Salsa Verde Chicken (Instant Pot or Slow Cooker)

By Ann Fulton

Quick to prep and brimming with flavor, this endlessly versatile chicken can be served over rice, in tacos, or enchiladas and can be customized with a variety of toppings. This is on my list of easy meals that defy expectations—and we can never have too many of those! 
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Quick to prep and brimming with flavor, this endlessly versatile chicken can be served over rice, in tacos or enchiladas, and can be customized with a variety of toppings. This is on my list of easy meals that defy expectations—and we can never have too many of those! 

 

Looks can be deceiving. Case in point: The tender, flavorful appeal of this chicken served straight out of the slow cooker or pressure cooker will 100% compensate for any shortcomings in the beauty department.

And while you may absolutely enjoy the chicken in an unadorned state, the versatile meat will add filling protein and exceptional flavor to a variety of bowl meals, tacos, tostadas, salads, and enchiladas.

What’s more, those iterations can be rather appealing to the eye, as a bevy of toppings, from sliced avocado and chopped tomatoes to crisp slaw and picked red onions will add colorful appeal to the simply shredded chicken. 

The pictured bowls are a family favorite, and while you can prepare all the components on the same day, there’s ample opportunity for advance prep and incorporating leftovers. 

Quick to prep and brimming with flavor, this endlessly versatile chicken can be served over rice, in tacos or enchiladas, and can be customized with a variety of toppings. This is on my list of easy meals that defy expectations—and we can never have too many of those! 

Bowl meals are an excellent way to make use of leftover rice, for example, and pickled onions will keep for weeks in the refrigerator. We love to add a crisp slaw to the mix, and I often mix up the easy dressing in advance. (Cumin Lime Slaw is my family’s favorite to pile on everything from burgers and tacos to Pulled Pork Sandwiches and Rachel sandwiches. If you haven’t tried, I highly recommend. Here’s a mayo-free variation for those who prefer.)

A few slices of avocado and a crumble of tortilla chips add zip to the bowl, but truly there are countless ways to make this meal your own. 

Beyond bowls, you can use the chicken in your favorite enchilada recipe or on a crispy tostada. Or pile it on a green- or grain-based salad for a filling protein component. And perhaps a Tex-Mex pizza or a spin on the traditional pulled pork sandwich. 

When a more straightforward approach is what you have in mind, the simple mixture of jarred salsa verde (available next to the traditional red salsas) and a short list of spices infuse the chicken with enough flavor and tenderness that it will truly deliver as a stand-alone protein on your dinner plate. If desired, the flavorful juices can be used as a sauce for rice or a grain of choice. 

Below, I’ve included a list of ingredients and recipes that may provide mix-and-match inspiration when looking to assemble meals with salsa verde chicken as a base. And because the recipe can be prepared in a slow cooker or Instant Pot, it is equally well suited to lazy Sunday afternoons and busy weekdays. 

 

 

Which salsa verde should I use?

If you’re feeling industrious, you could make your own Salsa Verde. However, excellent store-bought alternatives do exist. Look for them near the red salsas. My favorite is Xochitl (the label says “asada verde.” which is Spanish for salsa verde.) It’s a 15-ounce jar, and even though the recipe mentions a 16-ounce jar, the slightly lesser amount works just fine. This brand is also widely available. 

If you shop at Trader Joe’s, their store brand salsa verde is excellent. It comes in a 12-ounce jar; so in that case, I add a 4-ounce can of green chilies instead of opening a second jar. (This option is mentioned in the recipe card.)

If neither are available, Frontera is another popular option. Optionally, for those who like spicy, Mrs. Renfro’s sells a great hot green salsa.  

 

What ingredients pair well with Salsa Verde Chicken:

  • black beans
  • corn
  • bell peppers
  • tomatoes
  • leaf lettuce, baby spinach, and heartier greens like kale
  • rice or quinoa 
  • avocado
  • onions
  • cilantro
  • tortillas and tortilla chips
  • cheeses like cheddar, Mexican blends, cotija, and queso fresco
  • crusty bread for soaking up the flavorful juices 

Which recipes complement Salsa Verde Chicken?

A few words on leftovers: 

The sauce is all about simplicity and flavor. It won’t be especially thick, but served over rice, the cooked grains act like a sponge for the flavorful juices. If you have leftovers, spoon some of the sauce over the rice and give it a stir before refrigerating. The leftover rice will taste heavenly. 

Similarly, store any leftover chicken in the juices as well. The cooked chicken will continue to absorb moisture and flavor–think of it as cleverly marinating the meat after it cooks. 

Stored in an airtight container or covered dish in the refrigerator, the leftover salsa verde chicken will keep for at least five days. I haven’t frozen it, but I am 99.9% certain it would freeze well. Again, freeze in the juices for best retention of flavor and tenderness. 

Quick to prep and brimming with flavor, this endlessly versatile chicken can be served over rice, in tacos or enchiladas, and can be customized with a variety of toppings. This is on my list of easy meals that defy expectations—and we can never have too many of those! 

The salsa verde mixture takes about 2 minutes to add to the slow cooker or Instant Pot. Then the chicken is added and flipped to coat. Helpful tip: I like to cut the chicken breasts crosswise into two or three pieces. Not only will the chicken cook faster, but it will be easier to shred later.

Quick to prep and brimming with flavor, this endlessly versatile chicken can be served over rice, in tacos or enchiladas, and can be customized with a variety of toppings. This is on my list of easy meals that defy expectations—and we can never have too many of those! 

