Homemade Enchilada Sauce

Homemade Enchilada Sauce that’s 1000X better than canned and ready in just less than 15 minutes!

This homemade enchilada sauce recipe is made with simple pantry ingredients and takes less time to make than running to the grocery store!  It’s rich, bold, smoky, quick, easy, freezes beautifully and you can customize the heat and consistency.  Once you taste this red enchilada sauce recipe, you won’t want to live without it or go back to the store-bought kind again! It makes everything better from chicken enchiladas, beef enchiladas, soups, skillets and even pastas!  You will LOVE having this red enchilada sauce on hand!  

showing how to store homemade enchilada sauce by adding to a glass jar

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Red Enchilada Sauce

In preparation for the outrageously delicious red chicken enchilada recipe coming at you later this week, I bring you this homemade Red Enchilada Sauce recipe! I can’t believe I haven’t posted an enchilada sauce recipe yet, especially because we are obsessed with enchiladas.  And let’s be honest, enchiladas are ALL about the sauce.  And this homemade enchilada sauce is spectacular and completely accessible.

In fact, Patrick always preferred green enchiladas until I started making them with this red enchilada sauce and now he can’t get enough AKA this sauce will completely change your enchilada experience! So, ditch those bland, watery, tomato-centric store-bought canned enchilada sauces and treat yourself and your family to this homemade enchilada sauce!

a few reasons why you’ll love this enchilada sauce recipe:

  • FLAVORFUL. No skimping on seasonings here! This red enchilada sauce is bursting with Mexican flavor but will magically complement and not compete with everything you pair it with.  The flavor comes from blooming the spices in not just oil but a combination of oil and butter then combining them with rich tomato paste and dynamic chicken broth as opposed to vegetable broth.  It is also spiked with a pinch of cinnamon, coca powder and sugar (to mimic Mexican chocolate) for true authentic Mexican flavor that adds a hint of warm sweet, spicy complexity – everything an enchilada sauce should be.
  • EASY.  This enchilada sauce recipe is completely attainable on a weeknight in MINUTES and doesn’t require toasting chilies, seeding chilies, simmering chilies, straining chiles, charring vegetables, chopping or blending – phew!  But it still delivers ALL the flavor by using chili powder so all that work has been done for us!
  • PANTRY FRIENDLY.  To that end, you don’t have to go searching for never-used before chilies but have everything you need right now in your pantry to make this homemade enchilada sauce!
  • CONSISTENCY.  This red enchilada sauce is gorgeously thick and creamy like you would expect from authentic enchilada sauce thanks to the flour (you can use gluten free flour as well), but you can also make it thinner if you wish.
  • CUSTOMIZABLE.  The beauty about making your own enchilada sauce is that you can customize it exactly how YOU want it! You can make it thicker, thinner, more or less garlicky, more or less spicy, etc.
  • ENOUGH SAUCE FOR ENCHILADAS!  Many enchilada sauce recipes only yield 1 cup or so which isn’t enough to make enchiladas – or at least only dry enchiladas.  This red enchilada sauce recipe makes 2 cups which is perfect for saucy enchiladas. 
  • VERSATILE.  Red Enchilada Sauce isn’t just for enchiladas.  It amps up soups, chilies, skillet dinners, burritos – basically everything it touches!
  • HEALTHIER.  Canned enchilada sauce can be full of preservatives and unnecessary processed ingredients like MSG.  This homemade Enchilada Sauce is nothing but pure ingredients.
  • FREEZER FRIENDLY. If you’re not making enchiladas, you can easily freeze the leftover sauce in individual jarred portion sizes. Freezer enchilada sauce also comes in super handy to have at your fingertips so you might as well triple the batch!

What is Enchilada Sauce? 

Red enchilada sauce may also be called salsa roja, salsa roja para enchiladas or mole rojo.  It is a sauce made out of ancho/ pasilla/New Mexico and/or Cascabel chiles, onion, garlic, tomatoes, broth, cumin, oregano, etc. all blended together then simmered until thickened. It creates a multi-dimensional tapestry of complex layered flavors that enlivens everything it touches. Enchilada sauce is primarily used to smother enchiladas but can also be used in soups, skillets, burritos, etc. 

Enchilada sauce is easy to find at any grocery store but almost equally as easy to make at home and WAY tastier!

showing the correct consistency of enchilada sauce recipe by coating a spoon

is this Authentic enchilada sauce?  

This enchilada sauce recipe is not 100% from-scratch authentic but rather a quicker, simpler, easier recipe that anyone can whip up at a moment’s notice using pantry staples.  It can be our secret.

This speedy sauce uses smart shortcuts such as utilizing already prepared chili powder instead of toasting and simmering chilies as well as using onion powder and garlic powder.  Still, this easy enchilada sauce recipe boasts all of the authentic, restaurant flavor and I prefer it even to the from-scratch recipes I’ve made!

