Rich and robust and a thousand times better than store-bought, this authentic homemade enchilada sauce recipe packs some serious FLAVOR! Not just for enchiladas, this sauce will take your soups and stews to a whole new level!
Nothing beats homemade. That’s a phrase that fits most everything when it comes to cooking. And it’s most definitely fitting of homemade enchilada sauce.
Rich and robust and at least a thousand times better than store-bought, this authentic enchilada sauce (red chile sauce) packs some serious FLAVOR!
It’s very easy to make, you just need the right ingredients. Above all, you need quality chiles (more on that later). And for a truly fantastic, authentic red chile or enchilada sauce it’s also vital that you follow a few important rules:
The Do’s and Dont’s of Making the BEST Red Enchilada Sauce
For the best red enchilada sauce there are some important steps you need to take and several ingredients you need to use and avoid:
- Use dried whole peppers, not ground chili powder. Using whole dried peppers, roasting them, then reconstituting and pureeing them will give you a much richer, more complex, more flavorful sauce with flavor notes you won’t get from chili powder. There really is no comparison. And adding a dash of smoked paprika won’t compensate for not using dried whole chilies and roasting them.
- Toast the dried peppers. This really enhances the flavor.
- Don’t scorch the dried peppers. If you scorch the peels while toasting them you’ll end up with a very bitter sauce. In the even that that happens, add some additional onion and a dash of sugar to take the edge off the bitterness.
- Use fresh garlic, not garlic powder. Roast it along with the peppers for optimal flavor.
- Use fresh onion, not onion powder. Roast it along with the peppers for optimal flavor.
- Say NO to flour. That’s used in some red chile sauce recipes to compensate for not using whole dried chilies. The whole chilies, once reconstituted and pureed will be the natural thickener for your sauce. Keep the flour for your tortillas, not your enchilada sauce.
- Cook the sauce. After pureeing and straining the sauce, cook it. As flavorful as the sauce already is, don’t skip this step, it is vital for bringing out the FULL depth of flavor of the sauce.
Before it’s cooked you’ve got a bright red and flavorful raw chile paste (see below), but after it’s cooked the color darkens to a brownish red and the flavors deepen. Oh, how they deepen!
Now let’s talk peppers!
How to Choose Your Chile Peppers
The key to the best enchilada sauce is to select the best dried chilies you can find.
Most dried chiles I come across in grocery stores and online are poor quality. They’re old and brittle and flavorless.
There are 3 VITAL THINGS to look for when selecting “fresh” dried chiles:
1) They should be pliable and flexible (think a stiff version of fruit leather), not overly dry or brittle. 2) Their skins should be glossy, not dull. 3) They should have a good aroma, a little like dried fruit, not a dusty smell.
As to which variety of chilies to use, that purely comes down to personal preference. You can choose one kind or a combination of peppers, which is what I like to do. Here are a few of my favorites with links to the brands I personally use and recommend:
Guajillo: Bright red, sweet with a touch of acidity with mild to medium heat. It’s one of the most commonly used chilies in Mexican cuisine with an earthy-sweet flavor and are great for adding body to stews, sauces and adobos.
Ancho: Very mildly spicy with a rich fruity and lightly smoky flavor. They contribute a beautiful dark red color to sauces. Ancho chilies are poblano chilies that have been allowed to fully ripen to a deep red and then dried. Also one of the most commonly used dried peppers.
Pasilla: Sweet, fruity flavor with medium heat. The name “pasilla” comes from the word pasas, meaning “raisins”, because of its deep fruity flavor.
Arbol: Mild, earthy flavor and very spicy. While these don’t have a ton of flavor, they are your friends if you want to kick the heat up several more notches.
How to Make the BEST Enchilada Sauce!
Let’s get started!
Start with that all important step: Roasting! Heat a heavy non-stick skillet (I like to use cast iron) over medium-high heat. Don’t add any oil. Lay the dried peppers on the skillet and toast them for a minute or two on each, just until they become very fragrant. It’s better to under-toast than to over-toast them as they will become very bitter if scorched. Remove and set aside. Next place the onion, garlic and tomatoes on the skillet and toast until lightly browned.
Note: Adding tomatoes is optional but I recommend it for curbing the sharpness of the peppers, balancing out the flavors and adding a touch of sweetness.
