Best Red Enchilada Sauce Recipe

Making homemade red enchilada sauce at home might be easier than you think, well at least when you use this method!

angled shot of jar of homemade enchilada sauce


 

So what is enchilada sauce? Enchilada sauce is a red sauce sometimes called salsa rojo made from simmering chiles, garlic, tomatoes (tomato paste) and other seasonings. It has many variations.

Quite frankly, I don’t have time for tomato paste from scratch. I can tell you from experience, making tomato paste is time consuming. So here is how to make enchilada sauce using tomato paste.

After the base of tomato paste, vegetable or chicken broth and flour to thicken it up a little, then comes the seasoning.

overhead shot of spoon in jar of homemade enchilada sauce

Why You’ll Love This Homemade Enchilada Sauce

My Easy Homemade Enchilada Sauce recipe has two major benefits.

  • Control the heat – The first, you control the heat to keep it cool for kids or spicy and sweat inducing for adults who like it hot, hot, hot!
  • Super quick and easy – Secondly, it only takes 10 minutes…. 10 MINUTES!
  • Readily available ingredients – Four spices you should already have in your pantry: cumin, chile powder, onion powder and garlic powder. 
overhead shot of spoon of homemade enchilada sauce

What You’ll Need for Red Enchilada Sauce

Traditional enchilada sauce is made from fresh or dried chiles simmered with tomato sauce or paste, garlic, oregano, cumin and other spices. It simmered, reduces and intensifies. This recipe simplifies things a little.

  • Extra virgin olive oil – Or another neutral oil.
  • Tomato paste – Plain tomato paste is a thick, reduction but without any other flavorings, leaving you room to season it however you’d like.
  • Flour – Flour helps to thicken the mixture. Cornstarch or arrowroot can also be used.
  • Cumin – A savory and nutty flavor, it is a very common dried spice in Latin cuisine. It can be omitted or substituted with ground coriander, ground caraway seeds or even ground fennel, other robust dried spices.
  • Garlic powder and onion powder – Both add flavor, adjust volumes based on personal preference.
  • Chili powder – Chili powder differs slightly from specialty chile powders. It is a blend of common dried chiles and can vary in heat intensity. Feel free to use one of your favorite single note chile powders like ancho or chipotle if these suit you.
  • Low sodium broth – Chicken or vegetable broth are welcome, as long as they are low sodium. This allows you to control the salt.
  • Coarse Kosher salt – coarse kosher salt gives the best, clean salt flavor without being too salty. Taste test the sauce before adding to make sure it needs it al all.
  • Black pepper – Adds peppery goodness. Use freshly ground for best results.
angled shot of plate of enchiladas

Variations

There are plenty of ways you can make this homemade enchilada sauce recipe your own.

  • Spice it up – If you like your spicy enchilada sauce, add more chili powder or even a dash of cayenne.
  • Make it more mild – If you prefer a milder version, cut it in half. The other seasonings won’t impact heat as much.
  • Smoky – If you want super smoky homemade enchilada sauce, try blending it in the food processor with one or two ancho chiles in adobo sauce or using ancho chile powder.
straight on shot of jar of homemade enchilada sauce

How to Make Enchilada Sauce

Making this homemade enchilada sauce is as easy as one, two, three!

  1. Create paste. Heat the oil over medium heat in a medium saucepan. When hot, add the tomato paste, flour, cumin, garlic powder, onion powder and chili powder. Whisk until a paste forms.
  2. Add broth. Pour in the broth and whisk until smooth. Increase the heat and continue to whisk until the sauce starts to thicken and provide resistance. Season with the salt and pepper, bring to a very low simmer.
  3. Reduce heat and use. Reduce heat as soon as you see bubbles and serve or store.
close up of spoon of homemade enchilada sauce

Storage and Freezing

Enchilada sauce will stay fresh in an airtight container, refrigerated for up to one week. Use it on enchiladas, tacos, burritos, nachos and more. 

I’ve even used it in a pinch for chips and salsa. You can even make homemade chips (no, I didn’t make the tortillas)!

Can you freeze enchilada sauce?

It sure can! Use an airtight container or plastic bag and freeze for up to 3-4 months.

Does enchilada sauce go bad?

Yes! It contains vegetables, which can go rancid.

Canned enchilada sauce contains preservatives and additives to keep it good on the shelf, but my version doesn’t have those, so it is only good refrigerated for up to one week.

overhead shot of plate of enchiladas

Homemade Enchilada Sauce FAQs

Are enchilada sauce and taco sauce the same?

Yes and no. Taco sauce is typically a bit thicker and spicer, resulting in not needing as much quantity. You can easily thin it by adding a little chicken or vegetable stock.

Is enchilada sauce gluten-free?

My recipe for enchilada sauce is not gluten free because it uses flour. You can substitute flour for cornstarch or arrowroot, although you’ll need less than 1/4 cup. Start by using 2 tablespoons and add as needed. I do not recommend using almond flour for this recipe.

Is homemade enchilada sauce vegan?

This particular enchilada sauce is vegan if you use vegetable broth instead of chicken broth.