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN RED AND GREEN ENCHILADA SAUCE?

Aside from the color, the primary difference between red and green enchilada sauce is the type of chili used to make the sauce.  Red enchilada sauce is made with dried red chilies such New Mexico chiles, Ancho chiles, or Cascabel chiles.  Green enchilada sauce, however is made with green chiles, such as Anaheim, hatch chiles, jalapenos and/or serrano peppers.

Red enchilada sauce is warm, robust and earthy whereas green enchilada sauce is herby, tangy, and bright (thanks to the addition of tomatillos and cilantro).  Red enchilada sauce also tends to be naturally sweeter than green enchilada sauce because it is made with red chiles – the red color is indicative that the peppers are ripe as opposed to green chiles and tomatillos which are not yet ripe. 

As far as which enchilada sauce is spicier?  It all comes down to the chili.  If serrano peppers are used in the green enchilada sauce, it will knock the socks off of any red enchilada sauce made with ancho chiles (which is a poblano chile when green).  The same role reversal can take place by swapping chiles to make red enchilada sauce spicier.

showing how to use red enchilada sauce recipe by pouring over enchiladas

HOMEMADE RED ENCHILADA SAUCE INGREDIENTS:

The ingredients for this homemade red enchilada sauce recipe are very simple.  You will need:

  • Chili powderis where most of the flavor comes from so please use a quality brand such as McCormick.  INTERNATIONAL WARNING: American Chili powder is a blend of chilies, cumin, garlic powder, and herbs with a ratio of one-part cayenne to seven parts the other spices.  Chili powders sold in other parts of the world, however, are 100% chile pepper and 8X hotter than chili powder! So, please use American-style chili powder to make this recipe or your mouth will be on FIRE!
  • Seasonings:  In addition to chili powder, the enchilada sauce is seasoned with ground cumin, garlic powder, onion powder, ground coriander, smoked paprika, dried oregano, salt and cayenne pepper.  They all work together to create a deep, satisfying complexity.
  • Tomato paste:  adds the signature tomato flavor. Some authentic recipes don’t include tomato paste but it is a flavor must in my book.
  • Oil:  you will want to use a neutral oil such as vegetable oil that won’t add flavor to the sauce.  Other suitable neutral oils include grapeseed oil, corn, peanut, canola, or safflower oil.
  • Butter:  use unsalted butter so we can control the salt or you may substitute with the same amount of oil.
  • Flour:  is used to make a roux with the oil/butter to thicken the sauce.  You can use all-purpose flour or all-purpose gluten free flour.  
  • Chicken broth: forms the base of the sauce.  Use low sodium broth so we can control the salt.
  • Cocoa Powder + sugar + cinnamon:  this is an easy substitute for Mexican chocolate which I’m pretty sure most of you don’t keep stocked.  It adds a depth of flavor you will LOVE.
  • Apple cider vinegar:  awakes the flavors of the sauce.  You may substitute with distilled white vinegar.
showing how to make homemade enchilada sauce recipe by stirring in a large cast iron skillet

Can I Use Vegetable Broth Instead of Chicken Broth?

You may use vegetable broth instead of chicken broth but it doesn’t deliver the same level of flavor. If you do decide to use vegetable broth, make sure to use low-sodium vegetable broth and salt to taste.

How Spicy is Enchilada Sauce?

This Enchilada Sauce recipe is not spicy, just flavorful if you don’t add the cayenne pepper.  With the cayenne pepper it has a medium kick.

The chili powder is not pure chile powder; meaning, chili powder is mixed with other seasonings verses chile powder which is made with only ground up chile peppers.  Of course, there are some variances in heat between different brands, so I recommend tasting the enchilada sauce before deciding if you want to add the cayenne pepper.  And of course, if you would like it spicier, amp up the chili powder or cayenne pepper to taste. 

HOW TO MAKE ENCHILADA SAUCE:

You are just a few minutes away from unapologetically spectacular homemade enchilada sauce.  To make:

