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Making your own Red Enchilada Sauce brings a touch of authenticity and depth to any Mexican dish. Not only does it outshine store-bought versions with its rich, complex flavors, you can make it in just 15 minutes with pantry staples that you likely have on hand.

Overhead view of red enchilada sauce in bowl with spoon.

Though I’ve used homemade Green Enchilada Sauce for years, somehow I never thought to make my own red sauce. Have you been buying it from the grocery store too? Once you know how easy and versatile the homemade version is (and much cheaper), you’ll never go back to the bottled stuff. And what you’ll love most about it is your complete control over the flavors. Just tweak the spices to perfectly complement whatever deliciousness you’re stuffing your enchiladas with.

Red Enchilada Sauce Ingredients

Red Enchilada Sauce Ingredients on a granite surface.
  • Olive Oil: Choose a high-quality extra virgin olive oil for the best flavor and smooth texture in the sauce.
  • All-Purpose Flour: This pantry staple helps thicken the sauce and creates a silky smooth consistency.
  • Chili Powder: Look for a chili powder that’s a blend of spices, not to be confused with chile powder (a single variety of dried and ground chile). 
  • Dried Oregano: Mexican oregano is ideal for its authentic flavor, but feel free to use the variety you have on hand.
  • Ground Cumin: This warm, earthy spice is a key component in many Mexican dishes and lends a distinctive flavor to the enchilada sauce.
  • Chicken Broth: Choose a high-quality, flavorful broth as it forms the base of the sauce. Vegetable broth can be used for a vegetarian version.
  • Tomato Sauce or Tomato Purée: This ingredient adds a rich tomato flavor and helps balance the spices in the sauce.
  • Fine Sea Salt (optional): A pinch of salt can enhance the flavors of the sauce, but only add enough to taste and keep in mind that other components in the recipe are likely salty.
Angled view of red enchilada Sauce with spoon

Ingredient Variations

Remember, the beauty of making your own enchilada sauce is the ability to customize it. Don’t be afraid to play around with the ingredients and find the perfect combination of flavors for you!

  • Oil Options: While extra virgin olive oil is a great choice, you can also use vegetable oil, canola oil, or avocado oil for a neutral flavor.
  • Flour Alternatives: If you need a gluten-free option, substitute all-purpose flour with a gluten-free flour blend, rice flour, or even a small amount of cornstarch mixed into cold liquid and stirred in at the end for thickening.
  • Chili Powder Variations: Experiment with different chili powder blends, such as ancho chili powder for a milder, sweeter flavor or chipotle chili powder for a smoky kick.
  • Oregano Substitutes: If you don’t have oregano on hand, you can use dried marjoram or even dried thyme for a subtle herbal note.
  • Cumin Alternatives: While cumin is a classic choice, you can also try using ground coriander for a citrusy flavor or smoked paprika for a smoky undertone.
  • Broth Options: Beef broth or vegetable broth can be used instead of chicken broth if you prefer the flavor or to make the sauce vegetarian or vegan-friendly.
  • Tomato Product Swap: If you don’t have tomato sauce or purée, you can use an equal amount of crushed tomatoes or even diced tomatoes (blended smooth) for a slightly chunkier texture.
  • Flavor Enhancers: Add a pinch of garlic powder, onion powder, or a dash of cayenne pepper for extra depth of flavor and heat.
  • Acid Additions: To brighten up the flavors, try adding a squeeze of lime juice or a splash of apple cider vinegar to the sauce.
  • Sweetness Balancers: If you find the sauce too acidic, add a pinch of sugar, honey, or agave nectar to balance out the flavors.

Storage and Reheating

This sauce keeps well in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. For longer storage, pour the cooled sauce into freezer-safe containers or zip-top bags and freeze for up to 3 months. To use, thaw the sauce overnight in the refrigerator and reheat gently on the stovetop, stirring often, until warmed through.

How to Make Red Enchilada Sauce

Heat the olive oil in a medium, non-reactive saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the flour and stir constantly until it’s smooth and bubbly. Sprinkle in the chili powder, cumin, and oregano, and give it a good stir until fragrant. Pour in the broth and tomato sauce, stirring until everything is smooth.

Let it simmer, giving it a stir now and then, until the sauce thickens up nicely and clings to the back of your spoon. Take it off the heat, season with salt to taste, and use it right away or store it in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days or in the freezer for up to 3 months.

Homemade Red Enchilada Sauce

Prep: 5 minutes
Cook: 10 minutes
Total: 15 minutes
Course: Condiment
Cuisine: Mexican
Calories: 62
Servings: 10 servings
Made with pantry ingredients in just 15 minutes and packed with robust, authentic flavor, this sauce is perfect for enchiladas and many other Mexican-inspired dishes.

Ingredients  

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons all purpose flour
  • 3 tablespoons chili powder (A blend of spices, not chile powder, which is a single variety of chile, dried and ground.)
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano ideally Mexican oregano
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 8 ounces tomato sauce or tomato purée
  • fine sea salt to taste, optional

Instructions 

  • Heat olive oil in a medium, non-reactive saucepan over medium-low heat until hot. Add flour and cook, stirring constantly, until smooth and bubbly, about 1 minute. Add chili powder, cumin and oregano and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add broth and tomato sauce; stir until smooth. Bring to simmer and cook, stirring often, until thickened enough to thickly coat the back of a spoon, 5 to 8 minutes. Remove from heat and season to taste with salt.
  • Use immediately or let cool and refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 5 days or freeze for up to 3 months.

Notes

  1. This recipe yields ~2 1/2 cups of sauce.

Nutrition

Calories: 62kcal | Carbohydrates: 5g | Protein: 1g | Fat: 5g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 3g | Cholesterol: 1mg | Sodium: 322mg | Potassium: 131mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 1g | Vitamin A: 817IU | Vitamin C: 2mg | Calcium: 18mg | Iron: 1mg

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

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2 Comments

  1. Mimi Rippee says:

    this is a beautiful sauce! I like that you distinguish chili from chile – I still don’t think most Americans know the difference. My “sauce” is similar – I put it in quotations cause I don’t ever make it the same – also uses ancho chile paste, which I always made myself, and then I found some on Amazon! It’s good! I just used some in a roasted chile pepper salsa!

    1. Marissa Stevens says:

      Thank you, Mimi! Love your cooking notes too.