The Beer Lover’s Table: Chicken Tinga Tacos and Five Points London Smoke

A well-made taco has it all: spice, citrus, salt, sloppiness. Like all the best summertime foods – ice cream cones, burgers – tacos, when enjoyed correctly, dribble their juices all the way down your forearms. They’re best eaten in copious quantities, in the sunshine, and with several beers on the side.

But pay attention to the beer you’ve chosen to go with. I’ve read guides that recommend pairings for “tacos” as a general category, but that makes about as much sense as looking for a beer to go with “pasta". Fried fish tacos are going to require a different beer than porky cochinita pibil or unctuous beef barbacoa.

Tempting as it is to turn The Beer Lover’s Table solely into a taco-pairing column, if I’m picking favourites, my champion taco is chicken tinga. The chicken is slow-cooked until shredded, and served in a fiery, smoky chipotle sauce. Then it’s loaded up with about a gazillion toppings – fresh cheese, coriander, lime, salsa verde, pickled onion – until the tortilla strains to contain it all.

Given that chicken tinga is a flavour bomb of a taco, it needs a beer that can match (and temper) some of its spicy intensity. You’ll want to avoid anything too hoppy or effervescent, as those will sharpen the chilli heat; likewise, anything too demure will be overwhelmed by the taco TKO.

In the end, I went for a bottle of Five Points London Smoke. Though, at 7.8%, it’s quite boozy for a spicy food pairing, it’s all about the mouthfeel with this one – velvety and tongue-coating, this full-bodied beer sweeps away any lingering chilli. And its light smokiness plays wonderfully off the chipotle, which has a kindled flavour of its own. It may not be Mexican lager, but hey – who ever said you couldn’t drink imperial porter in the sunshine?

Chicken Tinga Tacos
Adapted from Serious Eats
Makes 13 tacos (if you’re lucky)

For the filling:
2-3 tbs olive oil
1kg skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs
1 large onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, smashed
1 tsp dried oregano
2 tsp ground cumin
1 390g carton chopped tomatoes in juice
100g chopped chipotle peppers in adobo
20ml chicken broth
2 bay leaves
Sea salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

To serve:
1 13-pack 15-cm soft corn tortillas
2 avocados, sliced (optional)
Feta, crumbled
Quick pickled red onion (see note)
Coriander, roughly chopped
Salsa verde

(Note: to quick-pickle your onion, place half a very thinly sliced red onion in a small bowl and cover with 2-3 tbs red wine vinegar. Let sit for 15-20 minutes before draining off the vinegar.)

Season the chicken thighs with salt and pepper. Heat olive oil over high heat in a large pot or Dutch oven. In two batches, add the thighs, skin-down, and cook for six minutes, or until well-browned. Flip and cook for three minutes more until browned; remove from pot and set aside.

Next, add the onion and garlic to the pot and cook, stirring frequently, until translucent, approximately five minutes. Add oregano and cumin and cook for a minute until fragrant; add the chopped tomatoes and chipotles in adobo and stir until combined. Remove from heat and allow mixture to cool briefly; transfer to a blender and blend until the sauce is smooth and light orange in colour.

Return the blended sauce to the pan and add bay leaves and chicken broth, stirring to combine. Place all the chicken thighs into the pan and squidge them down until they’re as fully immersed as possible in the sauce. Heat on high until the mixture begins to bubble before lowering to a simmer and covering the pot. Cook, for approximately 45 minutes, or until the chicken is very tender and on the verge of shredding, removing the lid and stirring occasionally as you go.

Take the pot off the heat and transfer the chicken thighs to a cutting board, leaving to cool for 10 minutes. Once cool enough to handle, remove the skin and bones and shred the chicken with your hands. Return the shredded chicken to the sauce and stir, cooking over low heat for another 15-20 minutes, or until the mixture has really come together. Season to taste with salt and pepper. To serve, first place your tortillas in a dry frying pan over high heat, and cook for approximately one minute per side. Place a generous dollop of chicken in the middle of each tortilla.

Top with a spoonful of salsa verde, coriander, avocado (if using), crumbled feta, and a good squeeze of lime juice. Proceed to attack.

Claire M. Bullen is a professional food and travel writer, a beerhound and all-around lover of tasty things. When she's not cracking open a cold one, she's probably cooking up roasted lamb with hummus. Or chicken laksa. Or pumpkin bread. You can follow her at @clairembullen. And why not grab the Five Points beer and the chipotle peppers at our online shop?