A mix of dried New Mexico and guajillo chiles plus Mexican spices create an authentic but easy homemade red enchilada sauce that’s perfect for enchiladas, chilaquiles, and more.
I’m right there with you when it comes to that last minute rush to get dinner on the table. Those time when it seems it’s all you can muster to pull a can of enchilada sauce from the pantry, toss some cheese in the middle of a few tortillas, break out the can opener, pour, and bake, and a pretty okay dinner is served.
But then there are the times when you want more flavor than an aluminum can can deliver. When you want more Mexican authenticity to create a from scratch meal, and that’s when you plan ahead and are STILL able to fix a fast dinner because you were a kitchen smartie-pants and food prepped ahead with tips from my weekly meal plan.
This authentic red enchilada sauce makes all the difference in homemade enchiladas. I’ve seen quite a few recipes that use flour and oil to create a roux for the base and then add tomato paste that then ends up tasting more like a spicy tomato sauce rather than a vivid enchilada sauce.
Mine, however, calls for dried chiles that have been reconstituted and blended as the main part of the base for that real chile flavor.
Prepped ahead, this sauce is just as fast to use when you have it on hand. And it’s just as easy to prepare. And even better, it’s muy auténtico!
What’s in This Enchilada Sauce?
This homemade enchilada sauce recipe calls for dried New Mexico chiles and guajillo chiles along with a few tomatoes, onion, a bit of garlic, traditional Mexican spices of oregano and cumin. To deepen the flavor I add smoked paprika.
And for an interesting twist I sometimes add a cinnamon stick because one of my favorite Mexican restaurant’s red sauces has a cinnamon flavor, but that’s totally optional.
How to Make Enchilada Sauce
The chiles are softened in boiling water and simmered for about 30 minutes. Don’t forget to save the cooking liquid (discarding the cinnamon sticks if using) to add to the sauce after blending the whole chiles with the sautéed onion, garlic, tomatoes, and spices.
After blending, strain the sauce to discard any extra seeds or pieces of skin that didn’t blend smoothly. Taste and adjust the seasonings and amount of salt to your liking. At this stage you add more water to create the consistency you desire.
The final step, and most important is to fry the sauce.
It’s a quick step but one you do NOT want to skip if you want to develop that rich, deep flavor that this homemade sauce delivers. Be careful as the oil will splatter, so work carefully.
It’s the finishing touch to creating this easy enchilada sauce that goes well with just about any flavor of enchiladas.
Can I Double This Recipe?
Yes, you should definitely consider making a double batch of this red enchilada sauce to have on hand for easier enchiladas, burritos, chilaquiles, casseroles—you name it!
Can I Freeze Enchilada Sauce?
Very easily! To freeze this homemade enchilada sauce, first let it cool completely and then transfer it to glass jars or freezer bags. If using freezer bags, lay them flat in your freezer. Once hardened, you can store the enchilada sauce standing up and it takes up less room.
When you’re ready to eat the frozen authentic enchilada sauce, simply pop it into your fridge overnight to thaw. Or, reheat the sauce in a saucepan.
My Favorite Ways to Use Enchilada Sauce
Now that you’ve made a big batch of homemade enchilada sauce, the culinary world is at your fingertips. Here are a few of my all-time favorite ways to use this authentic enchilada sauce:
- Beef and Butternut Squash Enchiladas
- Easy Chilaquiles with Eggs
- Stacked Breakfast Enchiladas
- Chipotle Shrimp Burritos with Avocado Crema
- Mexican Turkey Meatball Sandwiches with Avocado Smash
Tips for Making the Best Enchilada Sauce
When cooking the onions and other veggies, you’re not looking for them to develop a lot of flavor. You just want to soften them so your homemade enchilada sauce doesn’t have a raw onion or garlic flavor to it.
If you don’t have smoked paprika on hand, I highly recommend investing in a jar. It’s inexpensive and adds so much flavor to this enchilada sauce, plus it can be used in soups, stews, chilis, and more. It doesn’t taste like regular paprika, it’s much more potent.
Lastly, be really careful when pouring the pureed red enchilada sauce into the oiled skillet. It tends to splatter, and you don’t want to burn yourself or get enchilada sauce on your clothes (it’s impossible to get out).
More Mexican Sauces & Dips You’ll Love
- Pico de Gallo
- Creamy Avocado Salsa Verde
- Mango Salsa
- Hatch Chile Salsa Verde
- Roasted Garlic and Pickled Jalapeño Guacamole
How to Make Authentic Enchilada Sauce
- 3 cups water
- 2 ounces dried guajillo chiles stemmed and seeded
- 1 ounce dried New Mexico chiles stemmed and seeded
- 1 cinnamon stick optional
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil divided
- 1/4 cup chopped yellow onion
- 1 medium tomato seeded and chopped
- 1 large garlic clove pressed or minced
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
In a heavy saucepan, bring water, chiles and the cinnamon stick (if using) to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 30 minutes or until chiles are tender. Drain the chiles, discard the cinnamon stick (if using) and reserve the cooking liquid in a measuring cup and set aside.
Heat 1 tablespoon of the vegetable oil in a medium sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the tomato, garlic, salt, oregano, smoked paprika, and cumin and cook for about 5 minutes more.
Transfer the mixture to a blender and add the chiles plus 2 cups of the cooking liquid and puree until smooth. Strain the sauce through a fine strainer and discard the pulp. Add more cooking liquid to thin the sauce to your liking.
Heat the remaining oil in the same sauté pan over high heat. Slowly add the sauce being careful to avoid the splatters. Cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly, then reduce the heat to low and cook for another 4-5 minutes. Cool and store in the refrigerator until ready to use or freeze flat in gallon freezer bags for up to 3 months.
More Easy Mexican Recipes to Try
- The Best Steak Fajitas
- Easy Shredded Chicken and Zucchini Tacos
- Salsa Verde Chicken Enchilada Casserole
- Just Like Taco Bell Tacos Recipe
- Beyond Easy Chicken Mole Enchiladas
Have a great day, and I hope this recipe inspires you to get into the kitchen and make something good.
Craving more life balance, less stress, and better health? Check out my Nourished Planner, the daily planner to help create simplicity and under-schedule your life.
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