Chile Colorado is a rich, bold, aromatic stew made of tender chunks of beef simmered in a dynamic red chile sauce made from dried Mexican chilies. It is one for the recipe binder!
This Chile Colorado recipe is warm and comforting, hearty, savory, make ahead and freezer friendly and most importantly, layered with complex flavor but is easier to make than you think! It begins with a red chile sauce made of dried ancho chile peppers, guajillo peppers and chiles de arbol that impart an intense, earthy, smoky, complex, authentic flavor profile laced with sweet berry undertones that’s practically hypnotic (with customizable heat!). If you’re intimidated by working with dried chilies, don’t be! They are super easy to use and this Chile Colorado recipe is the perfect place to start with step-by-step photos and instructions to create an authentic chile sauce unparalleled in flavor. The Chile Colorado sauce is combined with sautéed onions, garlic, beef broth and seasonings then simmered with chunks of beef until fall apart tender. You can serve the Chile Colorado with Mexican rice, beans and warm tortillas, or topped with cilantro, chips, and cheese. It is also makes a fabulous filling for tacos, burritos and enchiladas. No matter how you serve this Chile Colorado recipe, one thing is for certain – it will be a repeat favorite forever and ever!
What is Chile Colorado?
If you’ve never experienced Chili Colorado before, prepare for your taste buds to swoon! Chile Colorado is a traditional Mexican recipe, a stew of sorts, made of either beef or pork cooked low and slow in a rich red chili sauce made of dried red chilies. The chilies are softened in hot water then blended to create the iconic sauce that simmers with the tender beef, sauteed onions and garlic, beef broth, ground cumin, oregano, and bay leaves building a rich, complex, smokey, enticing flavor profile with every passing minute.
Once the beef is fall apart tender, the Chile Colorado can be simmered for longer to create a thicker sauce or for less time for a thinner sauce. The stew is then served with Mexican rice, beans and warmed tortillas along with desired garnishes such as radishes and Cotija cheese. Chile Colorado also makes a tasty filling for burritos, tacos or enchiladas and can be even be shredded. No matter how you choose to devour this Chile Colorado recipe, I guarantee it will become a new family favorite for years to come.
Why Is Called Chile Colorado?
No, this yummy dish didn’t come from the state of Colorado. It’s actually a Mexican dish made with beef or pork that’s been cooked in a red chile sauce. The word “colorado” translates to “colored red” in Spanish, hence why this stew is called chile colorado! Chile Colorado is indeed colored red, or more mahogany, depending on which chilies you use.
Where is Chile Colorado from?
Now that we know Chile Colorado isn’t from Colorado, where is it from? Chile Colorado can be traced back to Chihuahua, Mexico. In this region, they add vinegar to the stew at the end of cooking, which you may or may not want to try. I add one teaspoon in my enchilada sauce and it really awakens the rest of the flavors.
WHAT BEEF IS best for chile colorado?
Boneless chuck roast is the best cut of beef for Chile Colorado. It boasts a succulent, beefy flavor and melt-in-your mouth texture due to its rich marbling. It is guaranteed to become fall apart tender when cooked long enough.
You can purchase beef chuck from your butcher (I like Costco) and chop it yourself. This ensures every bite is the same cut of beef (imagine that!) and is (roughly) the same size so they cook evenly.
CAN I USE STEW MEAT?
I do not recommend stew meat for this Chile Colorado recipe but it may be used in in a bind. Stew meat is a hodgepodge of different cuts of meat all packed together. This creates a problem because not all cuts of meat cook the same due to their meat to fat ratio so you are left with tender bites, tough bites and rubbery bites – all in the same stew!
What Chile Peppers Are Best for Chile Colorado?
Authentic Chile Colorado is made with Mexican dried chile peppers, namely ancho peppers, guajillo peppers, and chiles de arbol. The dried chile peppers are the star and namesake of this dish, so please don’t attempt to use chile powder and expect the the same authentic, rich, complex result. Here’s the breakdown of the chilies you’ll need:
- Ancho chiles: are dried poblano chiles with mild heat and sweet, earthy, rich flavor. They measure between 1,000 – 2,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU) compared with the jalapeño peppers which can reach 8,000 SHU.
- Guajillo chiles: are dried chiles from the mirasol chili and boast a sweet berry-toned heat (think cranberries) and mild smokiness. They are considered medium heat with a heat rating of 2,500 to 5,000 on the Scoville scale. Both the guajillo chiles add ancho chiles will add wonderfully complex flavor to your Chili Colorado but will not make the stew spicy, simply flavorful.
- Arbol chiles: also known as bird’s beak chili and rat’s tail chili are very spicy and should not be used plain, but as an enhancer to either guajillo chiles or ancho chiles. Arbol chiles have a heat rating between 15,000 – 30,000 SHU.
