Enchilada Sauce

published Jun 1, 2024
Enchilada Sauce Recipe

This rich, deeply flavored sauce is great on just about everything.

Serves8

Makes3 cups

Prep35 minutes

Cook35 minutes

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overhead shot of enchilada sauce in a large pot being stirred with a wood spoon
Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe; Food Styling: Brett Regot

Red enchilada sauce is the velvety, rich tomato- and chile-based salsa that colors and flavors a variety of filled tortilla dishes. Popular mainly in the middle and north of Mexico, this homemade red enchilada sauce is made with dried California and ancho chiles. You can use it to bathe rolled or folded tortillas filled with potato, cheese, pulled chicken, shredded beef, or picadillo. 

In Mexico, masa and chiles are a natural pairing, and their origin stretches back to the pre-Hispanic era. The Nahuatl word used for this dish was chillapitzalli, meaning chile and flauta, which explains why some enchiladas will have rolled tortillas instead of folded in half. Many kinds of enchilada dishes have sprouted since, like enchiladas suizas filled with shredded chicken, or enchiladas de pipián rojo with pumpkin seeds. They’re so much a part of the culture that, in fact, the idiom “no son enchiladas” (Spanish for, “It’s not like they’re enchiladas”) means “It’s not that easy or simple.”  

Why You’ll Love It

  • This homemade sauce has a deep flavor. Thanks to the fresh tomato and dried chiles, this recipe yields a velvety, flavorful sauce that is so much better than canned. My secret ingredient? Mushroom umami powder. Just as the name implies, it adds an extra delicious layer of savoriness.
  • It’s extremely versatile. While it’s great with enchiladas of course, it’s also wonderful spooned over eggs and slathered on sandwiches.   
Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe; Food Styling: Brett Regot

Key Ingredients in Enchilada Sauce

  • Chiles: Dried California (or guajillo chiles) and dried ancho chiles are two of the key ingredients in this recipe. Not only will they provide that fruity, pruney, and spicy flavor that’s essential to this salsa, but the ancho chiles will also give the sauce its creamy, silky texture. 
  • Tomatoes: Another key element in this rich sauce. They not only add color and a touch of acidity that balances the other flavors out, but they also contribute a savory touch of necessary umami. 
  • Umami powder: You only need a half teaspoon, but when it mingles with the fresh oregano, garlic (both fresh and powder!), honey, and paprika, it’s a big part of what makes my homemade recipe so delicious. You can get it online, or buy it at Trader Joe’s.

How to Make Enchilada Sauce

  1. Prep the dried chiles. After prepping the dried chiles by cleaning, de-seeding, de-stemming, and quickly toasting, the first step is to allow them to rehydrate in the same pan you’ve slightly browned the onions. This will release the browning from the pan into the liquid, allowing all the flavors to marry and soak together.
  2. Bring it to a boil. To that, you will add tomatoes, salt, and fresh oregano, allowing it to continue boiling until the tomato skin is broken and sliding off. Turn off the heat and allow everything to cool off enough to handle. 
  3. Blend and strain the mixture. After separating the liquid from the veg, you will separate the ancho chiles and set aside. The California or guajillo chiles will blend first using the cooking liquid with the rest of the veg; this will be strained. The ancho chiles will blend next, also using the cooking liquid, and this will not be strained. 
  4. Season and thicken the sauce. Finally, you’ll add some glugs of olive oil to a saucepan over medium heat. Once it shimmers, you’ll fry the blended mixtures together and bring to a low simmer until the mixture reduces and thickens to a gravy-like consistency. Let cool slightly before using. 

Helpful Swaps

Dried California chiles are bigger in flavor than in heat, making them perfect for a chile-based salsa. However, if these are unavailable near you, try guajillo chiles. They boast a berry and prune-like sweetness with a touch of smoke and a milder flavor than a jalapeño in terms of spice levels.

Storage and Make-Ahead Tips 

To make it ahead, follow the recipe up until you blend and strain the mixture. Both components can be stored together ahead of time. When you’re ready to make enchiladas, finish the sauce on the stove. 

What to Serve with Enchilada Sauce

Make enchiladas filled with quesillo (Oaxacan cheese), pulled mushrooms, shredded chicken, cubed sautéed potato, or picadillo. Serve alongside Mexican red rice and some quick refried beans, and call it a day.  

Enchilada Sauce Recipe

This rich, deeply flavored sauce is great on just about everything.

Prep time 35 minutes

Cook time 35 minutes

Makes 3 cups

Serves 8

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 5

    dried California or guajillo chiles

  • 3

    dried ancho chiles

  • 1/2

    medium white onion

  • 3 tablespoons

    olive oil, divided

  • 4 cups

    water

  • 2

    medium Roma tomatoes

  • 1/4

    plus 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt, divided, plus more as needed

  • 2

    sprigs fresh oregano

  • 1

    clove garlic

  • 1 teaspoon

    garlic powder

  • 1 teaspoon

    honey

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    mushroom umami powder

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    smoked paprika

Instructions

  1. Prepare 5 dried California or guajillo and 3 dried ancho chiles: Cut the stems off with kitchen shears, then cut in half vertically. Open each chile up and remove and discard the stems, seeds, and veins. Rinse under cool running water to remove any remaining seeds. Dice 1/2 medium white onion.

  2. Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat until shimmering. Add half of the onion (reserve the remaining for blending later). Cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and starting to brown a little bit, about 4 minutes. Add the chiles and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes.

  3. Turn off the heat. Add 4 cups water, 2 medium Roma tomatoes (keep them whole), and 1/8 teaspoon of the kosher salt. Return to high heat, cover, and bring to a boil. Continue to boil, flipping the tomatoes when the skin on the submerged parts start to split, about 1 minute. Add 2 fresh oregano sprigs, cover, and boil until the tomato skin is falling off, the tomato is tender, and the chiles are rehydrated, 6 to 7 minutes more.

  4. Turn off the heat. Uncover and let cool for about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, fit a fine-mesh strainer over a heatproof bowl or large liquid measuring cup.

  5. Pour the chile mixture through the strainer. Remove and discard the oregano. Remove the ancho chiles and set aside. Do not discard the remaining contents of the strainer.

  6. Place 1 peeled garlic clove and the reserved onion in a blender. Add 1/2 cup of the strained cooking liquid and blend until smooth. Add the contents of the strainer and 1 cup of the cooking liquid, and blend until smooth. Fit the now-empty strainer over another bowl. Pour the sauce through the strainer, pushing it through until you are left with a chunky paste in the strainer. Discard the contents of the strainer.

  7. Rinse the blender. Add the reserved ancho chiles and 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid and blend until glossy and smooth.

  8. Wipe the saucepan clean. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil and heat over medium heat until shimmering. Turn off the heat. Carefully pour in both blended mixtures (careful, it will sputter) and return to medium heat.

  9. Add the remaining 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, 1 teaspoon garlic powder, 1 teaspoon honey, 1/2 teaspoon mushroom umami powder, and 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika. Stir to combine and bring to a low simmer. Continue to simmer, stirring occasionally, until the mixture reduces and thickens to a gravy-like consistency, 8 to 12 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the sauce rest for about 5 minutes for the flavors to meld and to cool off slightly before using. Taste and season with more kosher salt as needed.

Recipe Notes

Storage: Once cooled, refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 5 days or freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator.