Red Enchilada Sauce is a delicious and simple recipe that is simple to make and comes together in under 20 minutes. Quickly whip up a batch with simple easy-to-find ingredients like broth, tomato paste, and Mexican spices. You can even double the batch and save half for later. This authentic sauce is the best addition to your next chicken, beef, or veggie enchiladas dinner.
When I order a plate of enchiladas at a Mexican restaurant they’re normally judged by ONE primary factor – how good is the enchilada sauce?
So when I was recently remaking these Shredded Chicken Enchiladas, I also did a few trial runs of the red enchilada sauce.
Some with tomato paste, some without…Others with too much chili powder and yet another with not enough…
After WAY too much red enchilada sauce coursing through these veins I can promise you that this recipe you see here today is by FAR the best one to make at home. (It’s also SO much better than the canned kind!)
And unlike other more traditional recipes that call for tons of hard-to-find ingredients (like dried chiles!), this one uses common ingredients that you probably already have in your pantry!
So yes, it is SUPER easy to make and can be ready in just 20 minutes!
The ingredients you will need for this enchilada sauce recipe include:
- Oil. Olive, avocado, or vegetable oil can be used in this recipe. Using a more mildly flavored type is preferred so the Mexican spices shine through.
- Flour. Either an all-purpose regular or a gluten-free 1-to-1 blend will work equally as well. You can also try substituting with a Paleo flour blend instead.
- Chili Powder. A regular, mild brand, such as McCormick’s, is best. Be careful when buying other brands or in bulk as the spice level of the powder can vary drastically. If you would like to increase the spice level of the sauce, opt for a medium-heat chili powder. You can also use half ancho or adobo chili powder and half regular powder to change it up.
- Cumin. Another common spice found in Mexican cuisine. Cumin makes up a large part of the blend so do not substitute it with anything else.
- Garlic Powder. A little bit of this gives the sauce a nice punch of flavor. You can also use 2 fresh garlic cloves if that’s all you have on hand. If substituting with garlic salt, make sure you reduce the amount of salt you add accordingly.
- Paprika. Regular, not smoked, is recommended. You can always experiment with adding a bit of smoked paprika, though!
- Oregano. Dried oregano gives a very subtle herbal flavor. You can use dried parsley, basil, or Italian seasoning if you don’t have this ingredient.
- Nutmeg. Huh? Yup. This is my secret weapon here. Substitute cinnamon for a very similar result!
- Tomato Paste. While some people do not add this to their enchilada sauce, I find that it gives the sauce a delightfully creamy texture and unique flavor that is commonly found in more traditional versions.
- Broth. A regular sodium chicken broth was used and tested in this recipe. Feel free to use a vegetable, beef, or low sodium broth instead. If using reduced sodium, be sure to adjust the salt to your taste preference.
How to Make Red Enchilada Sauce
This red enchilada sauce is a rather quick and simple recipe to make, but it does require a bit of attention. Here are the step-by-step instructions. For more detailed ingredient amounts, see the recipe card.
Create the Base
First, you will make a roux. In a skillet, combine oil, flour, and seasonings. The larger the base of the pan, the easier the mixture can burn. Whatever size you use, keep a close eye on it.
As written, this enchilada sauce is about a 3 out of 10 on the heat scale.
- To increase the spice level add a bit of cayenne pepper or use a chili powder with more heat.
- To decrease the spice level, leave out the black pepper and reduce the amount of chili powder used by ½ tablespoon.
Over medium heat, whisk ingredients for 2 minutes. This step is important, so don’t walk away. If you leave, you will likely end up with burnt bits. The roux should be smooth and deep red in color.
Make the Sauce
Add tomato paste and ½ cup of chicken broth to the roux. Whisk until ingredients are well blended and smooth.
Allow the sauce to cook over medium heat until it just begins to thicken.
Pour in the remaining 1 ½ cups of chicken broth slowly and in small batches. This step should take you around 5 minutes.
For best results, add about ½ cup of broth, whisk for 30 seconds until the sauce is smooth, and then simmer for about a minute. Repeat this process until all the liquid is incorporated.
Once all of the ingredients are added, reduce the heat to medium-low. Allow the sauce to simmer for 8-10 minutes.
Keep an eye on the pan and whisk every 1-2 minutes so it does not burn. If you are not careful, the bottom will scald and there will be burnt pieces.
You can check the consistency of the sauce with a wooden spoon.
