Authentic Mexican Red Chile Sauce (Enchilada Sauce)

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Growing up in a Mexican-American household our classic meal was typically drenched in a flavorful Mexican Red Chile Sauce. My mom would simply take New Mexico Chiles simmer them in hot water with fresh garlic and then use a blender to her preferred consistency. That’s it. No tomato sauce or chili powder is needed.

And now I’m finally sharing the secrets for the perfect authentic red chili sauce, great for enchiladas or other Mexican food classics.

Red Chile Sauce in a mason jar.
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One of the secrets I found is that my mom starts with this basic sauce, and then adds various ingredients to the sauce after it is made to fit the style of Mexican food she was making, from enchiladas to a sauce over a burrito. And she never really told us the secrets to that technique until now.

Recipe Highlights

  • This is a flavorful red chili sauce that is medium heat.
  • You can modify the flavor using any dried chile like ancho chiles or other dried peppers.
  • You will find dried red chile pods in the Mexican aisle of most grocery stores.

About Dried Chile Pods

Many authentic Mexican recipes start with dried chiles, whether a red sauce or a green sauce. The most important ingredient for this red chile sauce recipe is the dried red chiles. It is the base of all the flavor. By changing the type of chile pods you can make this a mild heat or even into a spicy red sauce. But for your first time we recommend starting with one of two red chiles.

To start out use dried Mexican Chile, which is also know as red chile or hatch red chile. This style of chile tends to be slightly bitter but a bright flavor and color which is appealing. There are ways to offset the bitter flavor with other ingredients. See below for more details. They may also be called California chile pods.

Dried New Mexic0 chiles in a 3-ounce bag.

The other most common is the dried guajillo pepper, which will be more earthy and give a darker color to the chile. Guajillo typically make a low heat red chile sauce with a little more sweetness.

If you want more heat then you can combine more dried chile, like chile de arbol or even sweet pasilla chiles. The goal is to experiment with various types of dried chiles to find the combination you like.

You can get chili pods online if you can’t find them at your local store. They come in multiple sizes, but the typical package will be 3-ounces. If you mix peppers use the full 3-ounces of the underlying pepper for flavor and then add 2 or 3 other peppers to enhance the flavor.

Ingredients for Red Chile Sauce

  • Dried New Mexican Red Chile or Guajillo Peppers
  • Cold Water – Which will be boiled to hydrate the pepper and then some used to make the sauce
  • Garlic Cloves – Crushed
  • Kosher Salt – This will be important after you make the sauce

Tools for Red Chile Sauce

  • Large Stock Pot (At least 3 quarts)
  • Good Blender – A food processor can work too but you will have better success using a good blender.

Instructions

First: Start with removing the stems and seeds from the chile pods.

Second: Bring cold water to a boil in large stock pot.

Third: Add the dried chile pods and garlic to the boiling water and reduce to a simmer. Simmer for 30 minutes.

Fourth: Remove the chile pods (now rehydrated) and place them and garlic in the blender. Take one cup of the water it was simmering in and place in the blender. Pulse until the chile sauce is smooth and any skin and seeds are completely pulverized (pulse for about 3 minutes).

Fifth: Add salt. If the sauce is bitter then add more salt to offset the flavor.

Optional – If there is still skin and seeds in the red chile sauce then pour the red chile sauce through a mesh strainer to separate.

Flavoring the Red Chili Sauce

Once the simple sauce is done you can flavor or enhance as you see fit. For a classic enchilada sauce recipe we like to add onion powder and more salt to balance the potential for a bitter sauce. For burritos we will start by browning some chuck meat and then add the red chili sauce with some Mexican Oregano for a take on chile Colorado.

Bowl of authentic red chile enchilada sauce.

Variations

If you want to spice it up and not play with various chili pods use your favorite hot sauce for heat. You can add chicken broth (or stock) versus water to the blender for a little more richness.

Storage

This can be used immediately or you can store in a mason jar for up to 10 days in the refrigerator. Otherwise freeze in quart sized baggies to make it last up to one year.

Recipe Inspirations

This sauce is great on our pork enchiladas, which is a great way to use leftover pulled pork. We also use this sauce as a base for our beef enchiladas, a great use of chuck roast. You can easily drizzle this over brisket nachos too.


This post was originally published in May of 2014 and updated July of 2022 with more specific recipe steps, storage details, and new process photos.

Red chile sauce in a dish.
4.86 from 7 votes

Authentic Red Chile Sauce Recipe (Enchilada Sauce)

An authentic dried chili based red sauce that is mixed in a blender and can be used as an easy enchilada sauce or enhanced for other recipe options.
Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 30 minutes
Servings: 2 cups

Equipment

  • 1 Blender
  • 3 quart saucepan
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Ingredients 

  • 3 ounces Dried New Mexico Red Chile Pods,, (Seeds and stems removed)
  • 6 cloves fresh garlic
  • 4 cups cold water
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt

Instructions 

  • Boil Chiles: Fill pot with cold water and bring to a boil. Add the garlic and the dried chile pods and reduce to a simmer. Simmer for 30 minutes.
  • Blend Chiles: After 30 minutes turn off the heat. Put the chile pods and garlic into a blender with a strainer. Don't discard the water yet.
  • Add one cup of the water that the chile was simmering in and blend the chiles until they become a thick chili sauce (about 3 minutes). It should be smooth with no seeds or skin.
  • Optional: Sift the sauce through a strainer or fine sieve to get any chunks or remaining seeds out.

Notes

When Picking Dried Chile:
  • New Mexico (or California) Dried Chile will be bright red and have an earthy flavor with slight heat. These are hatch chiles. 
  • Guajillo or Pasilla peppers will be darker in color and sweeter with a flavor that is richer with no heat.
Optional: If there is still skin and seeds in the red chile sauce then pour the red chile sauce through a mesh strainer to separate.
Storage: This can be used immediately or you can store in a mason jar for up to 10 days in the refrigerator. Otherwise freeze in quart sized baggies to make it last up to one year.

Nutrition

Calories: 151kcal | Carbohydrates: 33g | Protein: 5g | Fat: 3g | Saturated Fat: 0.4g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 0.2g | Sodium: 1227mg | Potassium: 832mg | Fiber: 12g | Sugar: 18g | Vitamin A: 11265IU | Vitamin C: 16mg | Calcium: 50mg | Iron: 3mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Additional Info

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Course: Entree
Cuisine: Mexican, Mexican American
Servings: 2 cups
Calories: 151
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Vindulge

About Mary


I'm Mary, a wine/food/travel writer, Certified Sommelier, mom of twins, former vegetarian turned BBQ fanatic, runner, founder of Vindulge, and author of Fire + Wine cookbook. Thanks for stopping by!

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6 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    Ahhhhmazing! Absolutely love this recipe! I’m Canadian & have been addicted to New Mexico Chili since the very first time I tried it in 2008!
    Thank you for sharing your mother’s recipe. I scoured the internet trying to find this recipe. Simple, Delicious & Perfect!
    I make a huge pot at a time then freeze it in meal size portions approx 1/2 liter or a pint at a time.

  2. Does your Mom prefer the mild, medium, or hot red chili peppers for her sauce recipe? I have found all variations of dried. Thank you!

    1. She definitely goes for the medium or hot. To be honest, she grabs what she can find but if there are medium then that’s ideal.

  3. This red sauce reminds me of my 20’s, but its not on the page anymore…could you still share it?
    I’d be so appreciative!

    1. Thanks for pointing that out!!! When I made some changes to my site a couple months ago it must have gotten deleted, and I never realized it. It’s back up now. 🙂