Red Enchilada Sauce Recipe [Step-by-Step] (2023)

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Salsa Roja para Enchiladas

Use the visual recipe as your guide. Jump to the full recipe below for preparation details. All of the ingredients should be available at your local grocery store.

Our Homemade Enchilada Sauce Recipe Can’t Be Beat

Homemade enchilada sauce beats canned enchilada sauce every time. Period. If you have never made it from scratch, you should give this authentic Mexican recipe a try. It is prepared using dried chilis not chili powder and it is much easier to make than you may think and the results are phenomenal.

Red Enchilada Sauce Recipe [Step-by-Step] (1)

A Versatile Sauce

It’s great for toppingchicken enchiladas,beef enchiladas,cheese enchiladas,enchilada casserole, or evenwet burritos.

Three Different Names, Equally Delicious Results

Depending on where you are, red enchilada sauce may also be called salsa roja, salsaroja para enchiladas or molerojo. Whatever you call it, the results are equally delicious.

How to Make An Authentic Mexican Red Enchilada Sauce


  • 8 ancho chiles (mild fruity dried chili pods)
  • 4 pasilla chiles (mild fruity dried chili pods)
  • 1 medium onion quartered
  • 2 plum tomatoes
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • ½ teaspoon Mexican oregano
  • ½ teaspoon marjoram
  • 2 tablespoons cooking oil
  • Salt to taste
Red Enchilada Sauce Recipe [Step-by-Step] (2)

The recipe calls for driedancho chiles and pasilla chiles. Both are mild chiles with a pleasant fruity taste. Ancho chile translates as the “wide chile” and pasilla chile translates and the “raisin chile” due to its wrinkled texture and raisin-like fragrance.

Toast the Chile Peppers

  • Toasting the chiles enhances the flavor of the chiles and make them more pliable and easy to work with.
  • In a hot comal or pan, you toast them for about 10 to 15 seconds per side. If you leave them on the heat too long they develop an acrid taste which you want to avoid. It is quite obvious from the smell that you have toasted them too long.
  • Discard any chiles that are overly toasted.
Red Enchilada Sauce Recipe [Step-by-Step] (3)

Char the Vegetables

  • Charring the vegetables is another step that helps develop the flavor of your sauce. You want to blacken them.
  • Char them in a dry pan. Don’t oil the pan.
  • Avoid using a non-stick pan for charring. It’s not good for the pan and it’s difficult to get a good char on the veggies.
Red Enchilada Sauce Recipe [Step-by-Step] (4)

Prep the Chiles

  • Remove the stems, seeds, and veins from the chiles.
  • Tear the stems off using your fingers split the chiles down the side to get to the seeds and veins. Don’t worry if you are unable to remove every last seed from the chiles. A few seeds won’t affect the flavor or texture.
  • Save the seeds. They are edible. You can toast them and use them as a condiment to add heat to a variety of dishes.
Red Enchilada Sauce Recipe [Step-by-Step] (5)

Reconstitute the Chiles

  • Add the chiles and all of the other ingredients to your pan.
  • You are going to simmer the chiles for 15 minutes to reconstitute them and to soften the vegetables.
  • Add just enough water to the pan until the ingredients are nearly covered.
Red Enchilada Sauce Recipe [Step-by-Step] (6)
Red Enchilada Sauce Recipe [Step-by-Step] (7)

Getting a Smooth Texture

  • After blending, strain the sauce to give it a smooth texture and to remove the chile skin which is hard to digest.
  • Push down firmly on the pulp to extract as much flavor as possible.
  • Discard the pulp that remains in the strainer.
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Fry the Sauce

  • Once you have strained the sauce, you must fry it. I know frying the salsa sounds crazy but this is the step that most helps it develop a rich flavor. Do not skip this step.
  • Add2 tablespoons of oil or enough to cover the bottom of your pan and get it really hot. Then you slowly pour the sauce into the hot oil. The sauce will begin to sizzle and the oil continues to sizzle as you pour all of the sauce into the pan.
  • Once you have fried it, which takes about 30 seconds, be sure to turn the heat down to low.
  • (NOTE: The oil tends to spatter. Be very careful with this step to avoid getting burned.)
Red Enchilada Sauce Recipe [Step-by-Step] (9)

How to Avoid a Bitter Enchilada Sauce

Dried chiles are a seasonal natural product and the level of heat and bitterness can vary greatly which means at times your sauce isn’t going to turn out the way you had planned.

But, don’t worry. You will almost always be able to fix it. It may take a little trial-and-error until you get it just right.

Methods to reduce the bitterness of your sauce:

  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons agave syrup
  • 1 tablespoon creamy peanut butter (This is a reader recommendation that I haven’t tried but I think it would an interesting note to your sauce)

You want to add these ingredients little-by-little to avoid overpowering your sauce. A little goes a long way.

It’s an Easy Enchilada Sauce.Time to Start Cooking!

The first batch you make will be really good, the second batch will be excellent and your third batch will be out of this world. It doesn’t take long to learn to make an authentic salsa for enchiladas. Well? What are you waiting for?