This recipe yields about 2 cups of sauce, which is enough for about 8-10 traditional chicken enchiladas. It is easy to double the batch for more, or keep half for later!
Meal Prep and Storage
- To Prep-Ahead: If you’d like to make your own homemade enchiladas, it’s helpful if you prepare the sauce ahead of time. Then, you don’t have too much to do in one sitting.
- To Store: Add sauce to an airtight container or mason jar and store in the refrigerator for up to 5-7 days.
- To Freeze: Enchilada sauce also freezes extremely well in a freezer-safe container for up to 3-4 months.
- To Reheat: Cook sauce in a pan or skillet over medium heat until warmed through.
Enchilada sauce is traditionally made from a base of oil, flour, and broth, then seasoned with Mexican peppers and ground spices, like chili powder and cumin.
Red enchilada sauce is primarily made from red chiles or chili powders while green enchilada sauce is made from green ingredients such as green chiles, tomatillos, and jalapenos. Since red chiles are milder in flavor than green, a red enchilada sauce will be less spicy and a touch sweeter than green.
While both have a similar flavor profile, enchilada sauce is cooked, smooth, and served hot while salsa is raw, chunky, and served cold.
Expert Tips and Tricks
- Opt for powder. Use the powdered versions of chiles and garlic to make this recipe quick and easy.
- Mix it up. You can use a blend of ancho, guajillo, and arbol chili powders to keep the sauce interesting.
- Pinch of nutmeg. This earthy flavor gives the sauce a little bit of an intriguing flavor.
- Keep an eye on it. Red enchilada sauce does take a little bit of attention. If you forget to whisk it, then you may end up with burnt bits in the bottom of the saucepan.
- Double the batch. Homemade enchilada sauce freezes exceptionally well. So go ahead and make extra. Then, save some in the freezer for later.
Recipes to Use Red Enchilada Sauce
Now that you’ve got your creamy, delicious, homemade red enchilada sauce, what all can you make with it? Here are the best ways to use it up:
- Classic: As the sauce for these Homemade Chicken Enchiladas.
- Twist: In place of the salsa in this Mexican Lasagna Recipe.
- Dip It: As a dip for these Baked Chicken Taquitos.
- Stretch: Turn these Black Bean Sweet Potato Tacos into some delicious enchiladas!
More Sauce and Salsa Recipes
If you want to make more homemade sauces, try one of these:
Easy Red Enchilada Sauce Recipe
Red Enchilada Sauce is a delicious and simple recipe that is simple to make and comes together in under 20 minutes. Quickly whip up a batch with simple easy-to-find ingredients like broth, tomato paste, and Mexican spices. You can even double the batch and save half for later.
- 3 Tbsp. oil olive, avocado, or vegetable
- 3 Tbsp. flour gluten-free 1-to-1 blend
- 1 ½ Tbsp. chili powder mild
- 2 tsp. ground cumin
- ½ tsp. garlic powder
- ¼ tsp. paprika
- ¼ tsp. oregano dried
- Pinch of nutmeg optional
- ½ – 1 tsp. salt to taste
- ¼ tsp. black pepper
- 2 Tbsp. tomato paste
- 2 cups chicken broth regular sodium
Whisk together chili powder, cumin, garlic powder, paprika, oregano, nutmeg, salt, and pepper in a small bowl.
Combine oil, flour, and seasoning ingredients in a medium-sized saucepan or pot over medium heat. Whisk ingredients for 2 minutes.
Add tomato paste and ½ cup of chicken broth. Whisk until smooth.
Pour in remaining 1 ½ cups of chicken broth over the course of 5 minutes, whisking until smooth between each addition.
Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer sauce for 8-10 minutes, whisking every 1-2 minutes to prevent burning.
Use enchilada sauce in your favorite Chicken and Cheese Enchilada recipe.
Store sauce in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
This recipe yields ~1 ½ cups of red enchilada sauce.
Meal Prep and Storage
To Prep-Ahead: If you’d like to make your own homemade enchiladas, it’s helpful if you prepare the sauce ahead of time so you don’t have too much to do in one sitting.
To Store: Add sauce to an airtight container or mason jar and store in the refrigerator for up to 5-7 days.
To Freeze: Enchilada sauce also freezes extremely well in a freezer-safe container for up to 3-4 months.
The Reheat: Cook sauce in a pan or skillet over medium heat until warmed through.