Easy and tasty, great for tacos, burritos, and enchiladas
Yearning for some spicy Mexican, but don’t want to heat up the kitchen during those long summer months? Just plug in the slow cooker – it’s a cool way to make hot Mexican dishes.
This recipe for shredded chicken is easy, tasty, and versatile. You might call it Mexcellent.
Recipe: Slow-Cooker Mexican Shredded Chicken
You can make Mexican shredded chicken on the stovetop or in the oven if you wish (we describe how in the Notes). But we think the slow-cooker method is easier and more flavorful. And during hot summer months, it’s the only method we want to use.
This recipe is simple, but it requires some lead time. The day before we want to cook the chicken, we start by preparing a Mexican-style spice rub. We coat the chicken pieces with that, then let them rest in the fridge overnight.
Prep time for this dish is about 20 minutes. Cooking time is 5 to 6 hours, almost totally unattended.
Leftovers keep for a few days if refrigerated in an airtight container. Or you can freeze them for a month or longer.
You can scarf down this dish as-is, of course. But we generally use Mexican shredded chicken to prepare tacos, enchiladas, burritos, or other Mexican-style dishes.
For the spice rub:
- 2 tablespoons ancho chile powder (can substitute a spicier chile powder if you wish; see Notes)
- 1 tablespoon ground cumin
- 1 tablespoon ground coriander
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- ~2 pounds boneless and skinless chicken thighs and/or breasts (see Notes)
- ~½ the batch of spice rub (or to taste)
- 1 medium onion
- 4 garlic cloves
- 1 to 2 jalapeño peppers (to taste; optional)
- 2 to 3 tablespoons chipotle chile purée (to taste, and optional; we suggest using a 7-ounce can of chipotles to make the purée, then storing the leftover purée for later use; see Notes)
- 1 tablespoon cooking oil
- salt to taste (about 1 teaspoon kosher salt for us; see Notes)
- 1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes
- Make the spice rub: Combine the ancho chile powder, cumin, coriander, and oregano in a small mixing bowl. (You will probably end up with more spice rub than you need for this recipe; reserve the rest for another use.)
- Coat each piece of chicken thoroughly with the spice rub. Place the chicken pieces in a sealed freezer bag, then refrigerate them overnight.
- When you’re ready to cook the chicken: Place a slow cooker on the kitchen counter (it will need to operate for several hours, so place it in a position that’s out of the way).
- Peel the onion and cut it into dice of about ½ inch. Set aside.
- Peel the garlic and mince it finely or slice thinly. Set aside.
- Wash and stem the jalapeño pepper(s), if using. Cut the jalapeño in half lengthwise, then use a spoon to remove the seeds and white membrane. Dice the jalapeño finely. Set aside. Then wash your hands to remove the hot jalapeño oil from your skin.
- If using the chipotle chile purée: Pour a 7-ounce can of chipotle chilies (including their accompanying sauce) into a mini food processor. Pulse the chipotles until they’re puréed. Set aside 2 to 3 tablespoons of the purée (then refrigerate the remainder in an airtight container for later use).
- Set a frying pan over medium stovetop heat. When hot, add the cooking oil. When the oil is heated (it’ll shimmer; about 15 seconds), add the chopped onion, garlic, and jalapeño, plus the 2 to 3 tablespoons of chipotle purée. Season to taste with salt (about 1 teaspoon kosher salt for us). Sauté for about 5 minutes, until the onion is starting to become translucent. Add the diced tomatoes, then cook for another 5 minutes.
- Scrape the contents of the frying pan into the slow cooker. Remove the chicken pieces from the refrigerator and add them to the slow cooker. Turn the cooker to the low setting, then cook for 5 to 6 hours (until the chicken is tender enough for your taste).
- Remove the chicken pieces from the slow cooker and place them on a sheet pan or a large plate. Let the chicken cool for about 10 minutes, then shred it with 2 forks.