Red Enchilada Sauce Recipe [Step-by-Step] (10)

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3.92 from 89 votes

Homemade Red Enchilada Sauce Recipe

Recipe for an easy red enchilada sauce, also known as salsa roja or mole rojo, prepared with dried ancho and pasilla chiles. Use it as a base for Pozole too.

Course Salsa, Sauce

Cuisine Mexican

Keyword How to Make Red Enchilada Sauce, Red Enchilada Sauce Recipe

Prep Time 35 minutes minutes

Cook Time 30 minutes minutes

Total Time 1 hour hour 5 minutes minutes

Servings 8 servings

Calories 113kcal

Author Douglas Cullen


  • 8 ancho chiles mild fruity dried chili pods
  • 4 pasilla chiles mild fruity dried chili pods
  • 1 medium onion quartered
  • 2 plum tomatoes
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • ½ teaspoon Mexican oregano
  • ½ teaspoon marjoram
  • 2 tablespoons cooking oil
  • salt to taste


  • Toast the chiles in a hot pan until fragrant. (about 10 to 15 seconds per side)

  • Allow chiles to cool and then remove stems, seeds, and veins.

  • Char the onion, tomatoes, and garlic in a hot pan.

  • Place the chiles, onion, tomatoes, garlic oregano and marjoram in a pot with just enough water until the ingredients are almost covered.

  • Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to low.

  • Simmer for 15 minutes to reconstitute the chiles and soften the veggies.

  • Blend the chiles, onion, tomatoes, garlic, oregano marjoram, and the soaking water until smooth. It usually takes about a minute.

  • Add water little by little if necessary to blend. You may have to blend in two batches

  • Strain the mixture.

  • Add two tablespoons of cooking oil to a hot pan add the strained sauce to fry it.

  • Reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes until the sauce has thickened.

  • Add salt to taste.

  • Allow the sauce to sit for at least 2 hours so that the flavors meld.

  • Warm the sauce before serving.



  • You can add a pinch of cumin.
  • Substitute chicken broth or vegetable broth for the soaking liquid.

Preparation Notes

  • The sauce is ready when it coats the back of a spoon.
  • To runny? If it is a little runny and you need to thicken it just simmer until it has reduced the desired consistency.
  • Too thick? If it is a little too thick, add water a couple of tablespoons at a time until it has reached the desired consistency.
  • Too bitter? Add only one of the following to reduce bitterness:½ teaspoon baking soda,1 to 2 teaspoons sugar,1 to 2 teaspoons agave syrup.
  • Use any neutral flavor cooking oil to fry.
  • Serving size is about ½ cup per person.


If you are unable to find the ingredients at your local store, you can order them online through Amazon or Mexgrocer.


The sauce will keep in the refrigerator for 5 days. It freezes very well. Try making a double or even triple batch and freezing the extra into portioned 2 cup bags.

Alternative Uses

  • You can also use this enchilada sauce as the base for red posole or on poached chicken breasts.


Serving: 1/2 cup | Calories: 113kcal | Carbohydrates: 17g | Protein: 4g | Fat: 4g | Sodium: 497mg | Sugar: 5g

More Salsas Made With Dried Chiles

  • Guajillo Chile Salsa
  • Salsa Taquera
  • Pasilla Tomatillo Salsa
  • Cascabel Salsa

You Might Like These Recipes Too

  • Salsa Verde Recipe
  • How to Use the Molcajete to Make a Rustic Salsa
  • Restaurant Salsa
What is your favorite enchilada sauce? Let me know in the comments below.

More Authentic Mexican Salsas

  • Chile Morita Salsa
  • Salsa Borracha con Cerveza
  • Chunky Mango Salsa
  • Chipotle Salsa

Reader Interactions


  1. Kris H says

    Don’t add baking soda to reduce the bitterness. Totally ruined my sauce.


  2. Don says

    Red Enchilada Sauce Recipe [Step-by-Step] (15)
    I just made my best chicken enchiladas ever and my first with homemade sauce. They were awesome! The sauce takes some time but wow wow wow was that a good use of an afternoon. Next time I’m quadrupling the batch so I NEVAR run out.


  3. I Heart Cumbia says

    Red Enchilada Sauce Recipe [Step-by-Step] (16)
    This was delicious. The only change I made was using chicken stock instead of water. Also make sure you fry the sauce. Frying sauces over heat so high the sauce splatters is an important Mexican technique for many dishes.


  4. Jim says

    This recipe is amazing! I’m thinking about making a giant batch and canning it. Would you change the recipe at all for canning?


  5. Maria T. says

    Red Enchilada Sauce Recipe [Step-by-Step] (17)
    I made this recipe this afternoon. It wasn’t difficult, turned out great and tastes like I imagined it would. I’m going to use the sauce tomorrow to make chicken enchiladas. Should taste even better after sitting overnight.


  6. Felicity says

    Red Enchilada Sauce Recipe [Step-by-Step] (18)
    This sauce was awful. Completely bland no. Flavor on the mouth and only a garlic after taste.


