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Enchilada Sauce

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My favorite homemade enchilada sauce recipe is easy to make with pantry ingredients, it only requires about 5 minutes of prep time, and it tastes so flavorful and delicious.

Homemade Enchilada Sauce Recipe

My best tip for kicking your homemade enchiladas up a delicious notch?

Use this homemade enchilada sauce!

This recipe for Southwestern-style red enchilada sauce has been the starring ingredient in my favorite enchilada recipe for years and years. And every time I bake up a batch of enchiladas for a gathering, friends always ask for the recipe.

By contrast to many Mexican-style enchilada sauces, this recipe does not include tomatoes but rather centers its flavor around a rich blend of seasonings that you likely already have in your pantry (chili powder, cumin, garlic and oregano). On its own, the sauce is naturally fairly mild, although you are welcome to amp up the heat if you’d like. And its deliciously warm, toasty, earthy flavors pair perfectly with any variety of enchilada recipes.

The good news too is that this recipe only takes about 5 minutes to prep, plus an additional 15-ish minutes to simmer on the stove. It’s naturally vegetarian, vegan and can also be made gluten-free if you’d like. It’s made entirely with pantry ingredients, and can be customized to be more spicy, smoky, tomato-y, or even creamy if you prefer. And I must say — it’s a million times better than the canned stuff!

Thousands of our readers have made and loved this recipe over the years. So if you have yet to give it a try, I say it’s time!

Homemade Enchilada Sauce Recipe | 1-Minute Video

Chili powder (to make red enchilada sauce)

Homemade Red Enchilada Sauce Ingredients:

To make this easy enchilada sauce recipe, you will need the following ingredients:

  • Oil and flour: These will form the roux to thicken the sauce. You’re welcome to use any type of neutral-flavored oil (or butter) that you prefer. And while I typically use all-purpose flour, you are welcome to sub in a 1-for-1 GF flour blend instead to make this recipe gluten-free.
  • Chili powder: For all of our international readers, please note that this recipe calls for American-style chili powder, which is actually a blend of various chilis and seasonings, including a typically small percentage of cayenne. (Most chili powders sold outside of the States are 100% cayenne, which will not work for this recipe.) I recommend investing in a good-quality brand of chili powder for this recipe, since it is the primary seasoning for this sauce. But keep in mind that chili powder blends vary from brand to brand, so it’s worth experimenting with a few to find the one that you love best!
  • Garlic powder, ground cumin, dried oregano: These are the other dried seasonings that we will use in the sauce. Feel free to increase the amount of any one of these once you have tasted the sauce, if you would like.
  • Veggie or chicken stock: I also recommend using some good-quality stock in this recipe, which will add a delicious depth of flavor to the sauce.
  • Fine sea salt: And finally, don’t forget to season the sauce! I typically add in about 1/2 teaspoon, but the amount needed will likely depend significantly on the brand and saltiness of the stock that you use.

Whisking Red Enchilada Sauce

How To Make Enchilada Sauce:

Here are the basic steps for how to make enchilada sauce (full instructions included in the recipe box below):

  1. Cook the roux and spices: In a small saucepan, we’ll first cook the flour and oil together to form the roux, and then whisk in the spices to briefly toast them in the saucepan before adding in the stock.
  2. Simmer: Gradually add in the stock while whisking the sauce, in order to blend in any lumps. Then bring the sauce to a simmer and let it cook (you want to maintain a low bubble) for 10-15 minutes, or until it has reduced to your desired thickness.
  3. Season: Season with salt (or any extra seasonings that you might like to add) to taste.
  4. Serve: Then serve it up in a pan of enchiladas or whatever recipe sounds good…and enjoy!

Jar of red enchilada sauce

Possible Variations:

This recipe is quite flexible, so please feel free to tinker around with ingredient amounts and customize it however you prefer! For example, you could…

  • Make it gluten-free: You can either use an 1-for-1 gluten-free flour blend, in place of the AP flour. Or you can omit the flour and instead add a cornstarch slurry (equal parts cornstarch and cold water whisked together) to the sauce once it is simmering to thicken it.
  • Make it creamy: Whisk in 1/2 cup of heavy cream to turn this recipe into a delicious creamy enchilada sauce.
  • Make it spicier: Feel free to add in a pinch or two of cayenne to make this sauce even spicier. Or alternately, you can choose to use ancho chili powder in place of standard American chili powder, which has a smokier and slightly spicier flavor.
  • Make it milder: American chili powder should naturally be quite mild. But if you are wary of heat, feel free to start with 2 tablespoons (instead of 4 tablespoons) of chili powder in the recipe. Then once the sauce has simmered, give it a taste and feel free to add more if you would like.
  • Make it smokier: Feel free to swap some of the American chili powder for chipotle chili powder, if you would like this sauce to have a smoky chipotle kick. (Also note that chipotle powder is considerably spicier, so this version would pack more heat too.)
  • Add tomato sauce: If you would like to have a more tomato-y enchilada sauce, you are welcome to add a few tablespoons of tomato paste to the sauce.