Where Can I Find Dried Chiles?
If you’ve never purchased or cooked with dried chiles before, don’t be intimidated! Dried chiles can be found at any Mexican market as well as many grocery stores (and many super Walmart’s depending on your location) in either the Mexican aisle or produce section. Many produce stores such as Sprouts and Whole Foods also carry packages of dried chiles. If you can’t find them or simply want a one-click option, then you can purchase them on Amazon here: ancho chiles, Guajillo chile, Arbol chiles.
Each package of chile peppers contains quite a few and they last for at least a year, so don’t worry about them going to waste. You can use them in this Chile Colorado recipe, my pozole rojo recipe or chile sauce.
Is chile Colorado recipe spicy?
Chile Colorado is not spicy but can be made spicy if you want it to be! Using both the ancho chile peppers and guajillo peppers will not make the stew spicy, it is the chiles de arbol that add the heat. They are 15 to 30 times spicier than ancho chiles and 6 to 12 times spicier than guajillo chiles. You can omit the chilies de arbol altogether or add 1-3 chilies de arbol; 1 being mild-medium and 3 being very spicy. You can also skip the chiles de arbol and spice up your Chile Colorado recipe with cayenne pepper to taste.
Chile Colorado recipe Ingredients
In addition to the beef and chilies, this slightly spicy, smoky stew comes together with surprisingly few ingredients. The rest of the ingredients are probably in your pantry right now! Here’s what you’ll need:
- Beef broth: I prefer using reduced sodium beef broth so I can control the amount of salt in this stew and amp up the flavor with beef bouillon.
- Beef bouillon: Is made from dehydrated vegetables, meat stock, a small portion of fat, salt, and seasonings AKA it’s salt with flavor! You can use bouillon powder, bouillon cubes or better than bouillon. Add it to the stew without dissolving in liquid first. If using cubes, crush them up and then add directly to the broth then stir to dissolve. You will need three cubes in this recipe.
- Fire roasted tomatoes: boast a wonderful smoky flavor and are sweeter with less acidity than regular diced tomatoes. Most grocery stores carry them but if you can’t find them, then substitute regular diced tomatoes.
- Onion: one large yellow onion to build the flavor base of the soup.
- Garlic cloves: fresh is best but you may substitute with 1 teaspoon garlic powder.
- Dried herbs and spices: The rich chile sauce demands robust seasonings. I used a mixture of dried oregano, ground cumin, ground coriander, smoked paprika, and bay leaves. The result is a rich, smoky stew that you’ll want to gobble right up!
- Cocoa Powder + sugar + cinnamon: is an easy substitute for Mexican chocolate which adds a depth of flavor and slightly mole flair you will LOVE. This combo is optional but highly recommended.
- Flour: I used all-purpose flour, but a gluten-free flour substitute should work too.
- Oil: You need a high smoking point oil such as vegetable oil to sear the beef and olive oil to sauté the onions and garlic. I recommend a good quality extra virgin olive oil for the best flavor.
IS CHILE COLORADO GLUTEN FREE?
All of the Chile Colorado ingredients are gluten free except the flour which you can substitute for a gluten free flour. The flour insulates the beef to keep it juicy and creates a flavorful crust, but it’s not the end of the world if you skip it.
How to Make Chile Colorado
I know this Chile Colorado recipe uses some ingredients you may be unfamiliar with, but trust me with I say this is such an EASY stew to make and requires far less chopping than most! Here’s an overview of the cooking process:
Step 1: Remove seeds from the Chiles
- The chiles will need to be stripped of seeds and softened before blending into a sauce. It takes a few steps, but is relatively quick and easy.
- First, cut the tops off of all the chilies with kitchen shears. Next, cut the chilies along one edge to open them like a book to expose the seeds inside.
- Scrape out all of the seeds. The seeds contain most of the heat in the peppers – if you leave them in, your mouth will be on fire!
Step 2: Soak the Chiles and Prep the Beef
- Next, briefly toast the chilis in a large Dutch oven until fragrant, then cover with water and bring to a simmer for 5 minutes, then set aside to soak and soften while you prep the beef.
- Prep beef by chopping into 1-inch pieces and tossing with flour, salt and pepper.
Step 3: Blend the chili Sauce
- Now, we get to transform the beautiful, fragrant chilies into a sauce. Transfer the chilies along with 1 cup of the soaking liquid and 1 can fire roasted tomatoes to a blender. Process until smooth.
Step 4: Sear beef and Sauté the Onion
- Heat vegetable oil a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Wait until it’s very hot before adding the beef.
- Add half of the beef in an even layer and sear; flip the beef over and sear the other side, then stir to evenly brown all sides; remove to a plate. Repeat with remaining beef.
- Add the onions and cook until softened, scraping up the brown bits, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and ground cumin and sauté 30 seconds.
