This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure policy.
Make your own Homemade Enchilada Sauce from scratch today. This authentic and flavorful enchilada sauce is made with dried chiles, and is easy to make as mild or hot as you like.
Homemade enchilada sauce is easier to make than you think. My enchilada sauce recipe makes a smooth sauce that’s filled with flavor, and can easily be customized with as much heat as you’d prefer.
I haven’t been happy with the standard canned enchilada sauces for a while now. I felt like I could make a more flavorful sauce from scratch, if only I knew how. Enter an extensive amount of online research.
What is an enchilada sauce made from? It’s red – so does it have a tomato base? Apparently, a traditional enchilada sauce is made almost entirely from dried chile peppers.
Some sauces add in a tomato or two, but they are not required. Because chiles can be bitter (we will talk about how to avoid this later on), adding tomato can help balance the sauce with a little sweetness.
I didn’t find the need to add tomatoes to my sauce, and was thrilled with the depth of flavor from such a short list of ingredients.
Once you make your own enchilada sauce from scratch, you’ll never go back to the canned version. There’s simply no comparison!
Chiles for Enchilada Sauce
So we know we need dried chiles to make an enchilada sauce, but which ones do we buy? After some research, I decided to buy this pack of three chile peppers from Amazon.
Included was a bag each of Guajillo Chiles, Arbol Chiles, and Ancho Chiles. Check your ethnic foods aisle at your local grocery store, they may have dried chiles available for purchase.
The short version – you can choose any chiles you prefer to make an enchilada sauce. Guajillo, Ancho, Pasilla, and Arbol are all common peppers to use in a red sauce.
Guajillo – a very common chile used in Mexican cuisine – it is mild and sweet.
Ancho – mild, slightly sweet and smoky.
Pasilla – medium heat, with a fruity flavor.
Arbol – very spicy. I consider these an optional addition to your enchilada sauce, based on your flavor preferences. Add more for a spicier enchilada sauce.
Left to right: Guajillo, Arbol, and Ancho chiles.
An important note – When choosing your dried chiles, they should be leathery and flexible, not dry or brittle. They should also have a glossy appearance and smell slightly fruity. If the peppers look dull or smell old, find different chiles.
How to Make Homemade Enchilada Sauce
Like I said earlier, making a homemade enchilada sauce is a surprisingly easy process. First, gather your ingredients.
You’ll need dried chiles, onion, garlic, salt, oregano, and cumin.
First, you’ll want to cut off the stems of your dried chiles and remove the seeds. The seeds, despite popular belief, are not the hot part of a pepper. The seeds, when cooked, will make your sauce bitter. This is why you’ll want to remove them.
The hot part of a pepper is the membrane inside. So when you slice open your dried peppers, removing the membrane as well as the seeds will result in a mild sauce.
Once your seeds and stems have been removed, place your dried chiles in a large bowl. Cover them in boiling water, and allow to soften and rehydrate for 25 minutes.
Pick out your peppers and place them in a blender, along with your onion, garlic, salt, oregano, cumin, and 1 1/2 cups of the pepper water.
Blend until smooth.
Next, strain your sauce through a fine mesh sieve and into a skillet or sauce pan.
Last, your sauce will need to cook for 5 minutes over medium heat. This gives your sauce a deeper flavor, as well as a slightly darker red color.
Remove your sauce from the heat and allow to cool completely before storing.
How to Store Enchilada Sauce
I like to store my enchilada sauce in glass jars. Homemade enchilada sauce, if kept in a sealed container, will last up to two weeks in the refrigerator.
If freezing, remember to leave some space (about an inch) at the top of your jars. Liquids expand slightly when frozen, so you’ll want to leave some space to prevent your container from cracking or breaking.
If you plan on making smaller portions for 2-3 people, try storing in 8 ounce jars instead. That way, you can take out exactly the amount needed for your planned dish.
Homemade Enchilada Sauce
- 2 dried ancho chiles
- 6 dried guajillo chiles
- 2 dried arbol chiles optional - add for a spicier sauce
- 1 1/2 cups pepper water
- 1 small onion chopped
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 1/2 teaspoon oregano
- 1/4 teaspoon cumin
- Remove stems of peppers and slice open to reveal seeds. Remove seeds and discard. Optionally, remove membranes with seeds for a milder sauce. Leave membranes intact for a hotter sauce.
- Add dried peppers to a large bowl and cover with boiling water. Soak for 25 minutes to rehydrate peppers.
- In a blender, add chopped onion, garlic cloves (can be added whole), salt, oregano, and cumin. Transfer rehydrated peppers to the blender, then add 1 1/2 cups of the water the peppers soaked in.
- Blend until smooth, then strain through a fine mesh sieve into a skillet or sauce pan.
- Cook on the stove top over medium heat for 5 minutes. Sauce will thicken slightly.
- Remove from heat and allow to cool completely before storing. Sauce will keep for up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator or 3-4 months in the freezer.
- I like to store my enchilada sauce in glass jars. Homemade enchilada sauce, if kept in a sealed container, will last up to two weeks in the refrigerator.
- If freezing, remember to leave some space (about an inch) at the top of your jars. Liquids expand slightly when frozen, so you'll want to leave some space to prevent your container from cracking or breaking.