Authentic Enchilada Sauce
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My authentic enchilada sauce is made from scratch with soaked Mexican red chiles. Make this recipe- you’ll never use store-bought again!
I’m a believer in creating homemade versions of store bought pantry staples whenever possible. Not only to save money, but also because the flavors are so much better in homemade spice blends and sauces.
I have recipes for everything from basic staples like homemade chili seasoning and Sazon seasoning to homemade buffalo sauce and Kansas City style BBQ sauce.
If you’re a skeptic, you don’t have to take my word for it. Just buy your favorite brand of store-bought red enchilada sauce and make this authentic Mexican recipe. Then, compare the flavors side by side. After you do, please come back and leave a comment on this post. I would so appreciate your honest feedback!
Authentic enchilada sauce
If you’re a long time follower of Kevin is Cooking, you may remember that I have a recipe here on the site for a quick and easy version of red enchilada sauce. So how is this authentic recipe different?
Well, for starters, it calls for classic Mexican spices, and the sauce is thickened with pureed chili peppers. The other red enchilada sauce recipe is prepared like a French sauce. It starts with a roux (equal parts flour and fat) to make the base of the sauce.
To achieve authentic Mexican flavor, it’s important to use spices that you’d find in Mexico. In this case, Mexican oregano.
Mexican oregano vs Mediterranean
- Mexican oregano is native to Mexico, and is a relative of the Lemon Verbena plant. It is pungent like Mediterranean oregano but has notes of mild licorice and citrus.
- Mediterranean oregano is a member of the mint family and is most often used in Greek and Italian recipes. This is the one most often found in spice racks and supermarkets.
If you can’t find Mexican oregano in your local grocery store, it is usually available in specialty shops. Otherwise, whatever you have on hand will work fine.
I use two types of dried chiles for this authentic enchilada sauce; ancho and pasilla. You’re most likely to find dried chiles in the produce section or ethic food aisle of your local grocery store. Otherwise, any Mexican or Latin specialty market will have them.
When you shop for dried chiles of any kind, choose the ones that are soft and pliable. Hard or brittle chiles are past their prime.
Video: Making enchilada sauce
As I mentioned, this recipe is the traditional and authentic way of preparing enchilada sauce, just like you’d have it in Mexico.
Watch the video in the recipe card below to see the process from start to finish.
Instructions and recipe tips
- Dry toast the chiles.
Be sure your pan is completely dry and fully preheated before adding the chiles. This makes them more pliable and releases their essential oils.
- Cool before removing seeds.
Trust me; burns are no bueno. Remove the chiles from the pan and let them cool before removing the stems and seeds.
- Roast the vegetables.
In the same dry pan, roast the tomatoes, onion, and garlic to get a little char flavor.
- Simmer the sauce, don’t boil.
If the heat is too high, the tomatoes will scorch and take on a bitter flavor. Keep the heat around medium for best results.
- Puree and strain the enchilada sauce.
The simplest way to blend the sauce ingredients together is by using an immersion blender, otherwise known as a stick blender. If you don’t have one, no worries; you can use a blender.
Please be careful when pouring the enchilada sauce into the blender so that it doesn’t splash and burn you.
When you’re straining the puree, scrape the bottom of the sieve to get any sauce that’s left behind.
- Simmer again, to reduce and thicken.
Heat some vegetable oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Add the strained sauce to quickly fry it, then reduce the heat and simmer the enchilada sauce for about 20 minutes.
Be sure to taste for flavor before using it. I often have to add more salt and/or sugar. The flavor is dependent on how ripe and fresh the tomatoes are.
You can use the authentic enchilada sauce to make my recipe for carnitas enchiladas.
Storing and freezing enchilada sauce
- Keep the sauce in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. Use it all at once for a big batch of ground beef enchiladas or a little at a time for other recipes.
If you’d like to freeze it, the best way is in a zip-top food storage bag. This way, it lays flat in the freezer. It’ll keep for a couple of months before it begins to lose flavor.
Other uses for authentic enchilada sauce
Because red enchilada sauce is such a staple in Mexican cooking, it can be used for much more than enchiladas. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Add some to Mexican breakfast burritos
- Stir into cooked rice
- Pour over tamales or nachos
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This post, originally published on Kevin is Cooking March 0, 2018, was updated with new content on Dec. 14, 2021.
Authentic Enchilada Sauce + Video
- 4 ancho dried chiles
- 4 pasilla (negro) dried chiles
- 1 onion (large, trimmed and cut lengthwise)
- 2 Roma tomatoes (See Note 1)
- 6 garlic cloves
- 1 tsp Mexican oregano or original
- 1 tsp marjoram
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- sugar (optional)
- Toast the chiles in a hot, dry skillet for about 30 seconds per side. Allow chiles to cool and then remove stems, and shake out as many of the seeds as you can.
- In the same hot, dry skillet char the onion, tomatoes and garlic.
- Place the chiles back in skillet with the charred onion, tomatoes, garlic and add the Mexican oregano, marjoram and salt. Add enough water to cover and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
- Carefully remove boiled chiles, vegetables, herbs and the water and put in a blender. Purée until smooth. If too thick, add a little water to blend completely.
- Strain chile vegetable mixture through a sieve into a bowl and be sure to scrape bottom of sieve to get all the pulp.
- Heat the skillet over medium high heat and add the oil. Quickly and carefully add the strained sauce to fry it. Reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes until the sauce has thickened stirring often.
- Add salt and or sugar to taste.
- Cool completely, cover and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
- I like to add Roma tomatoes, although this is not traditional. Cut these lengthwise if using.
The information shown is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.
Make sure you have windows open and/or an exhaust fan going when you toast the peppers. I can’t breathe in my kitchen right now.
Thaddaeus, you’re only toasting the chiles for 30 seconds a side? When they go back into the pan you are covering with water. How long did you dry toast the chiles?
Great recipe Kevin, i do enjoy reading your blog. I have been making this sauce for many years. That said, i simply put everything, seeds included in my vita mix and the sauce comes out smooth as silk. Seeds do make the flavor as well, it is wasteful to throw them out. I also use the small dry peppers for heat.. A whole handful of these gives the heat and flavor.
Fantastic idea to include the seeds, Sel. No food wasted is a great thing!
agreed, but it will only work if you have a powerful blender. Even the skins of the dried peppers make the sauce noteworthy, give it a try if you have the machine that will work it for you, highly unlikely you will ever go back to straining that valuable pulp