This chicken guajillo is slow-cooked in a rich sauce made from guajillo peppers, tomatoes, and spices, the chicken has a meltingly tender texture and a deep, smoky flavor without too much heat.
Chicken guajillo is a classic Mexican dish that is traditionally made with guajillo chiles, tomatoes, and chicken simmered with spices like epazote, oregano, and black peppercorns. This hearty stew is packed with flavor without being overly spicy—the perfect balance for those who prefer milder heat and flavors.
With their deep smoky and earthy flavor, guajillo chiles are a staple in Mexican cuisine. Ranging between 2,500 and 5,000 units on the Scoville Heat Scale (less spicy than jalapeños), these dried peppers are not particularly spicy yet are still full of smoky and fruity flavors.
The combination of tomatoes and guajillo chiles gives this dish its signature red hue, making it as beautiful to look at as it is delicious to eat.
This dish is known in Mexico under the name of pollo en chile guajillo.
- Comfort in a bowl: This guajillo chicken stew is the ultimate comfort food. The slow-cooked chicken in its rich tomato and guajillo sauce is sure to warm your heart and soul on a chilly night.
- Versatile: Adjust the heat level of this stew by using more or fewer chili peppers. You can even add chile de árbol for more spiciness.
- Budget-friendly: It is a great way to stretch your budget since it uses inexpensive ingredients and can feed many people. Plus, the leftovers are even better the next day.
- Quick and easy: Pollo en chile guajillo can be made in about an hour (under 30 minutes with an Instant Pot), so you don’t have to spend all day in the kitchen.
- Chicken: Many recipes call for bone-in chicken pieces, which bring more flavor and depth to the sauce. Boneless chicken thighs or breasts work just as well if that’s what you have on hand.
- Guajillo chiles: One of the most widely available dried chiles, guajillos are mild, smoky, and fruity with a slight sweetness. Look for them in Mexican markets or online, or substitute them with dried Anaheim or Hatch chili peppers, or even ancho chile powder (made from dried poblano peppers).
- Tomatoes: Fresh, ripe tomatoes will bring a bright, acidic, and slightly sweet flavor to this stew, but canned diced tomatoes will work too.
- Onion: For a sweeter flavor, use white onions; for a more pungent taste, try yellow onions. I used white onions for this recipe.
- Garlic: Don’t forget to use fresh garlic, but you can also opt for jarred garlic if you’re in a pinch.
- Seasonings: Oregano, bay leaves, cinnamon, and black peppercorns lend a deep complexity to the stew’s flavor. You can also add a pinch of cayenne or chipotle powder for an extra kick.
- Orange and lime juice: The combination of these citrus fruit juices adds brightness and balance to the stew. You can substitute with similar citrus fruits local to you or just use one type of juice if you don’t have both on hand.
How To Make Chicken Guajillo
Clean the guajillo chilies removing first the stem, then cutting them in half and discarding seeds and membranes.
Place them in a medium bowl and cover them with hot water. Leave them to soak for 10 minutes.
Expert’s note: Soaking the guajillo chilies makes them softer and easier to blend into the sauce.
After the chilies are nicely soft, drain them and add them to a blender along with tomatoes, onion, garlic, oregano, peppercorns, cumin, and cinnamon.
Add 1 cup of water, fresh orange juice, lime juice, and salt. Blend at high speed until you’ll have a smooth sauce. Taste and adjust salt if needed.
Place a strainer over the pot or pan you will use to cook the chicken guajillo and add the sauce. Pour about 1 cup of water and mix well.
Add the chicken pieces and make sure they’re slightly covered by the sauce, so if needed, add a little bit more water.
Bring to a simmer and cook for 40 minutes adding more water if needed. In the end, the chicken should be cooked through and the sauce should have thickened a bit.
- If you want to use boneless chicken make sure to adjust cooking times accordingly. Breasts also cook faster and need less liquid, so add less sauce.
- As you can see, this chicken guajillo recipe doesn’t include oil at all, so that’s why I recommend using skin-on drumsticks, to add some flavor.
- If you see the sauce hasn’t thickened at all but the chicken is done. Remove the chicken pieces and keep cooking the sauce with the pan uncovered until it thickens to your desired consistency.
How To Serve
Guajillo chicken is usually served as part of a larger meal. Most commonly savored as a stew, it can be enjoyed as a main course with these side dishes:
You can also shred the chicken and make other dishes like:
How To Store and Reheat
Pollo en guajillo can be cooked ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator and reheated when needed. Store in an airtight container and it will keep in the fridge for up to 4 days, so it’s a great option if you want to have leftovers on hand.
This is also an amazing prep meal for busy days. Once cooled down, transfer to resealable bags or freezer containers and freeze for up to 3 months.
To reheat, simply transfer the desired amount of chicken guajillo into a small pot, warm over medium heat, and stir occasionally until heated through. You can add a splash of water or chicken stock if the stew becomes too thick.
More Chicken Recipes
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- 8 small chicken legs (or 4 large chicken thighs)
- 6 medium guajillo dried peppers
- 2 medium tomatoes (cut into chunks)
- 1 small onion (cut into chunks)
- 2 garlic cloves (peeled)
- 1 ½ tsp dried oregano
- ½ tsp black peppercorns
- ½ small stick cinnamon (or ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon)
- 1 orange (juice)
- 1 lime (juice)
- 2 bay leaves
- Clean the guajillo peppers removing first the stem, then cutting them in half and discarding seeds and membranes.
- Place them in a medium bowl and cover them with hot water. Allow soaking for 10 minutes.
- After chilies are nicely soft, drain them and add them to a blender along with tomatoes, onion, garlic, oregano, peppercorns, and cinnamon.
- Add 1 cup of water, orange juice, lime juice, and salt. Blend at high speed until you’ll have a smooth sauce. Taste and adjust salt if needed.
- Place a strainer over the pan you will use to cook the pollo guajillo and strain the sauce.
- Add about 1 cup of water and mix well, then add the chicken legs and make sure they're slightly covered by the sauce.
- Bring to a simmer and cover the pan.
- Cook for 40 minutes, checking from time to time making sure the chicken is always slightly covered with the sauce.
- Once chicken is cooked through and the sauce has ben thickened a bit, adjust seasonings and turn off the heat.
- Serve over steamed rice, Mexican rice, noodles, or with warm tortillas.
- You can use boneless chicken to make this stew, so make sure to adjust cooking times accordingly. Breasts also cook faster and need less liquid, so add less sauce and use leftovers to make other dishes or freeze it for up to 3 months.
- This is an amazing meal prep recipe, it stores for 3-4 days in the refrigerator or up to 3 months in the freezer.
- You can use leftovers to make chicken tacos or quesadillas.