Red enchilada sauce is the real deal, with an authentic deep rich flavor you’ll love in Mexican, Tex-Mex, and Southwestern recipes from enchiladas and tacos to Texas chili.
authentic homemade enchilada sauce
This enchilada sauce is the real deal authentic recipe, and it’s wonderfully simple to make. I like to make big batch to keep in the freezer for quick Tex-Mex meals. The family friendly sauce is not hot and spicy, but rather focusses on the mild and fruity side of chiles, with cumin and oregano playing supporting roles. It has a deep, complex flavor with a slightly sweet and smoky taste. And the texture? It’s like velvet. The first time I made this sauce I was surprised at the simple process and the professional result. I made enchiladas and eggs rancheros for days!
ingredients for enchilada sauce
Enchilada sauce might look like tomato sauce, but there are no tomatoes in the recipe! Chiles are the stars here, so the other flavors are kept to a minimum. Look for dried chiles in the produce section of your supermarket, they’re sometimes tucked away in a corner, so ask if you can’t find them.
- dried guajillo chile peppers
- dried New Mexico chile peppers
- ground cumin
- dried oregano
- olive oil
chili vs chile
“Chili” is more commonly used to refer to the dish, while “chile” is typically used to refer to the pepper or sauce made from the pepper.
which chiles for enchilada sauce?
I’ve used dried guajillo and New Mexico chiles in this sauce. These chiles are fruity and mild to moderate; they register 3 and 5 on a scale of 10 for heat. Other types of chilies like ancho and pasilla are also great for this recipe. If you’re more of a chile head you can boost the heat of your enchilada sauce by adding extra hot peppers later.
After toasting, take in their aroma ~ it’s reminiscent of sun dried tomato, with a hint of raisin. Remember that peppers, like tomatoes and grapes, are fruits, and have an inherent sweetness. One whiff and you know it’s going to be good!
how to seed and stem dried peppers
Wipe down the chiles with a damp paper towel. Use clean kitchen shears to slice off the stem ends of your peppers. Then shake out the seeds and pull out any fibrous veins.
how to make red enchilada sauce, step by step
toast, rehydrate and puree the chiles
Toasting dried chiles brings out their natural oils and caramelizes natural sugars to create a deeper, more savory flavor. When you rehydrate a dried chile, it becomes plump and soft, and those wonderful flavors and aromas are restored.
- Toast the chiles in a dry pan: it’s amazing how fast this happens. Don’t walk away or they can burn.
- Add water: dried chiles need to be re-hydrated before you can cook with them.
- Simmer until soft.
- Puree with some of the cooking water.
cook the sauce
- Heat olive oil in a large pot and sauté the spices to bloom the flavors.
- Add the sauce to the hot oil.
- Cook until slightly thickened.
This recipe yields about 4 cups of enchilada sauce. You can adjust the heat level by using more or less chiles, or by using different types of chiles with varying levels of spiciness. You can also adjust the consistency of the sauce by adding more or less water, or by simmering it for a shorter or longer period of time.
storage and freezing
Your enchilada sauce will keep in the refrigerator for up to 10 days. You can freeze it for up to 6 months. Be sure to allow extra headspace in your jars or containers to allow for expansion during freezing.
how to use homemade enchilada sauce
- enchiladas, natch • The most classic way to use enchilada sauce is to make enchiladas. Simply dip tortillas in the sauce, fill them with your favorite fillings (such as chicken, cheese, or beans), roll them up, and place them in a baking dish. Pour more enchilada sauce over the top of the enchiladas, sprinkle with cheese, and bake in the oven until heated through and bubbly. Yum.
- Tacos • Use enchilada sauce in your taco filling. Cook your meat (such as ground beef or shredded chicken) in the sauce until it’s heated through and well coated, then serve it in tortillas with your favorite taco toppings.
- Chili • Use enchilada sauce in any chili recipe instead of tomatoes or tomato sauce. Chili made this way is known as Texas chili.
- Casseroles: Layer cooked rice, black beans, cheese, and enchilada sauce in a baking dish, then bake in the oven until heated through and bubbly.
- Rice and Beans • Cook your rice and beans as usual, then add a spoonful or two of enchilada sauce and mix it in.
- Soup • For chicken enchilada soup mix the enchilada sauce with chicken broth, shredded chicken, beans, corn, and other vegetables, and simmer until heated through.
more Tex-Mex recipes
- Working in two batches, toast the chiles in a Dutch oven over medium high heat for just a minute or so, tossing constantly. You want them to start to darken, but not burn.
- Add 8 cups of water to the pot and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat and let boil gently for about 15 minutes.
- Remove the chiles to a blender and add 5 cups of the cooking water. Let the mixture cool for a while and then blend until smooth. Blending hot liquids is tricky see note below*
- Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium heat and add the spices. Sauté for a minute or two to bloom the flavors, stirring constantly.
- Pour the blended sauce into the saucepan and bring it to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low and let the sauce simmer for 10-15 minutes, until it thickens and the flavors meld together. Season the sauce with salt to taste. Note: At this point you may want to add a pop of acidity to bring out the flavor of your sauce. Add a tiny bit of vinegar such as apple cider vinegar, or lime juice. Taste as you go and don't add too much!
- Use the enchilada sauce immediately, or store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 10 days.
- Let hot liquids cool for a bit before blending.
- Make sure your blender lid is vented and securely fastened.
- Use a kitchen towel to loosely cover the top of the blender to protect against any escaping liquid.
- Start blending on low and slowly increase speed.