Step 5: Cook the Stew
- Add the browned beef back to the pot followed by the rest of the ingredients (oregano, coriander, smoked paprika, bouillon, cocoa powder, sugar, cinnamon, bay leaves and broth).
- Cover and bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer over LOW for 45 minutes or until the beef is tender. Uncover, increase heat to medium and simmer an additional 15 minutes (uncovered), or until the sauce has thickened to desired consistency. Taste and season with additional salt if desired or some reserved chili seeds or cayenne pepper for heat.
- Discard bay leaves and serve with Mexican rice, beans, tortillas and desired toppings.
HOW DO YOU MAKE CHILE COLORADO TENDER?
In order for this Chile Colorado recipe to be a success, the beef MUST be tender. This requires the right cut of beef, searing the beef and cooking the beef long enough.
- Cut of beef: As previously discussed, boneless chuck roast will deliver fall apart tender results due to its rich marbling. If you choose another cut of beef, be aware it might not deliver as spectacularly tender results.
- Sear beef: Searing seals in the juices so the beef doesn’t dry out when cooked for an extended period of time. The caramelized crust achieved by the Maillard reaction also delivers a rich, depth of flavor that can’t be achieved any other way. I brown my beef in my enameled cast iron Dutch oven in order to achieve a deeply golden crust OR you can use a traditional cast iron skillet and transfer it to your soup pot. Take care to work in batches and not to overcrowd your pan or else the beef will steam and not sear.
- Cook until tender. If your beef isn’t crazy tender, then cook on! It just means the proteins needs more time to break down and tenderize. Even 15 more minutes can make the world of difference between “okay” and melt-in-your-mouth beef.
More Tips for Chile Colorado Recipe
- Cocoa powder + sugar + cinnamon: This Mexican chocolate substitute is not traditional to Chile Colorado but I’ve tried it both with and without the cocoa/sugar/cinnamon combo and HIGHLY preferred it with. You can omit it to start, taste and add at the end if you prefer.
- Prep ahead. You can prep this stew in stages or even make it ahead completely for a stress-free dinner win. See the section below on how to prep ahead.
- Don’t touch your eyes! When you are prepping the chile peppers, don’t touch your face, especially your eyes. You may even want to wear gloves if you have sensitive skin. When you cut into a chile pepper, capsaicin (a chemical irritant) can transfer to your skin causing a burning sensation, although it doesn’t actually damage the skin. Wash your hands immediately after prepping the chilies.
- Toast the chilies. Many recipes skip toasting the dried chiles, but this is a huge misstep as it also skips enhancing the flavor of the chiles. Toasting the chiles imparts a richer, deeper, more complex flavor. Take care when you toast the chilies that you toast until fragrant and lightly toasted/browned, about 1 minute on each side. It is better to underdo it than overdo it – you don’t want burnt chilies!
- Don’t burn stew meat. Take care you don’t sear the stew meat at too high of temperature and adjust the heat if needed. We want golden bits left behind in the pan and not black bits, otherwise the stew will taste burnt.
- Multitask. You cut the beef while the chile peppers are soaking.
- You may or may not need to strain the chile sauce. If you have a high-powered blender like a Blendtec or Vitamix, it should process the chile sauce until completely smooth. If you don’t have a high-powered blender, then strain the chili sauce through a fine mesh strainer into a bowl, using rubber spatula to push the mixture through, then discard any solids.
- Customize consistency. Chile Colorado can be served on the thin side or the thicker side. For a thicker stew, simmer for longer uncovered. For thinner, don’t simmer as long uncovered or add additional beef broth to thin.
- Adjust to taste. As with all recipes, taste the Chile Colorado at the end of cooking. If it tastes like it’s missing something, it is likely salt and/or heat. Once you season to taste with salt, add either reserved chili seeds or cayenne pepper, then all the flavors will come alive. You can also brighten individual bowls with freshly squeezed lime juice.
Recipe Variations to Try
Authentic Chile Colorado is as written with just tender meat stewed in chile sauce without additional vegetables, rice, etc. However, you can use this recipe as a springboard to make all sorts of recipes of your own. Here are a few ideas:
- Add rice. Add 1 cup long grain white rice (I recommend basmati for the best texture) the last 10-12 minutes of cooking. You will need to add additional broth to accommodate the rice.
- Swap protein. You can use pork shoulder, chicken thighs, rotisserie chicken, ground beef or ground turkey. You will need less broth for quicker cooking proteins.
- Add vegetables. Add any of your favorite veggies such as bell peppers, zucchini, chayote, potatoes, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, etc.
- Add beans. Black beans or pinto beans would be a fabulous addition.