Two forks makes quick work of shredding the chicken. I do it on a dinner plate for easy transfer back into the sauce–and easy cleanup too. You can shred the chicken by hand if preferred.

Quick to prep and brimming with flavor, this endlessly versatile chicken can be served over rice, in tacos or enchiladas, and can be customized with a variety of toppings. This is on my list of easy meals that defy expectations—and we can never have too many of those! 

You may use the chicken as soon as it’s shredded, but if you return it to the sauce in the slow cooker or Instant Pot, the shredded pieces will continue to absorb the sauce. The result is exceptional flavor and tenderness. Alternatively, to prevent drippiness when serving in tacos, you may use the chicken right away and simply drizzle with a bit of the sauce. Or if you’ve returned the chicken to the sauce, use a slotted spoon to strain out excess liquid when serving in a handheld taco or tortilla.

Quick to prep and brimming with flavor, this endlessly versatile chicken can be served over rice, in tacos or enchiladas, and can be customized with a variety of toppings. This is on my list of easy meals that defy expectations—and we can never have too many of those!    

Five minutes of easy prep and hands-off cooking reward you with tender, flavor-infused chicken that can be enjoyed in a multitude of ways. Perfect for those who subscribe to the “cook once, eat twice” mantra. 

Salsa Verde Chicken (Instant Pot or Slow Cooker)
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: ~3 hours
Total Time: 3 hours and 5 minutes
Yield: 4-6 servings
After a speedy prep, one of two hands-off cooking methods infuses flavor and fork tender appeal in boneless chicken. The versatile meat can then be enjoyed over rice, in tacos, enchiladas, or on a salad and can be customized with a variety of toppings.
Ingredients
  • 1½ to 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs
  • 1 (16-ounce) jar salsa verde (or a 12-ounce jar salsa verde plus one 4-ounce can chopped green chiles—I use mild; choose according to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon each garlic powder and onion powder
  •  For serving: lime wedges for squeezing; cooked rice; warmed flour or corn tortillas or tostadas; cheddar, cotija, or Mexican blend cheese; diced avocado; sliced scallions; chopped cilantro; crumbled tortilla chips; pepitas; Cumin Lime Slaw (or this mayo-free variation); Pickled Onions
Instructions

To cook in a pressure cooker: In the bottom of a 6- to 8-quart electric pressure cooker, stir together the salsa verde, canned chiles if using, cumin, garlic powder, and onion powder. Add the chicken in an even layer, flipping the pieces once or twice to coat with the salsa mixture. (Tip: Skip the salt for now, as the salt content varies from one jarred salsa to another, and you may or may not need it later.) Close the lid and turn the pressure knob to sealed.

Cook on high pressure for 8 minutes. If cooking chicken breasts, use the quick release. For chicken thighs, allow to naturally release for 10 minutes, and then release the remaining pressure manually. Open the lid and remove the chicken to a plate or bowl. Allow to cool for a few minutes, and then shred with two forks.

If you’d like to reduce the sauce (it’s fairly thin), turn on the simmer function and let the sauce simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, to thicken. (I tend to skip this step.) Stir the shredded chicken back into the sauce into the pot. Or you could add the desired amount of sauce to the chicken in a bowl. Taste and season with salt, if needed, and a squeeze of lime juice, if desired. Serve in bowls or in tortillas with toppings of choice.

To cook in a slow cooker: In the bottom of a 6-quart slow cooker, stir together the salsa verde, canned chiles if using, cumin, garlic powder, and onion powder. Add the chicken in an even layer, flipping the pieces once or twice to coat with the salsa mixture. (Tip: Skip salt for now, as the salt content varies from one jarred salsa to another, and you may or may not need it later.)

Cook on low until the chicken is tender and can easily be shredded with two forks, 3 to 5 hours. (Helpful hint: If you know your cooker cooks fast–or you think chicken breasts cooked in the slow cooker tend to be dry–check after 2 hours. Some cookers, especially larger models that are filled less than halfway, do their work far quicker than many recipes stipulate.) Remove the chicken to a bowl, allow to cool for a few minutes, and then use two forks to coarsely shred. If you’d like to reduce the sauce (it will be a thin sauce), turn the cooker to high (or simmer mode if you have it), and cook with the lid off to reduce to your liking. Stir the shredded chicken back into the sauce or ladle the desired amount of sauce into the shredded chicken in a bowl. Season with with salt, if needed, and a squeeze of lime juice, if desired. Serve in bowls or in tortillas with toppings of choice.

Notes

Spicy or not spicy? Heat level will vary based on salsa used. My favorites are Xochitl (widely available) and Trader Joe’s salsa verde (which comes in the smaller, 12-ounce jar. Both are fairly mild. Those who enjoy a spicy kick could add a jalapeño, cayenne pepper, or serve with hot sauce.

To add protein and fiber or stretch the meal: You could stir in a 14.5-ounce can of rinsed and drained black beans and/or a cup or two of corn (frozen is fine) at the end and warm through.

Helpful hint: For easier shredding and no long, stringy pieces, I like to cut the chicken horizontally in half or thirds before adding to the cooker.

Taco tip: To ward off drips in handheld items like tacos, I use a slotted spoon to strain off the juices.

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Quick to prep and brimming with flavor, this endlessly versatile chicken can be served over rice, in tacos or enchiladas, and can be customized with a variety of toppings. This is on my list of easy meals that defy expectations—and we can never have too many of those! 

Some plates of food are thrown together hastily and photographed in poor lighting, but my recent bowl of leftovers shows that it doesn’t have to be perfect to really satisfy. Here, I also added a scoop of leftover homemade refried beans. 

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