  • Whisk seasonings together. Whisk the flour and all seasoning together in a small bowl (through oregano); set aside.
showing how to make enchilada sauce by combining flour, chili powder, dried oregano, cumin, garlic powder, onion powder and smoked paprika
  • Make the roux:  Melt the butter in the olive oil in a cast iron skillet.  Sprinkle in the flour/seasonings and then whisk for two minutes.  This will help cook the flour and get rid of the raw flour smell/taste as well as “bloom” the seasonings, or release more of the flavor.  
showing how to make enchilada sauce by whisking flour with oil and chili powder to create a roux in a cast iron skillet and bloom seasonings
  • Whisk in broth and tomato paste.  Whisk the tomato paste into the flour mixture until completely combined and cook for one minute.  Reduce the heat to low, then gradually whisk in the chicken broth. Continue to whisk until most of the lumps are dissolved (a few is okay and will whisk out when simmered). Stir in cocoa powder, sugar and cinnamon.
showing how to make enchilada sauce by whisking in tomato paste and chicken broth
  • Simmer sauce: Bring the sauce to a simmer over medium-high heat, whisking often, then reduce to a gentle simmer.  Continue to simmer, whisking often, until it thickens to your desired consistency (totally customizable), about 5-7 minutes.  Keep in mind the sauce will thicken some as it cools.
  • Adjust seasonings.   Remove from heat.  Once cool enough to taste, adjust seasonings as desired with additional salt and pepper, sugar or vinegar.
showing how to make enchilada sauce by thinning with additional chicken broth

Enchilada Sauce Variations

  • Make it spicier.  Add minced chipotle chilies, cayenne pepper, chipotle chile powder or hot sauce to spice it up. 
  • Make it sweet and spicy.  You know this flavor combo is one of my favs!  Add additional sugar and balance it out by cayenne pepper or chipotle chile powder.
  • Mellow the acidity.  You can mellow the tanginess of the tomato paste by adding additional sugar to taste.
  • Make it thicker.  Simmer the enchilada sauce longer to thicken it up.
  • Make it thinner.  If you want thinner sauce, simply don’t simmer the sauce as long.  If you’re past that point, stir in chicken broth or water a little at a time until you reach desired consistency.

Tips for the Best Homemade Enchilada Sauce

  • Measure out seasonings before you start making the red enchilada sauce.  You will want to add the seasonings all at once with the flour – and since there are quite a few -it is helpful to measure them out first.
  • Cook the flour for a full two minutes before adding the tomato paste.  We don’t want any raw flour taste to ruin our enchilada sauce!
  • Add the chicken broth gradually so you have time whisk it into the flour and decrease the number of lumps you have to extinguish later.
  • Add the chicken broth over low heat.  This prevents the broth from bubbling and spattering, but most importantly, it really gives you time to whisk the flour and broth together before heat is introduced which makes getting rid of lumps 10X harder.
  • Simmer to desired consistency.  This can be different for every individual, but just make sure it is at least thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
  • The sugar, cocoa powder and the cinnamon (simulating Mexican chocolate) really enhance the authentic enchilada sauce recipe so please don’t skip them!
a spoon dipping into a jar of homemade enchilada sauce to show the consistency

Ways to Use This Homemade Enchilada Sauce

How long is Enchilada Sauce good for?

Enchilada Sauce should be stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container. When properly stored, it is good for 5-7 days.  It will thicken in the refrigerator so just thin it out with some water or chicken broth.

Can I Freeze Enchilada Sauce?

Yes!  Homemade Enchilada Sauce should be frozen if not used within a week.  Lucky for us, it freezes exceptionally well so you can use some now and freeze some for later or make it with the sole purpose of freezing.

To freeze Enchilada Sauce:

  • Let Enchilada Sauce cool to room temperature.
  • Transfer to freezer safe glass jars (it will stain plastic) or freezer safe bags.
  • Label and freeze for up to 3 months.
  • When ready to use, let sauce thaw completely in the refrigerator.
  • Stir in water or chicken broth to reach desired consistency.
showing how to use enchilada sauce recipe with a pan of chicken enchiladas with enchilada sauce poured over top

Want to try this Enchilada Sauce RECIPE?

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Red Enchilada Sauce

Homemade Enchilada Sauce that’s 1000X better than canned and ready in just 10 minutes! This homemade enchilada sauce recipe is made with simple pantry ingredients and takes less time to make than running to the grocery store! It’s rich, bold, smoky, quick, easy, freezes beautifully and you can customize the heat and consistency. Once you taste this red enchilada sauce recipe, you won’t want to live without it or go back to the store-bought kind again! It makes everything better from enchiladas, to soups, to skillets and even pastas! You will LOVE having this red enchilada sauce on hand!
Servings: 8 servings
Prep Time: 3 minutes
Cook Time: 9 minutes

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 3 tablespoons chili powder NOT cayenne pepper-see notes
  • 1 tsp EACH ground cumin, garlic powder, onion powder, ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp EACH smoked paprika, salt, dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper optional for spicier
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons Vegetable oil or other neutral oil
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 3 cups reduced sodium chicken broth
  • 1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • a pinch of cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

Instructions

  • Whisk the flour and all seasoning together in a small bowl (through oregano or optional cayenne pepper); set aside.
  • Melt the butter in the vegetable oil in a large cast iron skillet over medium heat. Whisk in the flour mixture and cook while whisking for 2 minutes. Whisk in the tomato paste until completely combined and continue to cook for 1 minute.
  • Reduce the heat to low, then gradually whisk in the chicken broth. Continue to whisk until smooth and the lumps are dissolved. Whisk in cocoa powder, sugar and cinnamon.
  • Bring the sauce to a simmer and continue to simmer, whisking often, until it thickens to your desired consistency, about 5-7 minutes. Keep in mind the sauce will thicken a little as it cools.
  • Remove from heat and stir in apple cider vinegar. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired with additional salt, cayenne, sugar or vinegar. If the sauce thickens too much, simply whisk in additional chicken broth, a little at a time until it reaches desired consistency.

