Chicken tinga is a dish that originated in the city of Puebla, Mexico. “Tinga,” meaning stew made up of tomatoes, onion, garlic and smoky chipotle, with oregano, bay leaf and thyme as well as a sweet touch from the piloncillo sugar if you’re able to find it. I learned how to make this from a chef who taught me when I was learning Spanish. The recipe and directions were all in Spanish and so for me, this dish means a lot. It was my entry into being a cook, ser cocinera, and my entry into the Spanish language. To this day, every time I’m shredding chicken with a fork I think “desmenuzar.” Great word.
I went back to this recipe because the polar vortex is gripping New York and I find myself reaching for comfort foods and hot toddies. Hiding in my apartment from the bitter cold, I realized, just isn’t me. Stick a finger in the frozen winds and you’ll always feel an icy new gust of dread blowing, but change your perspective and the unabashed romantic comes out. Rather than becoming the stereotypical lady twisting her hankie and succumbing to the vapors from being cooped up, I decided to get out of the city and embrace the frozen tundra of upstate New York, my roots. I’ve always been into ice hockey, skiing, skating and anything that really requires a challenge. I called up my brother to see what kind of trouble we could get into. This time we were eyeing ice fishing! Apparently you need a license for that so while his neighbors set up their tent on the frozen lake, we just cruised down the road and found a ski slope, some local bars and sat by his wood burning stove playing UNO, eating and drinking and breathing in the fresh frozen air as the snow fell. The time outside of the city reminded me to celebrate life’s accidental nature, its capacity for mystery and coming up with chances for renewal.
- 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds chicken breasts with skin and bones
- 5 cups water
- 1 large white onion, finely chopped and divided
- 2 large garlic cloves; 1 whole, 1 finely chopped
- 1 bay leaf
- Salt to taste
- 1 pound plum tomatoes (about 4)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 tablespoon achiote (annato seed) -if you can find it. I promise it adds so much.
- 1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon cane sugar
- 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped chipotle in adobo, including some sauce
- 24 (5- to 6-inch) soft corn tortillas
- 1/4 cup crumbled cotija or mild goat cheese
- 24 small sprigs cilantro
Combine chicken with water, half of onion, whole garlic clove, bay leaf, and 1 teaspoon salt in a medium (3- to 4- quart) saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and cook at a bare simmer for 10 minutes. Cover and let sit until chicken is just cooked through, about 15 minutes. Transfer chicken to a bowl. Strain and reserve 1 cup of broth for tinga and save remaining broth for Colombian ajiaco
(post to come).
Use two forks and desmenuza! (shred) the chicken. At this point it should come apart easily. Discard skin and/or bones.
Cut an X in the bottom of each tomato. Blanch in a saucepan of boiling water for 1 minute. Transfer tomatoes to a bowl of ice water. Peel and core, then finely chop.
Cook remaining chopped onion with 1/4 teaspoon salt in oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic and crumble in oregano, then cook, stirring, until fragrant, 1 minute. Add tomato and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened but still saucy, 10 to 15 minutes.
Add chicken, 3/4 cup of reserved cooking liquid, the white wine vinegar, sugar and chipotle to the tomato sauce and simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened and excess liquid is almost completely evaporated, 10 to 15 minutes. Moisten with additional cooking liquid if mixture looks dry.
Meanwhile, using cookie cutter or the open part of a cup, cut out a circle from each tortilla, stacking 12 in each of two folded sheets of foil (reserve remaining tortilla scraps for chilaquiles-post to come!). Wrap each stack in foil and warm through in oven, 5 to 10 minutes.
To serve, arrange warm tortillas on a heated platter and divide chicken mixture among them (about 1 rounded tablespoon per tortilla), spooning it onto center of each tortilla. Sprinkle with cheese and top each taco with a cilantro sprig. Serve with whatever fixings you like, radishes, lime, avocado, etc.