato if it appears to be too dry.

The final dish should be moist, but not too saucy. (See “kitchen & cooking hacks” below, if the sauce seems too moist.) Tingo de Pollo stores well in the fridge and tastes even better the next day. Freeze for two to three months. Place plastic wrap directly on top of the chicken mixture if placed in a container or freeze in a heavy ziploc bag.

* Chipotle Peppers: The heat level of this dish is easily varied by the amount of chipotle pepper added. Two give hardly any heat for this amount of chicken but still add flavor, four is a bit more noticeable, but not “hot.”

While traditionally this dish isn’t hot on it’s own, some recipes add as much as a can of Chipotle. While more can always be added, it’s quite difficult to take away. Know your audience and their tolerance levels.

I generally place the remaining peppers and adobo sauce in a ziploc bag, label and freeze. They thaw quite quickly on the counter or can be placed in the microwave for a few seconds when you’re ready to make another dish.

This recipe yields about 9 cups of shredded chicken and a quart and a half of amazing broth.
This recipe yields about 9 cups of shredded chicken and a quart and a half of amazing broth.

Tostadas

Heat a quarter inch of oil in a small heavy skillet. Carefully place a tortilla in the oil and fry until crisp and golden on one side. Turn. Drain on paper towels or on a rack. Repeat.

If you’d like soft tacos, place in oil, turn over and then very carefully cook until just a few bubbles appear and the color slightly changes then turn again.

This tortilla is just right for a soft taco - a bit of golden color, the edges are firm and it has a few bubbles, but it is still flexible.
This tortilla is just right for a soft taco – a bit of golden color, the edges are firm and it has a few bubbles, but it is still flexible.

Kitchen & Cooking Hack:

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Let’s talk about how to save money/time on this recipe:

  • Use a coupon matching site! One of my favorites in my area is Pocket Your Dollars, but every store has a group of enthusiastic Coupon Matchers. Do not discount the savings! I check their site every week, even if I don’t “need” to go to the store and often find bargains I can’t pass up.
  • Follow my 12 Strategies – You’ll see them on the upper drop down menu of every page and how I apply them, below.
  • Don’t get discouraged if your prices don’t match mine! Keep shopping at the best prices and your fridge/freezer and pantry will be stocked with sales priced ingredients.
  • Read {Strategies Applied} for additional tips as well as throughout the recipe, for saving time and managing food.

Put Your own Spin on It:

  • Try using fire roasted tomatoes or other variations.
  • Use fresh tomatoes (best if dipped in hot water and peeled),
  • Roast your tomatoes, or cook in the skillet until browned and toasted, then blend.
  • Vary spices and/or amounts to your taste.
  • For a thick, rich Tinga, use tomato sauce instead of diced.

Comments and discussion always welcome - tell me what you think.

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