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What is red enchilada sauce made of? ›

Red enchilada sauce may also be called salsa roja, salsa roja para enchiladas or mole rojo. It is a sauce made out of ancho/ pasilla/New Mexico and/or Cascabel chiles, onion, garlic, tomatoes, broth, cumin, oregano, etc. all blended together then simmered until thickened.

What is the secret to good enchiladas? ›

The most important tip for avoiding soggy enchiladas is to briefly fry your tortillas in hot oil before you fill and roll. This creates a little bit of a barrier so that the tortillas don't soak up too much of the sauce and therefore start to break down.

How do you thicken red enchilada sauce? ›

Or alternately, you can thicken the sauce with a cornstarch slurry (equal parts cold water and cornstarch whisked together, then added to the sauce once it has reached a simmer). Storage instructions: Let the sauce cool to room temperature.

What is Mexican red sauce made of? ›

About Dried Chile Pods

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.

Which sauce is better for enchiladas? ›

Hatch Green Chile Enchilada Sauce

This is thick and a bit more viscous than the other sauces. It's a little spicier than the other mild salsas on this list, too, so if you find mild to be too tame, go for the Hatch brand enchilada sauce. There's some cane sugar in here, too.

Why is my homemade enchilada sauce bitter? ›

A universal complaint about homemade chile sauce is its tendency to taste bitter. That can be because of the peels of the chili peppers or because they were scorched when toasting them. Whatever the reason, if your chile sauce is too bitter for you, add a little brown sugar.

Why is my red enchilada sauce bitter? ›

If you taste your enchilada sauce and find it has a bitter or sour aftertaste, this could be simply due to the acidity of the peppers or tomato, if added. Not to worry. Mix in agave syrup or brown sugar, starting with 1/2 teaspoon and adding more until the taste is evened out to your liking.

How do you add flavor to red sauce? ›

Pungent fresh herbs like thyme, rosemary, sage, tarragon, and marjoram can liven up tomato sauce with their bold, distinctive flavors. Add 1 to 2 sprigs of one or more of them to your favorite sauce, cover, and simmer at least 5 minutes to allow them to infuse in the sauce. Remove the sprigs before serving.

Should I cover my enchiladas before baking? ›

Most enchiladas are baked and covered with foil until heated through. Oven temperatures and baking times vary per recipe, but on average they cook in a 350°F oven for about 25 minutes. Sprinkle the cheese on top of the enchiladas after they are heated through.

Why fry tortillas for enchiladas? ›

To prevent your tortillas from tearing or becoming soggy, quickly fry each corn tortilla in any oil you like for about 10 seconds on each side, until it starts to get crispy but is still pliable. This will add a barrier that will keep the tortilla from absorbing too much sauce, and also adds a little extra flavor.

Are enchiladas better with corn or flour? ›

Enchiladas are laden with sauce and fillings, and you need a tortilla that will hold up to all the moisture, so you should always opt for corn over flour.

Can you put too much sauce on enchiladas? ›

Of course, the moral of the story is to take a little more time to fry those tortillas before using them. The extra step is worth it. Another thing that adversely affects enchiladas is the addition of too much sauce. If you've ever thought, "There is no such thing as too much sauce," you might want to think again.

Why are my homemade enchiladas soggy? ›

Tips for keeping your flour tortillas from getting soggy in enchiladas. Try preheating your enchilada pan in the oven before you start cooking. Adding your tortillas intoan already-warm pan instead of a cold one will help them start cooking and getting crispy right away, rather than risking sogginess.

What is in Old El Paso enchilada sauce? ›

Water, Tomato Puree (water, tomato paste), Modified Corn Starch. Contains 2% or less of: Sugar, Salt, Chili Pepper, Soybean Oil, Vinegar, Hydrolyzed Corn Protein, Citric Acid, Onion Powder, Red Pepper, Color Added, Natural Flavor.

Is red enchilada sauce hotter than green? ›

Red vs. Green Enchilada Sauce:

Red enchilada sauce is made with red chilies (in this recipe, ground red chilies or chili powder). Green enchilada sauce is made with green chilis, tomatillos, and sometimes jalapeños, so it tends to have a larger heat range. It can be spicy, but doesn't have to be.

Is red enchilada sauce the same as salsa? ›

Salsa vs Enchilada Sauce

These two sauces might overlap in their ingredients, but the key difference is that enchilada sauce is thin, smooth, and served hot. It's also considered an important part of dishes like enchiladas, while salsa roja is a cold table sauce that can be added to anything.

What is a substitute for red enchilada sauce? ›

Tomato Sauce or Salsa as an Alternate

The bases of tomato sauce and salsa are a great start that just needs a bit of doctoring to use as a substitute. Since enchilada sauce is thin with spices, each of these is close but needs a bit of a quick and easy recipe idea.

What is the difference between enchilada sauce and red sauce? ›

Red chili sauce and enchilada sauce are not the same. Enchilada sauce is made with ground chili peppers, whereas red chili sauce is made with whole chili peppers. Enchilada sauce is also thinner in consistency and has a more pronounced chili flavor, whereas red chili sauce is thicker and has a sweeter flavor.

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