- Use the liquid that’s left in the slow cooker: Skim off as much fat as you can from the liquid, then use as much as you wish to moisten the chicken (making sure to mix in some of the diced onions and tomatoes). We recommend using at least a cup of liquid, but use more if you prefer a saucy chicken.
- Use the cooked, shredded chicken in tacos, enchiladas, or other Mexican dishes of your choice.
- We like to use chicken thighs for this dish – they have more flavor. But chicken breasts work too.
- We sometimes prepare this shredded chicken ahead of time. In that case, we place the shredded chicken in a food-storage bowl, cover it with cooking liquid (from Step 11), then seal the bowl and refrigerate it until ready to use.
- If you’re in a hurry and don’t want to let the rubbed chicken pieces sit in the refrigerator overnight, you could add about 3 tablespoons of spice rub to the onion mixture as you’re cooking (Step 8). The chicken won’t be as flavorful, but it’ll still be pretty good.
- We like to use ancho chile powder in the rub because it has good flavor and color, and isn’t overly hot. But you can substitute a spicier chile powder if you wish. Chipotle chile powder has much more heat and lots of flavor.
- Don’t want to bother with preparing the spice rub? You could substitute prepared chili powder. (Just a reminder: Chili – with an i – powder is made from powdered chilies mixed with other spices like cumin, coriander, oregano, and salt. Lots of salt.) If you go this route, we suggest using about 3 tablespoons of chili powder.
- Speaking of salt, we use kosher salt for cooking. It’s less salty by volume than regular table salt (the crystals are larger and more irregular, so they pack a measure less tightly). If using regular table salt, start with about half as much as we suggest. But always salt to your taste, not ours.
- BTW we suggest using about 1 teaspoon of kosher salt in Step 8. That’s about twice the amount we usually recommend for sautéing onions. Why use more in this dish? Because we didn’t add salt to the spice rub, so you’ll need a bit more since you’ll be seasoning both the onions and the chicken pieces.
- In the US, canned chipotle chilies tend to be sold in 7-ounce containers (most grocery stores carry them in their Mexican food sections). The canned chilies are packed in adobo sauce, which has a tasty vinegar base.
- Don’t want to use a slow cooker? You can make this dish on the stovetop, or start it on the stovetop and finish it in the oven. If going this route: Sauté the onion mixture (Step 8) in a Dutch oven that’s large enough to hold all the ingredients. Add the chicken pieces and 1 to 2 cups of water, then simmer on top of a stove (or in a 300 degree F oven) for 1½ to 2 hours, until the chicken is tender (you’ll need to check from time to time to make sure the liquid in the cooking pot doesn’t fully evaporate).
- We like to use this Mexican shredded chicken for tacos (and that’s what we used this batch for – see pictures). We prefer to make Soft Tacos, but you could make Hard-Shell Tacos if you prefer. We like to add both jalapeño and chopped sweet bell peppers to our tacos, as well as cilantro and chopped tomatoes. Grated cheese would be nice, too, and maybe some chopped onions.
- This shredded chicken also works well in any kind of Mexican dish where you’d use beef or pork, such as Enchiladas or Taco Salad. It would be great in burritos, nachos, or tortilla soup too (we owe you recipes for those last three.)
Taco Walk on the Wild Side
“Yum, glad you didn’t chicken out on the spices,” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs. “Love me some Mexican heat.”
“Watch me exercise my biceps,” I said, hoisting a taco.
“Whoa, macho man,” said Mrs K R. “I can see you’re really into fitness.”
“Yeah, I’m fitness whole taco into my mouth,” I said.
“Careful, that chicken may come home to roost on your midsection,” said Mrs K R. “You could run afowl of the bathroom scale.”
True. But I don’t want to taco ‘bout it.
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Homemade Corn Tortillas
Mexican Charro Beans
Salsa and Picante Sauce
Mexican-Style Pork Carnitas
Carnitas in Adobo Sauce
Shrimp in Chipotle Sauce
Or check out the index for more