Is enchilada sauce dairy free?

My recipe for enchilada sauce is dairy free.

How do you get enchilada sauce out of clothes?

It is a tomato based stain, so use a pre-treatment or Oxyclean before putting it through the wash cycle.

Why is enchilada sauce bitter?

Not all enchilada sauces are bitter and certainly not this recipe. But everyone’s taste buds are different.
You can counteract bitterness with something sweet like honey, sugar or brown sugar and salt, like adding a small amount of Kosher salt.

What is a good substitute for enchilada sauce?

What is a good substitute for enchilada sauce? It really depends on the recipe and how it is being used. Here are some common substitutions, use your best judgement for the recipe you are creating.
Salsa
Green enchilada sauce
Taco sauce
Hot Sauce
Plain tomato sauce (canned, not marinara sauce)
Ketchup (in rare cases….)

How to make enchilada sauce thicker?

Enchilada sauce can be thickened by using a small amount of flour or cornstarch mixed with water to make a slurry.

Is enchilada sauce made from tomatoes?

Many enchilada sauces have a tomato base, but not all. Some are just get their red hue from low simmered chiles.

straight on shot of jar of homemade enchilada sauce

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angled shot of spoon of red enchilada sauce with text overlay
overhead shot of spoon of homemade enchilada sauce

Red Enchilada Sauce Recipe

4.40 from 108 votes
Easy Homemade Enchilada Sauce takes only 3 main ingredients a handful of spices you already have in the pantry. Ten minutes later, you have a custom enchilada sauce! 
Prep Time: 2 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 12 minutes
Servings: 3 cups

Ingredients

Instructions

  • Heat the oil over medium heat in a medium saucepan. When hot, add the tomato paste, flour, cumin, garlic powder, onion powder and chili powder. Whisk until a paste forms.
  • Pour in the broth and whisk until smooth. Increase the heat and continue to whisk until the sauce starts to thicken and provide resistance. Season with the salt and pepper, bring to a very low simmer.
  • Reduce heat as soon as you see bubbles and serve or store.
  • If you've tried this recipe, come back and let us know how it was in the comments or star ratings.

Video

Notes

If you are looking for a little more kick, try adding more chili powder, a dash of cayenne pepper or a few dashes of hot sauce. Typically enchilada sauce isn’t terribly spicy, but I also like mine hot! 

Nutrition

Calories: 176 kcal, Carbohydrates: 13 g, Protein: 3 g, Fat: 12 g, Saturated Fat: 1 g, Sodium: 1022 mg, Potassium: 434 mg, Fiber: 1 g, Sugar: 3 g, Vitamin A: 440 IU, Vitamin C: 19.6 mg, Calcium: 32 mg, Iron: 2.4 mg
Author: Jessica Formicola
Calories: 176
Course: Condiment
Cuisine: Mexican
Keyword: homemade enchilada sauce
Did you make this recipe?I’d love to see your recipes – snap a picture and mention @savoryexperiments or tag #savoryexperiments!
collage of red enchilada sauce
Jessica Formicola in her ktichen

About the Author

Jessica Formicola

Jessica the mom, wife and chef behind Savory Experiments. You might see her on the Emmy- nominated TV show Plate It! or on bookshelves as a cookbook author. Jessica is a Le Cordon Bleu certified recipe developer and regularly contributed to Parade, Better Homes & Gardens, The Daily Meal and more!

Read More About Jessica

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Recipe Rating




Questions and Reviews

    1. 5 stars
      Hi Jessica,
      I too thought the sauce was a little bland for my taste so I followed your suggestion and added a couple of shakes of Louisiana Hot Sauce. It added the perfect amount of heat! Thanks for the suggestion! This is a delicious homemade enchilada sauce! Yum! 😋

      1. Awesome! I like to start mild and then move up- you never know how hot people think “hot” is. And for the kiddos 🙂

  1. 5 stars
    I love this recipe! It’s been my go-to for a couple years now, since I first found it. Thanks for sharing this recipe!!!

    1. Thanks for stopping by to let us know, Laura! We love it too, in fact I just made it the other night for homemade tamales- maybe I’ll post that recipe on the blog too.

  2. 4 stars
    This sauce was the best enchilada sauce I have ever made. It had a great taste and flavor all those spices together were so delicious .

  3. Thank you for this recipe! I’ll try this along with your chicken, spinach, and black bean enchiladas!

    I have one question about the recipe: the 3 tablespoons of olive oil. It says divided, but it looks like you put it all in at once. Is that correct? Thanks in advance.

    1. Hi Amy! Thanks for pointing that out. I just changed recipe formats and that is actually a mistake. Removing it now. Use all 3 tablespoons of olive oil. 🙂

    1. Julie, thanks for pointing that out! It was actually my mistake. A while back I separated this recipe from my actual “quick and easy enchilada” recipe which also takes 2 teaspoons of cumin and clearly forgot to update this amount. Thanks for catching it and it is all fixed!

  4. I can’t wait to try your homemade recipe. I usually buy it in a can or bottle!