Notes

*Don't miss my chicken enchiladas and beef enchiladas with this enchilada sauce.  My  enchilada soup is also based off of this recipe.

INTERNATIONAL WARNING:

American Chili powder is a blend of chilies, cumin, garlic powder, and herbs with a ratio of one-part cayenne to seven parts the other spices.  Chili powders sold in other parts of the world, however, are 100% chile pepper and 8X hotter than chili powder!  So, please use American-style chili powder to make this recipe or your mouth will be on FIRE!

How Spicy is this Enchilada Sauce?

This Enchilada Sauce recipe is not spicy, just flavorful IF you don't add the cayenne pepper.  With the cayenne pepper it has a medium kick. Of course, there are some variances in heat between different chili powder brands, so I recommend tasting the enchilada sauce before deciding if you want to add the cayenne pepper.  And of course, if you would like it spicier, add more cayenne pepper to taste.  Be aware that the heat is also mellowed out when combined with other ingredients such as in enchiladas. 

Do I have to add sugar?

The sugar, cocoa powder and the cinnamon are an easy substitute for Mexican chocolate and really enhance the authentic enchilada sauce recipe so please don’t skip them!

Storage

Enchilada Sauce should be stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container. When properly stored, it is good for 5-7 days.  It will thicken in the refrigerator so just thin it out with some water or chicken broth.

How to Freeze 

  • Let Enchilada Sauce cool to room temperature.
  • Transfer to freezer safe glass jars (it will stain plastic) or freezer safe bags.
  • Label and freeze for up to 3 months.
  • When ready to use, let sauce thaw completely in the refrigerator.
  • Stir in water or chicken broth to reach desired consistency.v

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54 Comments

  1. Wesley J Bielinski says

    You mention in the ingredients list that “you will want to use a neutral oil such as vegetable oil that won’t add flavor to the sauce.” But in the step to make the roux yyou say ” Melt the butter in the olive oil in a cast iron skillet.” I’m going to assume you mean melt the butter in the vegetable oil.

    • Jen says

      Yes, you definitely want vegetable oil. That is an error I fixed sometime ago, maybe clear your cache and it should read properly, thanks Wesley!

  2. Allison Stovall says

    This sauce is wonderful! I just wanted to pour it in a cup and drink it! I’ve made homemade enchilada sauce from dried chilis before and this sauce is just as good and easier because I typically have all of these ingredients on hand. I am looking forward to using it in the empanada recipe. YUM!

    • Jen says

      Thanks for your awesome comment Allison – I love the visual of a warm mug of enchilada sauce ;)! and I appreciate hearing you found this enchilada sauce just as good as from scratch! Enjoy your empanadas!

  3. Tracy says

    I just made this sauce and it smells so good in my house rt now!!! I love Mexican food and convinced myself that I preferred green enchiladas over the red. I think your sauce recipe may change my mind 🙂 This sauce was super easy to make. Going to make chicken enchiladas later. Thank you 🙂

    • Jen says

      You’re so welcome Tracy, I’m so pleased you loved this enchilada so much! Red enchilada sauce for the win!

  4. Tonya Daily says

    This was perfect! I was making a new Tortilla Soup recipe and realized at the last minute that I didn’t have any Enchilada Sauce. I had wanted to make this recipe for a while, so I went for it. Thank you for the recipe.

    • Jen says

      Thank you so much Tonya, I’m so happy it was worth the wait!

  5. Michelle Hartman says

    This sauce was pretty AMAZING! I want to thank you so much for sharing the recipe. I think of recipes as a guideline, does that make sense? I switched up some of my chili powder for ancho chili powder and some chipolte chili powder (made from jalapeños). Since I made a double batch, I did 4 tablespoons of regular and 1 table spoon each of the others. I used vegetable broth since my friend for dinner is vegetarian and used all butter instead of combo. Browned the butter then fo.lowed the rest to a tea. Oh yeah just through in the whole small can of tomato paste. Haste waste and storing that little amount in the fridge. They seem to get lost in the endless divide. I can eat the sauce like a creamy soup! Loved it that much. Thank you again!

    • Jen says

      Thanks Michelle, I’m so pleased this enchilada sauce is slurp worthy! I also love your swaps of ancho chili powder and chipotle chili powder- yum!

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