[Instant Pot] Saucy Chicken Tinga

bowl of chicken tinga next to plate of chicken tinga tacos with onions, cheese and cilantro

Tinga de pollo!  In Mexican cuisine, this means shredded chicken, braised in a sauce made with chipotle chilies, tomato and onion. It’s savory, spicy, smoky, and deliciously saucy. It makes incredible tacos, and this year I used it as the star filling in one of my family’s favorite festive holiday traditions: our annual Tamale Party, fueled by Instant Pot!

Ingredients: The Flavors Behind Chicken Tinga

Chipotle chilies begin their lives as ripe jalapenos, then are smoked, dried and commonly preserved in a savory tomato-based adobo sauce. They’re very spicy and have a distinctive smoky flavor.

Tomato gives the sauce body and acidity. I’ve called for canned crushed tomatoes, but they can certainly be swapped for chopped fresh tomatoes when in season.

Onions and garlic bring natural sweetness and sharpness.

Oregano, Cumin & Paprika complete the flavor experience!

Chicken Thighs or Breasts?

I’ve written and tested this recipe with chicken thighs, intending to yield a rich filling for my Christmas tamales. If you’re interested in using breast meat instead, it can certainly be substituted. Chicken breast cooks faster than thighs, so I recommend reducing the pressure cook time to only 1 minute for chicken breasts of typical size (~6 ounce raw weight each portion).

Step By Step: How To Cook

Begin by using Instant Pot’s Saute Function to lightly brown your chicken thighs – this will build lots of flavor that you would miss out on if you just dumped them in raw before pressure cooking! Be sure to brown them in batches to avoid crowding the pan. If you pack them too tightly, they will never truly brown. A pound of boneless thighs can generally be split into two batches in a 6-quart Instant Pot.

After browning your chicken, set it aside and add your chopped onion and garlic into the pressure cooker. Saute these until soft, while scraping the botttom of the pan to release all of the tasty brown bits that developed in the last step while the chicken was cooking. In the last couple of minutes before the onion is fully cooked, add the spices (oregano, cumin and paprika) and let them become fragrant.

Next, stir in the broth, tomatoes and chopped chipotle peppers, dripping with a bit of the spicy adobo sauce from their can. Pick your plate of chicken back up, and tuck the pieces down into the sauce. Pour in any juice that has dripped onto the plate, too.

Lock down the lid for pressure cooking (don’t forget to set the pressure valve to sealing position) and set the cooking program to MANUAL mode; keep the pressure setting on HIGH and adjust the cook time to 5 minutes.

When the cook time is up, it’s a good idea to let the pressure cooker sit for at least 10 minutes to naturally release pressure, if you’re not in a hurry. Releasing pressure too quickly can sometimes cause cooked meats to become less tender.

When you open the lid, transfer your cooked chicken pieces to a clean plate, where you will pull them into shreds with two forks. Meanwhile, turn on Instant Pot’s Saute Function to reduce/thicken the sauce. If you feel inclined, at this point you can use an immersion blender to puree the sauce until smooth. I didn’t bother.

After the sauce is thickened to your liking: add the shredded chicken back in, toss to coat, and ENJOY!

Meal Prep Ideas for Instant Pot Chicken Tinga

When you have a bowl of chicken tinga prepped, it’s not hard to get inspired to cook up all kinds of quick, nutritious meals. Use this saucy shredded meat as a filling/topping for tacos, bowls, tostadas, burritos, or any of your other favorite formats of Mexican cuisine.

If you love TAMALES as much as I do, please know that this tinga is fantastic tucked into a pocket of fluffy masa, and that your Instant Pot happens to be a really quick and efficient way to steam them! Learn more in this post: Instant Pot Tamale Party!

Double Decker Dinner with Chicken Tinga!

Double Decker Dinner is my personal favorite Instant Pot recipe theme, all about finding the right combination of foods that pair together as a balanced meal and that can be stacked and cooked at the same time in the same pressure cooker.

Given the 5 minute cook time, chicken tinga would be a good match for pot-in-pot QUINOA. You can use equal parts dry quinoa and water in a stainless steel insert pan, and elevate it over the chicken with a high trivet (I use one of the tiers from my hard-boiled egg rack!). If you want to jazz it up a little, try tossing with fresh lime juice and chopped cilantro after cooking – YUM!

Nutrition Insights

Food for thought, from your friendly neighborhood Registered Dietitian Nutritionist + food science buff!

You can feel good about stuffing your tacos full of this wholesome balance of protein and vegetables! Below I’ve calculated a profile of the macros for two different serving sizes. Other notable micronutrients include viatmin B12, selenium & iron.

Serving SizeCaloriesCarbsProteinFat
1/6 Batch1909 grams23 grams7 grams
1/4 Batch29013 grams36 grams11 grams

Budget Analysis

For what it’s worth… here’s what it cost me!

  • 1 pound organic boneless chicken thighs, on sale: $4.19
  • 1 can organic crushed tomatoes: $1.65
  • 1 can chipotle peppers: $0.97 / 4 = $0.24
  • 1 cup broth: homemade/free!
  • 1 large organic onion: $1.49/lb / 150 grams = $0.49
  • 1 head garlic: $0.25 / 4 = $0.06
  • spices: negligible

Yield: 6 servings

Cost per serving: $1.11!

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bowl of chicken tinga next to plate of chicken tinga tacos with onions, cheese and cilantro

[Instant Pot] Saucy Chicken Tinga

Chipotle chilies provide a unique smoky flavor, and are very spicy. I have cooked this with one medium chipotle, and it was mild enough for my one-year-old baby to enjoy. Two chipotles would be a more grown-up flavor, and three would really fire it up! Chicken breast can be substituted for the thighs, but they cook more quickly; for typical sized chicken breasts (~6 oz raw weight), reduce cook time to 1 minute.
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Time for Pressure to Build and Release 20 minutes
Total Time 50 minutes
Course Main Course
Cuisine Mexican
Servings 6 Servings
Calories 190 kcal


  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 1 pound boneless skinless chicken thighs
  • 1 large yellow onion finely chopped
  • 3 medium cloves garlic minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • one 15 ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • 1-3 chopped chipotle peppers canned in adobo sauce


  • Using the saute function, heat the oil in the pressure cooker. When the oil is hot, add chicken thighs (don’t pack all of them into the pot at once; cook in batches to avoid crowding). Cook the chicken pieces for 3-5 minutes on both sides until lightly browned. Transfer the chicken to a plate and set aside.
  • Add the onion and garlic, and saute until soft. Add the spices and cook for another 2 minutes until fragrant, then stir in the broth, tomatoes and chopped chipotle peppers. Tuck the chicken thighs back into the sauce, pouring in any liquid that settled on the plate.
  • Close the lid, with the valve set to sealing position. Cook on high pressure for 5 minutes. When the cooking time is complete, let the pressure release naturally for 10 minutes, then carefully open the valve to manually release any remaining pressure.
  • Open the lid and transfer the cooked chicken onto a clean plate. Turn on the saute function to reduce/thicken the sauce; stir frequently to avoid burning the bottom. Meanwhile, use two forks to pull the cooked chicken into shreds. When the sauce is thickened, add the shredded chicken back into the pot and toss to coat.
Keyword chicken breast, chicken thighs, tacos
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