gabriela cámara's tinga de pollo tacos
This week, Gabriela Cámara released her first cookbook, and the world is a better place for it. Gabriela is the chef of Cala in San Francisco and Contramar in Mexico City. She’s also about to serve as advisor to Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. “I want to be sort of like a Human Rights Watch but for food,” she says.
This recipe of hers is one of my favorites. I first came across it on Panna a few years ago and it immediately became fundamental to my kitchen. Tinga de pollo is a guiso of shredded chicken in a sauce of stewed onions, tomatoes, and chipotles in adobo. It’s deceptively simple to make but tastes like a long, effortful braise. The chicken is poached with a few aromatics, then shredded and added to a stew of lightly caramelized onions and a sauce made from tomatoes, garlic, chipotles, and chicken stock (or poaching liquid) quickly blitzed in a blender. In taco form, with fresh tortillas and sliced avocados or guacamole, it will have you genuinely thinking you could open your own taqueria. Probably don’t do that. But maybe!
Gabriela Cámara's Tinga de Pollo Tacos
The recipe from Panna predates the cookbook version by a couple of years. There are two differences: 1), the cookbook calls for three onions instead of two. Since I’ve made the Panna version several times, I’m sticking with two onions for now, but you do you. And 2) is the poached chicken. I’m using the (simpler) Panna version, and I’m also repurposing the poaching liquid as my stock—it isn’t exactly a stock, but it has a lovely delicate flavor and you can add whatever additional aromatics are on hand to fill it out. It’s logical and easier and just as tasty. A few more of Gabriela’s notes: 1) shred the chicken finely to create a contrast to the slight crunch of the fried onions and 2) leave out the chicken entirely (and use vegetable stock) to make it vegetarian! I like to serve these tacos with guacamole. When I have the time, I also make Gabriela’s homemade corn tortillas. The tinga can be stored in a sealed container for up to 5 days, and it’s actually better after a day or two.
1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breasts or thighs (or combination)
1/2 large white onion
1 clove garlic
4 springs cilantro
1/4 cup safflower or other neutral oil
2 medium white onions, slivered
6 ripe Roma tomatoes, halved, OR 14 ounces canned whole tomatoes—use canned when tomatoes aren’t in season!
4 cloves garlic
2 chipotle peppers (from 1 can of chipotles in adobo)
1 cup reserved poaching liquid from above (or chicken stock)
8 warm corn tortillas
Guacamole or sliced avocados
Fine sea salt
In a large saucepan, add chicken and enough water to cover by 1 inch. Add 2 large pinches of salt, onion, garlic, and cilantro. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook until opaque and cooked through, 20–30 minutes. Remove chicken from poaching liquid. Strain liquid through a fine-mesh sieve, reserving 1 cup. When chicken is cool enough to handle, shred by hand. Meanwhile, make tinga sauce.
MAKE TINGA SAUCE
In a Dutch oven, heat oil over medium-high heat until smoking, 2 minutes. Add the onions (you should hear a sizzle when they hit the pan). Stir until lightly caramelized, 20 minutes. Meanwhile, place tomatoes, peeled garlic cloves, chipotle peppers, and 1 cup reserved poaching liquid (or chicken stock) in a blender. Purée on medium speed until smooth, 30 seconds; then add tomato mixture to the onions. Stir and simmer, 5 minutes.
FINISH AND SERVE
Add shredded chicken to tinga sauce. Taste and adjust salt (more than you think to bring out the flavor of the tomatoes; this is crucial). Simmer another 5 minutes. Taste and adjust.
Divide the chicken evenly among the tortillas, top with guacamole and sea salt, spritz with lime.