- Amp up the spice. Chile Colorado can be spiced up a number of ways: add reserved dried chili pepper seeds to taste, add cayenne pepper, minced chipotle chili peppers, minced canned jalapenos or hot sauce. Hot sauce is a nice option because you can line it up with the garnishes and let everyone customize their own spice level.
- Use different dried chiles. Reference the section above on the different kinds of dried chiles you can use in this recipe. Try using a different blend of chiles the next time you make this recipe for a subtle shift in flavor!
What to Serve with Chile Colorado?
Authentic Chile Colorado is typically served with rice and tortillas for scooping up the stew. It can also be shredded and served in tacos, burritos, enchiladas, etc. Here are some additional serving ideas:
- Toppings: The toppings are usually minimal, possibly Cotija, sliced radishes and cilantro but that doesn’t mean you can’t add more! Toppings are a fun way to add crunchy and creamy textures and bright, fresh flavors to the stew. Try sliced crunchy cabbage, tangy lime juice, creamy avocados or silky Mexican crema or sour cream.
- Rice: Cilantro lime rice, Mexican rice, or avocado rice. You can also serve with quinoa, or low carb cauliflower rice.
- Salads: Mexican Salad, Mexican street corn salad, Southwest salad, corn salad, or Southwest orzo salad.
- Veggies: I HIGHLY encourage you to go with authentic elote (Mexican Grilled Street Corn) – you will not regret it! Other alternatives include grilled corn on the cob, baked asparagus, roasted broccoli, roasted potatoes, roasted cauliflower.
- Fruit: Pina colada fruit salad, fruit salad with honey lime vinaigrette, grape salad, winter fruit salad, or caramelized grilled pineapple.
- Carbs: Corn casserole is a tasty, easy, creamy win or add some green chiles and or/ jalapenos to my sweet cornbread recipe and watch it disappear. Mexican Street Fries are also a favorite served with salsa ketchup.
- Dessert: Tres leches cake or churros for the win!
HOW DO I CHILE COLORADO RECIPE IN THE CROCK POT?
This Chile Colorado recipe can be adapted to the slower cooker by first searing the pork and sauteing the onions on the stove then letting the crockpot do the rest of the work.
- Toast and soak chile peppers according to recipe directions.
- Sear pork and sauté onions according to recipe directions.
- Spray a 6 quart (or larger) slow cooker with nonstick cooking spray.
- Add the beef, chile sauce and rest of the ingredients. Only use 2 ½ cups beef broth because less liquid is evaporated in the slow cooker.
- Cook on HIGH for 4-6 hours or on LOW for 8-10 hours or until beef is very tender.
Can I Prep This Recipe in Advance?
Some of the steps in this Chile Colorado recipe can be accomplished ahead of time to save you time later.
- Meat: Can be chopped and seasoned. You can even go one step farther and sear the meat. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator until ready to use.
- Chile sauce: The chiles can be soaked and blended days in advance. Store in the fridge until ready to use.
- Everything: You can make the recipe according to recipe directions up to simmering the soup. Combine all of the ingredients in the soup pot, cover and refrigerate. Expect to add 10 minutes extra simmering time.
How to Store Chile Colorado
This Chile Colorado recipe actually tastes better the next day! It will last up to 5 days in an airtight container in the refrigerator or 3 months in the freezer.
How to Freeze Chile Colorado
- Cool. Cool completely before freezing.
- Package. Transfer the Chile Colorado to a freezer-safe container. You can use sandwich-size plastic bags for individual portions, quart size bags, or freezer bags. To easily fill these bags, place them in a container that you can wrap the top around the edge of – for example, place a sandwich size bag in a mug then cuff the edges around the mug. This keeps the bag open and prevents it from collapsing when you are pouring in your stew. Final packaging tip, make sure to let out any excess air before you seal.
- Label. Make sure to label your bags so it doesn’t become a freezer mystery. You also want to label so you can be sure to use your stew within 3 months.
- Freeze. Once cooled and labeled, you are ready to freeze your stew. Once the bag is solid you can lay it flat in a single layer so it’s stackable to save space.
- Thaw/Reheat. The easiest way to thaw the Chile Colorado is in your refrigerator overnight, then reheat on the stovetop or in the microwave.
How to Reheat Chile Colorado
- Stove: Reheat large batches on the stove over medium low heat, stirring occasionally (about 10 minutes).
- Microwave: Transfer individual servings to a microwave-safe dish, cover with a microwave-safe lids or paper towel. Microwave for 1 minute, stir, then continue to microwave for 30-second intervals, if needed.
Looking for More Mexican Dinner Recipes?
- Albondigas (Mexican Meatball Soup)
- Caldo de Pollo (Mexican Chicken Soup)
- Arroz con Pollo
- Beef Enchiladas
- Best Ever Carne Asada
- Chicken Burrito Bowls
- Chicken Fajitas
- Chipotle Beef Barbacoa
- All of my Mexican recipes!
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