How to make perfect copycat Chipotle chicken burrito

Chipotle has a bit of a cult following, and it's that spice they put on their proteins that keeps people craving it. Chicken is one of their most popular dishes, and to create your own Chipotle chicken at home is rather simple, providing you get the right ingredients in place. Once you have the chicken down, it's no problem to create your own copycat Chipotle burrito at home — meaning you never have to stand in that long line ever again.

Gather your ingredients

Here's what you need to make your own perfect Chipotle chicken: chicken thighs, rice bran oil (or olive oil), cumin, garlic, salt, pepper, oregano, distilled vinegar, and chipotle chili. You're going to need plenty of other ingredients to build the full burrito, but let's get to the chicken first. You'll get the full list of ingredients and step-by-step instructions at the end of this article.

The chicken

Chipotle uses dark meat chicken. That means thighs are the chicken of choice for the dish. There's a school of thought that says dark meat is more flavorful — it is slightly more gamey, but you probably won't taste that in chicken. I buy it skin-on because it's cheaper and then remove the skin, but you can buy skinless if you'd rather not bother.

Steeping the chilis

If you've never steeped a chili before, it's not nearly as difficult as is sounds. All you need to do is boil some water, then pour it over the chilies and let them sit for 15-20 minutes — in no time you'll have a re-hydrated chili pepper. For this recipe we're going to do it slightly different, but the basic idea is still the same. The question is, do you really want to steep? I used both steeped and non-steeped chilies. After doing a little taste test, it seems the marinade for their chicken has a little adobo sauce — which is basically an ancho chili based spice that carries your canned chipotles. So for the chicken, we'll use the canned stuff, and the salsa gets the reconstituted version.

Rice bran oil

If you've never heard of rice bran oil, which Chipotle uses, join the club. It's becoming a bit more popular, but good luck finding it at a supermarket. Basically, rice bran oil is a neutral tasting oil with an equal proportion of saturated fat and monounsaturated fats. It also has a high smoke point so it'll be perfect for grilling. If you can't find it — and I couldn't — olive oil is a fitting replacement. It won't be exactly the same, but the difference will be subtle.  

Making the marinade

The unique flavor Chipotle brings is from its marinade — although a lot comes from the cooking technique as well. It's a spicy marinade, but not overly hot despite the chipotles, and the good folks over at Chipotle tell you exactly what it is. In a blending device, like a magic bullet, combine water with your oil. Add to that cumin, garlic, salt, pepper, oregano, distilled vinegar, and two chipotle chilies from a can — and keep the adobo sauce on. Put that on spin, pour it over your chicken in a bowl and park it for at least 90 minutes. That will give the chicken enough time to absorb the flavors.  

Beans

Do you really want to soak beans overnight? Really? The fine makers of canned goods across the world take most of the hard work out of it for you. A can of black beans will give you everything you need for this dish, you just have to "liberate" it from the can, and give it a little Chipotle touch. To a can of black beans, add a bay leaf, yellow onion, lemon juice, lime juice, garlic, cumin, oregano, a chipotle chili (from the can), and a couple grinds of fresh black pepper. We're leaving out salt and water from the Chipotle recipe, because they're already in the can.  Bring that to a simmer and you'll never just open a can and dump it in a pot again.  

Tomatillo red chili salsa

There are a few different salsas available, but the most interesting is the tomatillo red chili salsa. It's not that difficult to build from scratch. We need four tomatillos. Peel off the leafy texture and put them aside.  

Take the dry chilis and put them over a broiler flame, or just throw them in a pan over medium heat and saute them to get a little dark color on them — you don't want them completely burnt, but just a dash of color to give them a little extra smoky flavor — it should take just a few minutes. After you have a bit of color, we need to steep the chili peppers back to life. Fill a pot about halfway with water and bring it to a boil — then turn it down to a simmer and add four to six chilies and four tomatillos.  Let those steep for about 15-20 minutes. That will soften up the tomatillos and bring the life back into those dried chilies.

Transfer the tomatillos and chili peppers, along with about a spoonful of the steeped water, into a food processor. To that, add cumin, garlic, fresh cracked pepper, Tabasco sauce, and distilled vinegar. Give it a whirl until it's smooth. It should be red and pretty hot — but not uncomfortable to eat. Set that aside or refrigerate until you're ready to assemble your burrito.

Rice

You have two choices of rice, white or brown. I'm more of a white rice guy when it comes to burritos, so we'll go with that. It's just rice with a bunch of stuff thrown in, but the important takeaway is the overall flavor of the rice is lime. So we'll need a lot of lime.  

Start with your basic rice cooking method — two to one rice to water. Start with a cup of water, and to that add the juice of two limes, coriander, salt, a couple drops of sunflower oil (or safflower oil), and a bay leaf. Bring that to a boil, and then add a half cup of rice, reduce the heat to a simmer and cover. Let that coast for 10-20 minutes and you'll have the most flavorful rice you've ever made.

Cheese and lettuce

Chipotle uses monterey jack cheese. It's done in a small shred, so if you shred at home — and you know I do — use a smaller setting on your shredder. The lettuce is romaine, chopped. That's as simple as you can get, right?  

Tortillas

Unless you can sweet talk a Chipotle employee into giving you a tortilla, you can't actually get the shell exactly right. Chipotle makes their own tortillas — and they do not wholesale them. So you have a couple choices; just use whatever flour tortilla you want, or try and find the thinnest shell you can, because Chipotle's tortillas are super thin.  

Cook the chicken

To get that taste and char, you need to grill your chicken. You can head outside and do that, or use a grill pan. Chipotle cooks the chicken first, and then breaks it up after the cooking process. Chipotle's chicken is de-boned when it hits the grill — I did not debone my chicken, because deboning a chicken thigh is a bit of a mess. It's a myth that bones bring flavor to a cooked dish, it's just easier to cook a thigh that way.  

You already have oil in the marinade so you don't need to pre-oil your grill. Just bring your grill pan or grill to medium high, and lay the pieces of thigh on the grill. After about four minutes, give it a flip. You're looking for a real good char, so don't be afraid to give it a couple turns to make sure you get it all charred up. There's a little trick — in order to get a little more char on the chicken, you can press them down with a small pan after giving them a flip — so if you're not happy with the amount of char, try that. After the cooking is complete, remove the chicken and dice it up.

Start the build with the chicken

Most of the toppings from Chipotle are served from a spoon — the amount of that spoon is supposed to be four ounces — the actual amount may vary. For sake of argument, just add four ounces of diced chicken to a tortilla shell.  

Add the rice

The rice portion is actually more than four ounces. The nutrition calculator says four ounces, but every time that scoop is actually pretty heaping. You can play this by ear, but at a minimum you need five ounces of rice. Truthfully, it's probably more like six ounces.

Add the beans

The beans are also four ounces. This one varies, as some scoopers provide an extra quarter scoop, but to be safe, hit the tortilla with just one four ounce serving — anything more seems to wetten the burrito a bit too much.

Add the salsa

The salsa is advertised at two ounces. This might be correct, it's without a doubt less than the protein. The aim here will be about two ounces, but I think the actual amount is closer to three ounces.  

Finish it up

The last addition to the burrito is the monterey jack cheese and lettuce. The alleged amounts are one ounce and one ounce respectively, but there's no way there's only an ounce of lettuce on a Chipotle burrito. To get it closer to accurate, go with about three ounces of lettuce, or, more simply, grab a handful and throw it on there — if it looks like enough, put some more on.

After you have your build, wrap it in aluminum foil and you're good to go!

How close are we?

This is better than Chipotle. No, I'm not just saying that. Chipotle's chicken is a bit on the dry side, and this chicken isn't. The other flavors are dead on. The rice tastes exactly like Chipotle — with that tangy citrus punch from the lime. The beans are exact, with a flavorful balance to each bean, and even the salsa brings just the right amount of heat to the party.

Now, obviously this isn't an exact copycat because the tortilla is different, but other than that, everything about this tastes just like Chipotle. There's one other big difference, obviously, I'm not very good at wrapping burritos.  

Directions

Prep time: 20 minutes 

Cook time: 25 minutes

Serves: 4 burritos

Ingredients:

  • 4 burrito-sized tortillas

(For the chicken)

  • 4 chicken thighs

  • ½ cup water

  • 1 teaspoon rice bran oil or olive oil

  • ½ teaspoon cumin

  • 1 clove of garlic, finely chopped

  • 1 pinch of salt

  • 1 pinch of pepper

  • ½ teaspoon of oregano

  • ½ teaspoon of distilled vinegar

  • 2 whole chipotle chilies in adobo sauce, finely chopped

(For the beans)

  • 1 14-ounce can of black beans

  • Juice of half a lemon, freshly squeezed

  • 1 lime, freshly squeezed

  • ¼ yellow onion, finely chopped

  • ½ teaspoon rice bran oil or olive oil

  • 1 chipotle chili in adobo sauce, finely chopped

  • 1 clove of garlic, finely chopped

  • 1 tablespoon cumin

  • ½ teaspoon oregano

  • 1 bay leaf

  • A pinch of pepper

(For the salsa)

  • 4 tomatillos

  • 3-6 red chilies

  • A pinch of salt

  • 1 tablespoon cumin

  • 1  clove of garlic, minced and chopped

  • A pinch of pepper

  • ½ teaspoon red Tabasco sauce

  • 1 tablespoon distilled vinegar

(For the rice)

  • ½ cup rice

  • 1 cup water

  • Juice of two limes

  • 1 teaspoon coriander

  • Dash of salt

  • ½ teaspoon of sunflower oil (or saffron oil)

  • 1 bay leaf

 

Directions:

(For the chicken)

  1. Remove skin from chicken thighs.

  2. Combine remaining chicken ingredients in a blender and mix until combined.

  3. Pour marinade over chicken and  refrigerate for at least 90 minutes.

  4. Cook chicken on a medium-high grill pan or outdoor grill four minutes per side, flipping at least twice, until you achieve a good char.

  5. Dice up the chicken after it's cooked thoroughly.

(For the black beans)

  1. Combine all ingredients in a pot over medium heat, stirring frequently.

  2. Cook for 5-10 minutes, until heated thoroughly.

(For the salsa)

  1. Bring a medium pot of water to a boil.

  2. Add chilies and tomatillos to water, reduced to a simmer, cook for 20 minutes.

  3. Remove chilies and tomatillos from water, reserve water.

  4. Add chilies and tomatillos to a food processor with remaining ingredients and 1 tablespoon of the steeped water.

  5. Rest in refrigerator for 15-20 minutes.

(For the rice)

  1. Combine all ingredients except the rice in a pot.

  2. Bring to a boil.

  3. Add rice, reduce heat to a simmer and cover.

  4. Simmer for 10-20 minutes, until rice is done.

(For the build)

  1. To your tortilla add 4 ounces of chopped chicken, 5 ounces of rice, 4 ounces of black beans mixture, 3 ounces of grated monterey jack cheese, 3 ounces (at least) of shredded romaine lettuce.
  2. Wrap in tin foil, and eat and enjoy!