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News / Life / Food

Chicken tinga tacos can easily feed a crowd

By Gretchen McKay, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Published: April 24, 2024, 6:04am

I love tacos when I’m cooking for a crowd because they’re usually so much easier to pull together than a sit-down dinner with multiple courses, and they can be easily individualized depending on the toppings.

Any protein made with tinga, a spicy-sauce crafted from fire-roasted tomatoes, chili peppers and spices, is always at the top of my go-to list because it’s so flavorful and can be prepared fairly quickly — a blessing when you’re pinched for time in a crowded kitchen full of hungry people.

I was just that during a recent weekend, when four of my five kids (plus two daughters-in-law and two grandkids) came for a weekend visit. Taking everyone out to dinner would have cost the proverbial arm and a leg. And ordering pizza just seemed so … predictable.

But tacos? Kids especially love crunchy handheld foods and the grown-ups appreciated the casual eat what you want, when you want it taco bar I set up on the kitchen counter.

There are probably as many recipes for chicken tinga as there are home cooks, but a few pantry ingredients are essential: tomatoes, white onion and garlic, chipotle peppers in adobo and Mexican oregano, which is a bit more floral than the Italian variety used in pasta sauces.

I also like to add a little cumin to the sauce. Mexican cookbook author Rick Bayless, whose recipe I’ve adapted over the years, also recommends a dash or two of vinegar for extra tang.

This recipe is doubled for a crowd, but can easily be cut in half for smaller gatherings. If you like, you can cook the chicken thighs whole and shred them in the pan with two forks just before serving, or you can start with thin slices or bite sized pieces.

Serve with a salty, crumbly cheese such as queso fresco or feta and lots of chopped cilantro.\

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Chicken Tinga Tacos

Serves 8

Vegetable or olive oil to coat the pan

1 large white onion, sliced a little less than 1/2 inch thick

2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs

5 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped

Two (15-ounce) cans diced fire-roasted tomatoes

One (7-ounce) can chipotle chiles in adobo sauce, or to taste

2 teaspoons Mexican oregano

2 teaspoons cumin

A little additional vinegar, if you think the dish needs it

1 ripe avocado, sliced

1 cup Mexican queso fresco or other fresh cheese like farmers cheese, mild feta or fresh goat cheese

A handful of cilantro leaves for garnish

Chopped red onion, for garnish

24 hard taco shells or soft taco-sized flour tortillas, warmed

Prepare chicken. Set a very large (12-inch) skillet over medium-high heat and drizzle the bottom liberally with oil. When the pan is hot, add onions.

Stir onions until they soften and start to brown, about 4 minutes, then snuggle the chicken in the pan in a single layer on the bottom. Cook until everything is nicely browned, about 5-6 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook a minute or so longer.

In a blender or food processor, blend the tomatoes and their juice to a very coarse puree.

Remove chipotle peppers from sauce and chop into small pieces — start with 3 or 4, you can always add more.

Add puree to the browned chicken in the skillet, along with the chopped chiles, half the adobo sauce from can and oregano and cumin. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until the chicken is tender and the mixture is thick, about 4 minutes.

Taste and add a little more adobo sauce or chopped chiles if it’s not spicy enough. Season with 2 teaspoons of salt and a couple dashes of white or red vinegar, if you would like it a little more tangy. Stir to combine.

When ready to serve, place some chicken tinga in warmed hard taco shells or on warmed soft tortillas. Top with sliced avocado, a sprinkling of fresh cheese, chopped onion and leaves of cilantro.