Rich and robust and a thousand times better than store-bought, this authentic homemade enchilada sauce recipe packs some serious FLAVOR! This sauce is not only for enchiladas. It can also be used to enhance soups and stews.
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Nothing compares to homemade. That’s a phrase that fits most everything when it comes to cooking. And it’s most definitely fitting of homemade enchilada sauce.
This authentic red chile sauce (enchilada sauce) is rich and robust, and packs a serious flavor!
It’s very easy to make, you just need the right ingredients. You need high quality chiles. More on that later. And for a truly fantastic, authentic red chile or enchilada sauce it’s also vital that you follow a few important rules:
The Do’s and Dont’s of Making the BEST Red Enchilada Sauce
For the best red enchilada sauce there are some important steps you need to take and several ingredients you need to use and avoid:
- Use dried whole peppers, not ground chili powder. Using whole dried peppers, roasting them, then reconstituting and pureeing them will give you a much richer, more complex, more flavorful sauce with flavor notes you won’t get from chili powder. There’s no comparison. And adding a dash of smoked paprika won’t compensate for not using dried whole chilies and roasting them.
- Toast the dried peppers. This will enhance the flavor.
- Don’t scorch the dried peppers. If you scorch the peels while toasting them you’ll end up with a very bitter sauce. To counter the bitterness, you can add some onion to the dish and a pinch of sugar.
- Use fresh garlic, not garlic powder. For the best flavor, roast it with the peppers.
- Use fresh onion, not onion powder. It should be roasted with the peppers to get maximum flavor.
- Say NO to flour. That’s used in some red chile sauce recipes to compensate for not using whole dried chilies. After the whole chilies are reconstituted and puréed, it will become the natural thickener of your sauce. Use the flour to make your tortillas and not for your enchilada marinade.
- Cook the sauce. Once the sauce has been strained and puréed, it is ready to be cooked. As flavorful as the sauce already is, don’t skip this step, it is vital for bringing out the FULL depth of flavor of the sauce.
Before it’s cooked you’ve got a bright red and flavorful raw chile paste (see below), but after it’s cooked the color darkens to a brownish red and the flavors deepen. They get deeper!
Now let’s talk peppers!
How to Choose Your Chile Peppers
The key to the best enchilada sauce is to select the best dried chilies you can find.
Most dried chilies I see in grocery stores and online is of poor quality. They’re old and brittle and flavorless.
There are 3 VITAL THINGS to look for when selecting “fresh” dried chiles:
1) They should be pliable and flexible (think a stiff version of fruit leather), not overly dry or brittle. 2) Their skins should be glossy, not dull. 3) They should have a good aroma, a little like dried fruit, not a dusty smell.
It is up to you to decide which chilies you prefer. One type of chilies or all three are possible. I prefer to use a mixture. Here are a few of my favorites with links to the brands I personally use and recommend:
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Guajillo: Bright red, sweet with a touch of acidity with mild to medium heat. It’s one of the most commonly used chilies in Mexican cuisine with an earthy-sweet flavor and are great for adding body to stews, sauces and adobos.
Ancho: Very mildly spicy with a rich fruity and lightly smoky flavor. They add a rich, dark red color to sauces. Ancho chilies, poblano chilies, are dried after they have fully ripened to a deep red color. Another popular dried pepper.
Pasilla: Sweet, fruity flavor with medium heat. The name “pasilla” comes from the word pasas, meaning “raisins”, because of its deep fruity flavor.
Arbol: Mild, earthy flavor and very spicy. While these don’t have a ton of flavor, they are your friends if you want to kick the heat up several more notches.
How to Make the BEST Enchilada Sauce!
Let’s get started!
The most important step is roasting. On medium heat heat, heat a heavy nonstick skillet (I prefer cast iron) Don’t add any oil. Place the peppers in a skillet. Toast them for about a minute each side, until they are fragrant. It’s better to under-toast than to over-toast them as they will become very bitter if scorched. Set aside. Next, add the garlic, tomatoes and onion to the skillet. Toast for a few minutes.
While tomatoes can be added if desired, I recommend them for their ability to balance out the peppers’ sharpness and sweetness.
Remove the stems from the peppers (using gloves if you’re using hot peppers), slice the peppers open and remove and discard all of the seeds and the membranes (contrary to popular belief, it’s the membranes not the seeds that are hot, the seeds are bitter). Place the peppers into a bowl.
Place the peppers in a bowl. Pour the chicken broth or boiling water over them. Cover the bowl and let them rest for 20-30 minutes.
For chicken broth we recommend Aneto 100% All-Natural Chicken Broth imported from Barcelona, Spain. You can read more about why we love it here. It is hands down the BEST.
Blend the peppers with their liquid together with the onion and tomato along the garlic, chocolate and all other ingredients (except if used) until smooth.
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This is the time to decide whether or not your sauce needs straining. I use a Vitamix which does an excellent job of blending the sauce to a very smooth puree, so I don’t bother straining it.
Add a tablespoon of oil to a saucepan. Next, add the red sauce. Cover it and simmer for 30 minutes. You can thin it by adding a little water. The sauce should have the consistency of heavy cream.
You can add a bit of semi-sweet or dark chocolate to the sauce and stir it until it melts.
Brown sugar can be added if the sauce is too bitter.
It can be stored in the refrigerator for up to two weeks, or frozen.
The sauce freezes well so make sure to have extra. It’s best to freeze the sauce in ziplock bags. I use about 1 cup per bag. This allows me to quickly grab a bag when I need it.
Cooking Suggestion: Use this sauce to make the Ultimate Pozole Rojo!