Learn to make authentic red enchilada sauce using dried Mexican chiles for rich and robust flavor, perfect for more than just enchiladas.
It’s a Mexican gravy that can also be used for topping tamales, nachos, smothered burritos and more.
Traditionally, red enchilada sauce is made with chiles, not tomatoes. If you’ve been on a mad search over the internet, looking for this sauce in a chiles-only, no tomatoes version, you’ve found it!
Many enchilada sauce recipes use all powdered chiles and spices, but I wanted to be as traditional as possible.
Making an authentic Mexican enchilada sauce means that you start by picking your dried chiles.
No Tomatoes in Enchilada Sauce
Enchilada means that, traditionally, this sauce is made from chiles, not tomatoes. It’s in the word: en-chile.
There are chiles here, but no tomatoes. It’s the red chiles that provide the red color.
If you want to throw in a couple of tomatoes to cook and add to the blender, it’s okay. If you’re never tried chiles only, do yourself a favor and try it at least once. You never know what you’re missing.
I added tomatoes to my Red Tamale Sauce, if you prefer a tomato base.
The answer is this enchilada sauce recipe, which you may also know as Mexican gravy. It’s delicious and flavorful, made traditionally with dried red chiles.
Mexican gravy is a slightly thickened chili sauce flavored with dried red chiles. To lighten the robust flavor of the chiles, slowly stir in one cup (per quart of sauce) of your favorite cheese near the end of the cooking. This will add even more flavor and thicken the Mexican gravy up more. Serve over tamales, burritos, tacos, enchiladas and well, just about anything.
Maybe this gravy is more of something created in the United States than in Mexico? I’m not sure but I like to think that there are also people in Mexico who like to add cheese to their red sauce because…. cheese!
The primary chile pepper I’ve used in this red enchilada sauce is dried Anaheim peppers. That’s the one in the center of this photograph. They are about 1 ½ to 2″ wide and about 6 to 8″ long.
Anaheim chiles are sometimes called California chiles as well. You can substitute New Mexico chiles, which are the same type of chile but grown in New Mexico.
They’re more spicy than Anaheim because of the soil and weather conditions. You may know them as Hatch chiles.
If you’re unable to find these, you can also substitute Pasilla or Guajillo.
I used one ancho chile. Ancho is a smoked and dried poblano pepper. It gives a darker color and a little bit of a smoky taste.
Chiles de Arbol
These are the two little, skinny peppers. I think the smaller peppers are always the hottest. Two of them give this enchilada sauce just a touch of heat. It wasn’t overpowering but it was definitely there.
If you use guajillo chiles, though, you may not want to use the chiles de arbol at all because guajillo can be pretty spicy.
When you’re picking and choosing your chiles, have a look at my Scoville Heat Scale for details about each pepper.
Substitutions for Dried Chiles
If you’re unable to find the dried chiles, or you want to save time, you can try using the powdered versions.
For each Anaheim chile, use 1 tablespoon mild red chile powder. Ancho chile can be replaced with 1 tablespoon ancho powder. And, maybe 1 teaspoon of cayenne instead of chile de arbol.
Making the Chile Base
Before you boil the dried chiles to reconstitute them, remove the stems and seeds.
Since we don’t know how these peppers are dried, always wash them before you use them.
Most of the time, peppers are dried in the open air. You never know what could be on there. Try not to think about it. Just wash them. Trust me.
I like to wash them after I’ve removed the seeds and stems. Water makes the seeds stick to the peppers, making it more difficult to remove them. Whatever way works best for you is the way to go.
Using a Blender
A blender is one of the most important small appliances when making Mexican food.
Blend until completely smooth. You could strain after blending but I don’t find it necessary, if it’s blended really well.
Have a look at this Ninja Professional Plus Kitchen System at Amazon. It’s the one we use and includes the blender, a food processor bowl and two to-go cups. (This is an affiliate link, by the way. If you click it and buy, I may get a little something something from them at no extra cost to you.)
How Long Does Enchilada Sauce Keep?
This sauce should last in the refrigerator 3 or 4 days. It may get a little thick when it’s chilled for awhile. You can add more water to it in order to get back to the right consistency, if you like.
This sauce can also be frozen for 3-4 months.
Since this recipe makes one quart of sauce, you may have some leftover when making a tray of enchiladas. Use the remainder at the table when serving.
You can also use it to make nachos later. I made sheet pan nachos with the remainder. This is really the most delicious enchilada sauce I’ve ever made.
Is This Gluten Free?
I’ve used all purpose flour to slightly thicken this enchilada sauce so it’s not gluten free, as is.
If you would like to make it gluten free, replace the flour with gluten free flour or corn flour, known as masa harina.
Browse through all my Mexican Food Recipes. I try to keep them as authentic as possible, with a few fun Tex Mex recipes as well.
Red Enchilada SauceTap to leave a star rating
For more information, be sure to check the recipe details in the attached 24Bite® post.
- Electric Blender
- 5 Dried Anaheim Chiles
- 1 Ancho Chile
- 2 Chiles de Arbol
- ½ Onion
- 4 Garlic Cloves
- ¼ cup Vegetable Oil
- ¼ cup All Purpose Flour
- 1 tablespoon Better Than Bouillon, chicken flavor
- ½ teaspoon Cumin
- ½ teaspoon Salt, optional
- Stem, seed and rinse all dried chiles. Cut onion into three pieces. Peel garlic cloves. Place in a medium sauce pan with enough water to cover.
- Place pan on medium high heat and bring to a boil then reduce to low and cover with lid. Allow to cook until everything is heated through and chiles are soft, about 10-15 minutes.
- With slotted spoon, remove all ingredients from sauce pan to electric blender. Add about 1 cup water so blender blades will move easily. Pulse until smooth. Strain out and discard solid pieces, leaving the liquid. Set aside.
- Rinse and dry sauce pan or use a different one. With a whisk, mix together oil and flour briskly until smooth. Place pan on stovetop at medium heat. Cook, stirring almost constantly, until lightly browned, about 5-7 minutes.
- Stir in liquid sauce from blender until smooth. Slowly stir in three cups water. Be careful when you first start pouring. There will be a lot of hot steam.
- Stir in remaining ingredients. The bouillon already has a lot of salt so, if you want to reduce the sodium, leave out the extra salt.
- Bring to boil, then reduce heat and cook for about 5-7 minutes until slightly thickened.
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