Instant Pot or Slow Cooker Chicken Tinga (Mexican Shredded Chicken)

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Pamela Salzman shares her Instant Pot or Slow Cooker Chicken Tinga recipe and discusses some of the pros and cons of the Instant Pot.
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The following is a guest post by Pamela Salzman, a natural foods cooking instructor, holistic health counselor, and writer behind the food blog of her own name, She is the author of Kitchen Matters: More than 100 Recipes and Tips that Will Transform the Way You Cook and Eat and is the Culinary Nutritionist for Clean Eating Magazine. She lives in Manhattan Beach, California with her husband and three children.

There is no more popular night in my house than taco night. I don’t know if it’s the fun in building your own taco, the variety of possible topping options, the tastiness of all the different textures and flavors, or all of the above. For a busy working mom like me, I also give tacos two thumbs up for generally being a pretty easy and healthful meal.

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What is Chicken Tinga?

A new favorite taco dinner with my family, and, more recently my cooking class students, is Chicken Tinga. It’s a classic Mexican dish with shredded chicken (or pork) in a spicy, smoky, tomato-y sauce.

Tinga is super flavorful and the heat can definitely be adjusted to your preferences. In my classes this spring, I served the tinga with the options of putting it on top of pinto bean tostadas or traditional taco style with corn tortillas and toppings. But at home, we’ve also enjoyed the saucy chicken in a bowl over rice with grilled veggies and lots of guacamole. So good!

There are always variations with any recipe and Chicken Tinga is no exception. I had a Mexican friend help me create this version and the only ingredient that I used outside of the traditional recipe is dried chipotle peppers instead of using canned chipotles in adobo, which is a ketchup-y, vinegary sauce. A chipotle pepper is actually a dried, smoked, ripened (red) jalapeño. Where I live in Los Angeles, it is really easy to find bags of dried chili peppers in any supermarket, as well as cans of the chipotles in adobo.

I really try to stay away from acidic foods in aluminum cans though since aluminum can leach into the food—hence my choice to use dried chipotles. I bet you could even wing it with a little ground chipotle powder if you couldn’t find the whole version.

Chicken Tinga sauce cooking in Instant Pot

My Thoughts on the Instant Pot

Although I am not an avid Instant Pot user, my students are constantly asking me to show them great recipes that work well in an Instant Pot, specifically for cooking with pressure. Chicken Tinga was a perfect recipe to demonstrate how to use the Instant Pot and highlight some of the useful features as well as be honest about some of the misleading ideas about using a pressure cooker.

I will be the first to admit that the Instant Pot has not changed my life, and I am not here to make anyone feel as though she/he “needs” this appliance. If you are in the market for a slow cooker, then the Instant Pot (or similar multi cookers) is probably the way to go since it is both a slow cooker and a pressure cooker (and a rice cooker, etc.).

For someone who has no time in the morning to put ingredients in a slow cooker, and returns home late and needs dinner on the table quickly, an Instant Pot could be useful. I tend to use it mostly for cooking beans, bean and lentil soups, and bone broth.

Instant Pot or Slow Cooker Chicken Tinga (Mexican Shredded Chicken)

How Instant is it?

Although the manual is a great way to learn how to use the machine and offers a helpful chart about how long to cook different foods, what many people don’t realize is that when using a pressure cooker, it takes the machine a decent amount of time to actually achieve pressure before it starts cooking anything.  The more food or liquid in the machine, the longer it takes to come to pressure.

So when a recipe boasts that you can make dinner in 9 minutes, that usually doesn’t take into account the time it takes the machine to achieve pressure.  In my classes, I doubled this recipe (using 5 pounds of chicken) and it took the Instant Pot 20 minutes to achieve pressure + 12 minutes to cook (I often add a little extra time when doubling a recipe) + 2 minutes to release pressure.  

So it’s still a great, quick, hands-off way to cook, but it’s not exactly as “instant” as it may appear.  In fact, the best way to utilize the pressure cooker is with recipes that take a long time on the stove/oven, not with recipes that are already pretty fast.

I thought this would be a great recipe to share for summer since it’s great for entertaining and an Instant Pot doesn’t heat up your kitchen the way an oven does.  You can even keep food warm in it which makes it really nice for serving food to a crowd buffet-style. For those of you who are not Instant Pot fans, fear not. I have included instructions on how to make this in a slow cooker or the oven!

This Instant Pot Pork Roast is another family favorite!

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  1. Can chili powder or other spice(s) be subbed for dried chipolte peppers? I’d love to make this tonight with what I have on hand. Thanks

    1. I would make the sauce and cook that through and then add the shredded rotisserie chicken to the simmered, reduced sauce and heat through. I’m sure it will be great!