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Easy Enchilada Sauce to Make at Home

An easy enchilada sauce is a true gift. Made from scratch from whole, dried red chiles, this sauce is soul-tinglingly delicious and really simple to make. I love it on Homemade Chicken Enchiladas, Tamales, and Chilaquiles.

Easy enchilada sauce is simple to make at home

What Type of Chiles Should You Use for Enchilada Sauce?

For this homemade enchilada sauce recipe, I use a combination of two or more types of chiles for the most complex flavor. I tend to lean heavily on New Mexico chiles in this recipe because their flavor is complex and they have just the right heat level (medium) for my taste.

Ancho, Anaheim, and California chiles are descendants of the New Mexico chile and make fine substitutes.

  • New Mexico chiles are a type of Anaheim chile, but hotter than those that make the milder Ancho, California, or Colorado chiles. New Mexico chiles deliver a dried fruit flavor with a hint of acidity and medium spice.
  • Ancho chiles, which are dried red poblanos, have a little bit of a kick and a fruity flavor. 
  • Guajillo chiles are earthy and mild, with only a hint of heat. 
  • Pasilla chiles have a rich, raisiny flavor and are medium spicy. 

Here’s a handy chart that shows the characteristics of many common dried and fresh chiles.

red chiles for red chile sauce

How to Make Authentic Red Enchilada Sauce

To make a delicious and authentic red enchilada sauce, there are a few key steps:

  1. Use whole dried chiles rather than chili powder for the most intense, complex flavor. 
  2. Seed the dried chiles for both a smooth textured sauce and to prevent it from becoming too spicy.
  3. Toast the dried chiles very briefly. This gives the sauce a hint of smokiness. Be careful not to toast them for too long or they’ll turn bitter. Only toast them for about a minute, until they become aromatic.
  4. Reconstitute the toasted peppers in hot water before pureeing with garlic, onion, and other ingredients.
  5. Strain the sauce through a fine-meshed sieve to remove any stray seeds. 
  6. Simmer the sauce to deepen, round out, and meld all the flavors.

I like to add plump, dark raisins, which are soaked along with the chiles, for added depth of flavor. They add a deep, rounded sweetness that balances the smokiness and spicy kick of the chiles.

Can You Freeze Enchilada Sauce?

This recipe makes enough for two recipes of Homemade Chicken Enchiladas, but the sauce freezes well. I like to keep a stash, frozen in ziploc bags, in my freezer at all times. You know, in case of enchilada emergencies. 

filling and saucing homemade tamales

Way Better than Store-Bought

This sauce is so much better than anything you’ll find in a can or bottle. With this easy recipe, you’ll never be tempted by store-bought enchilada sauce again. Keep some in your freezer and you can use it on chicken enchiladas, cheese enchiladas, tamales, chilaquiles, and more.

chicken enchiladas with salad on plate
Yield: Makes 16 servings

Easy Enchilada Sauce

Easy enchilada sauce is easy to make at home

This easy enchilada sauce has deep flavor--a smoky spiciness from lightly toasted dried red chiles and the round, deep sweetness of dark raisins. It goes perfectly with enchiladas, whether they're filled with pork, chicken, cheese, or vegetables. It is also delicious with homemade tamales or chilaquiles. This recipe makes enough for two batches of Homemade Chicken Enchiladas, but I like to keep a stash in the freezer for future meals.

Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Additional Time 30 minutes
Total Time 1 hour

Ingredients

  • 4 ounces dried New Mexico, Ancho, Guajillo, and/or Pasilla Chiles (12 to 15 chiles), stemmed and with the seeds removed
  • 3/4 cup raisins
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin 
  • 2 teaspoons crumbled dried oregano
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt 
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Instructions

  1. Bring about 4 cups of water to a boil in a kettle.
  2. Heat a large saucepan over high heat. Add the chiles and cook, stirring, for about 1 minute, just until the chiles become aromatic. Remove the pan from the heat and pour the boiling water the chiles. Stir in the raisins. Let the chiles and raisins rehydrate in the water for about 30 minutes.
  3. Add the garlic, tomato paste, cumin, oregano, and salt to the pot and use an immersion blender to puree the mixture (alternatively, you can transfer the solids and about 2 cups of the soaking water to a counter top blender and puree, then return the pureed mixture to the pot.)
  4. In a separate saucepan (or transfer the pureed mixture to a bowl, rinse out the pan, and use it for this step), heat the oil over medium-high heat. Sprinkle the flour over the oil and cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture begins to brown and give off a nutty aroma, 2 to 3 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low, add the pureed chile mixture, and simmer until the sauce thickens, 10 to 15 minutes.
  5. Use immediately or let cool and store in a glass jar in the refrigerator for up to a week or in a resealable plastic bag in the freezer for up to 3 months.

Notes

1. If the chilies are very spicy, you can substitute chicken broth, vegetable broth, or water for some or all of the soaking liquid. In step 3, before pureeing, strain the mixture through a fine-meshed sieve and use the solids, discarding the soaking water, if desired. Replace the soaking water with 3 to 4 cups of chicken broth, vegetable broth, or water.

Nutrition Information

Yield

16

Serving Size

1

Amount Per Serving Calories 46Total Fat 2gSaturated Fat 0gTrans Fat 0gUnsaturated Fat 1gCholesterol 0mgSodium 267mgCarbohydrates 8gFiber 1gSugar 5gProtein 1g

Nutrient values are estimates only. Variations may occur due to product availability and manner of food preparation. Nutrition may vary based on methods of preparation, origin, freshness of ingredients, and other factors.

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By on December 12th, 2017

About Robin Donovan


Hi, I’m Robin! I am a full-time food blogger, recipe developer, and cookbook author. I spend my days cooking, writing about, and photographing food.

I’m the author of more than 40 cookbooks, including Ramen for Beginners, 5 Ingredient Cooking for Two, Sushi at Home, The Baking Cookbook for Teens, and the bestselling Campfire Cuisine.

My food writing has also been featured in major print and online pubications including Cooking Light, Fitness, San Jose Mercury News, San Francisco Chronicle, and other popular publications.

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3 thoughts on “Easy Enchilada Sauce to Make at Home”

  1. I made the sauce last night. it was awesome. Thank you for sharing. Only thing I didn’t add was the flour.
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    Reply
    • Thank you for posting, Adriana! I’m so glad you liked the enchilada sauce. And that’s great that you were able to leave out the flour and it still turned out well. My husband is gluten-free, so I often make it with alternative flours, but next time I’ll try leaving it out altogether.

      Reply

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