Remove the stems from the peppers (using gloves if you’re using hot peppers), slice the peppers open and remove and discard all of the seeds and the membranes (contrary to popular belief, it’s the membranes not the seeds that are hot, the seeds are bitter). Place the peppers in a bowl.
Pour the boiling water or chicken broth over the peppers, cover the bowl and let them sit for 20-30 minutes until soft.
For chicken broth we recommend Aneto 100% All-Natural Chicken Broth imported from Barcelona, Spain. You can read more about why we love it here. It is hands down the BEST.
Place the peppers and their liquid along with the onion, tomato, garlic and all remaining ingredients (except for the chocolate if using) in a blender and blend until completely smooth.
At this point determine for yourself whether your sauce needs to be strained. I use a Vitamix which does an excellent job of blending the sauce to a very smooth puree, so I don’t bother straining it.
Heat a tablespoon or so of oil to a pot then add red sauce. Simmer it uncovered for about 30 minutes. Add a little more water if you prefer it thinner. The sauce should be the thickness of heavy cream.
For an added flavor touch, add in a small piece of semi-sweet chocolate at the end and stir until melted.
If the sauce is very bitter, add a touch of brown sugar.
Store it in the fridge for up to a couple of weeks or freeze it.
This sauce freezes well, so feel free to make extra so you have it on hand when you need it. I like to freeze it in ziplock bags, about one cup per bag so I can conveniently grab a bag whenever I need it.
Cooking Suggestion: Use this sauce to make the Ultimate Pozole Rojo!
Authentic Enchilada Sauce
- 3 ounces dried ancho peppers
- 3 ounces dried guajillo peppers
- 2-3 or more dried arbol peppers (OPTIONAL: for heat)
- 1 medium white onion, peeled and cut in half
- 2 ripe tomatoes, halved
- 4 cloves garlic, peeled
- 4 cups boiling water or chicken broth (for even more flavor)
- we love Aneto 100% All-Natural Chicken Broth from Spain (it's the BEST!)
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- Small piece of semi-sweet chocolate (optional)
- Start with that all important step: Roasting! Heat a heavy non-stick skillet (I like to use cast iron) over medium-high heat. Don't add any oil. Lay the dried peppers on the skillet and toast them for a minute or two on each, just until they become very fragrant. It's better to under-toast than to over-toast them as they will become very bitter if scorched. Remove and set aside. Next place the onion, garlic and tomatoes on the skillet and toast until lightly browned.
- Remove the stems from the peppers (using gloves if you're using hot peppers), slice the peppers open and remove and discard all of the seeds and the membranes (contrary to popular belief, it's the membranes not the seeds that are hot, the seeds are bitter). Place the peppers in a bowl.Pour the boiling water over the peppers, cover the bowl and let them sit for 20-30 minutes until soft.
- Place the peppers and their liquid along with the onion, tomato, garlic and all remaining ingredients (except for the chocolate if using) in a blender and blend until completely smooth.Note: At this point determine for yourself whether your sauce needs to be strained. I use a Vitamix blender which does an excellent job of blending the sauce to a very smooth puree, so I don't bother straining it.
- Time to cook the sauce: Heat a tablespoon or so of oil to a pot then add red sauce. Simmer it uncovered for about 30 minutes. Add a little more water if you prefer it thinner. The sauce should be the thickness of heavy cream.Optional: For an added flavor touch, add a small piece of semi-sweet chocolate at the end and stir until melted.If the sauce is very bitter, add a touch of brown sugar. SEE NOTE.
- Store in the fridge for up to 2 weeks or freeze it for several months. I like to freeze about a cup of it per freezer bag so I can conveniently grab a bag as needed.Makes approx. 5-6 cups.
Way too many peppers. I used 4.25 ounces, rather than the full 6, and it was still way off. The spice wasn’t the issue, it was the bitterness and the consistency. I even added sugar and chocolate to try to save the recipe, but to no avail.
After making this recipe, I browsed other sites and they all call for 3-4 of each variety of pepper, vs 3 OUNCES of each here. I wish I had chosen any of those recipes rather than this one, so I wouldn’t have wasted 2 hours and half of the peppers I grew and dried from my garden last year. I don’t comment or rate recipes online, but I feel like I have to for this one, because it should not be ranked so highly, and returned as a top google recipe.
Kimberly Killebrew says
Hi Will, please read the blog post about the issue with the bitterness and you can also read some of the 100+ 5-star readers’ reviews for reference. I realize not everyone’s taste is the same, and that’s okay, but the quantities called for in this sauce are accurate and reflective of authentic Mexican enchilada sauce, not the “watered/flavored down” Americanized versions.
dang youre a whiney a$$ complainer aren’t you – if you dont like it then dont make it again – dont be a male karen who has to make everyone deal with your crappy opinions and bitch ass attitude – btw i made this and its delicious lol
Fantastic recipe! The detailed instructions are perfect and providing the weight of chiles was super helpful. I did add more chicken stock but it came out delicious and spicy which my husband loves. Thank you for sharing!
John ellison says
Great recipe except that 3oz of dried chiles should read 3 chiles as 3oz is a lot of Chiles as someone else has pointed out.
Kimberly Killebrew says
Thanks, John, I’m glad you enjoyed it! No, the 3 ounces of dried chilies is absolutely correct, they are form the base of this sauce. If you want to avoid heat simply limit or omit the arbol chilies.
it would be easier for the recipe to say how many chiles you need instead of oz.
Kimberly Killebrew says
Chiles aren’t all uniform in size, hence the measurement in weight.
Lol, in what way is that easier? When you buy the dried chiles they generally sell them in packs that are 3oz. Or get a kitchen scale if you buy them in a different way and weight them. Recipes using weight instead of quantity are WAY more accurate. Just seems like the dumbest comment I’ve seen on one of these in a long time.
I made this last night and it turned out perfect!!! It tastes exactly like it does in a restaurant. Also thanks for the super detailed instructions and all the information in the post, it helped me avoid a lot of pitfalls.
Maddie L says
Delicious! I used 1/2 the amount of chiles, 1 can of fire roasted tomatoes, and the full amount of cumin/oregano. Made the right amount for 8 enchiladas in a 13×9, plus a little extra.
It was a little bitter (should have added brown sugar), but still very delicious! Definitely worth making homemade.
lisa castillo says
Very interesting reading all the comments. Personally I made my own chicken stock from scratch, which is super easy and added delightful depth to the broth.
My pork shoulder was absolutely amazing, fresh from the farm with the bone left in during the boiling process.
Homemade enchilada sauce I modified significantly, I agree with another reviewer that the original recipe with all three dried chills is MUY CALIENTE (however, not necessarily the case for everyone), however I agree that I don’t think I can go back to store bought—- it’s easy and super delicious.
The final product was tremendous—- family and friends loved it l
Kim Brewster says
I used 4 guajillo chile peppers and 2 ancho chile peppers which were just right for 4 cups of chicken broth. I also substituted a tablespoon of tomato paste for the fresh tomatoes plus added a tsp of brown sugar. It was great on my chicken enchiladas. I will use this recipe next time I make chicken posole.
Kimberly Killebrew says
Awesome, Kim, I’m so glad you enjoyed this, thank you!
It was all good. The semi-sweet choco was perfect addition. Had to use red onions as there’s a current ban on white and yellow onions here. Spent yesterday elbow deep in masa harina making tortillas. Can’t wait to see the enchiladas on my plate!
It was unbelievably spicy. The ratios of tomato to Chile is way off folks. I had to start over because it was just too much and don’t thin it out with stock, it loses its consistency and the flavor. Not a great recipe and really need to reevaluate your measurements. Not kid safe! Burned my kids faces right off.
2 or 3 SINGLE arbols. Not 2 or 3 oz. I almost made that mistake . Mine was not too spicy it was perfect. I did add a little brown sugar
This is quite a good ratio recipe! @Hexamita Just because you and your family are sensitive to basically zero heat peppers, doesn’t mean everyone else is. The vast majority of people would not consider this a spicy sauce if you hold the arbols, as the note says. Moreover, just because you and your family are incredibly sensitive to heat, doesn’t mean it needs reevaluated or it’s not child friendly. But like you said, I guess you and your family need to reevaluate your measurements on social interactions, as well as viewing yourself as the most important in this world. Have a great day! Again, lovely recipe.
Fantastic recipe. Well worth the time.