Chicken enchiladas made with homemade enchilada sauce recipe

Ways To Use Enchilada Sauce:

Here are a few of my favorite ways to use this easy enchilada sauce:

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Homemade Enchilada Sauce Recipe

Red Enchilada Sauce

  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Cook Time: 15 minutes
  • Total Time: 20 minutes
  • Yield: 1 1/2 cups 1x

Description

My favorite homemade enchilada sauce recipe is easy to make with pantry ingredients, it only requires about 5 minutes of prep time, and it tastes so flavorful and delicious.


Ingredients

Scale

Instructions

  1. Cook the roux and spices: Heat oil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Add flour and cook for 1 minute, whisking constantly.  Add in the chili powder, garlic powder, cumin and oregano and cook for 1 more minute, whisking constantly.
  2. Simmer: Gradually pour in the stock, whisking constantly to combine until no lumps remain.  Continue cooking until the sauce reaches a simmer.  Then reduce heat to medium-low to maintain the simmer (the sauce should continue lightly bubbling) for about 10-15 minutes, uncovered, until the sauce has slightly thickened.
  3. Season: Give the sauce a taste and season with salt, as needed.  (I typically add 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt, but the saltiness of the sauce can vary depending on the brand of stock that you use.)
  4. Serve: Use immediately in your favorite recipe and enjoy!


Notes

Chili powder (important note): The amount is correct. And as mentioned above, this recipe calls for traditional American chili powder, which is not cayenne.  American chili powder is actually a blend of spices that are typically quite mild, whereas international chili powders are usually 100% cayenne (and very spicy).  So if you live outside of the United States, please look specifically for an American-style chili powder blend.

Gluten-free option: Feel free to use a 1-to-1 all-purpose gluten-free flour blend in place of the all-purpose flour.  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.  Then transfer it to a mason jar or food storage container and refrigerate for up to 5 days.  Unfortunately this sauce separates a bit once it has frozen, so I don’t recommend freezing it.

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2,097 comments on “Enchilada Sauce”

  1. Do you use Ground Cumin or Cumin seeds?

    I’m going to assume ground cumin as I can’t ‘see’ any seeds in the finished product.

  2. This is def not an authentic enchilada sauce sorry to say :-/ All you need is some dried California, Guajillo, and puya chilies, salt and some garlic. Soak those puppies in warm water then blend them with garlic till you can blend no more. Strain and add salt. Add some of the water if too thick!

  3. What a fantastic recipe! I will never buy canned enchilada sauce again. This was a super easy recipe and a great sauce for my chicken enchiladas! And the best part? My teenage boys loved them!! Thank you so much for sharing this recipe!

  4. Use a little less chicken broth, and add a can of beer. That is how my great grandma showed me how to do it.

  5. Do you think subbing a vegetarian broth would work okay?

  6. Can u freeze it?

  7. i have made this a few times..all with 3 different chili powdera..it makes a huge difference if you use quality like recommended. best so far was with Gebhardt chili powder. great easy recipe

  8. My husband is Mexican and I can never make food as spicy as he wants it. I made this exactly but added an extra table spoon of New Mexican chili pepper and red pepper flakes. He hasn’t tasted it yet, but said it smells like mole and that’s good. So hopefully he will like it.

  9. Can you please specify which kind of chili powder you used. I know you said a good quality one, but obviously i’ve chosen wrong because i have brown enchilada sauce. I’m sure it’ll be tasty, but for aesthetics , i’d like to move in the red direction next time.

  10. Your sauce looks delicious! I don’t understand though how there are no tomatoes in it and yet it looks that red? Just wondering, TFS!

  11. I had the same problem a a few others…mine never thickened an is a dark brown. Help!

  12. Can’t believe how many people are asking about tomato sauce. No wonder I can’t eat anyone else’s enchiladas but my family’s! I’ve never heard of such a thing…true authentic red enchilada sauce NEVER has tomatoes in it. Just don’t do it. Slight offended. ;)
    From NM with love.

  13. I recently moved to southern Georgia from southern California and have been CRAVING enchiladas. I foud your recipe and just finished making a batch. LOVE it!! Thanks so much!

  14. I just made this sauce and it is DELICIOUS! Thank you for sharing!

  15. I love this! I substituted vegetable broth for the chicken broth, and it turned out so yummy!

    I did notice that mine turned out way less of a vibrant red and more of a dark brownish-red. I’m attributing this to my chili powder being very dark.

    Definitely adding this to the recipe book!

    • It looks like she ran the picture through photoshop to brighten it up. Probably changed the color of the sauce.

    • Wrong, she clearly states that her photo was taken in direct sunlight. This would definitely make the sauce a brighter red than normal.

  16. The reason why some are having difficulties with the sauce thickening is because the flour and oil needs to be cooked. It’s the same as when making white sauce. The trick is to cook the chili powder with the four to get the dark red color.

  17. For the record…. this is awesome! I’m licking my fingers watching the timer click down. Can’t wait to eat! Thanks so much!!

  18. Maybe it’s somewhere in the numerous comments, but why is your sauce so red? Don’t get me wrong, it’s beautiful, but my sauce was a deep red, almost brown. I used chili powder from a spice shop–a really nice spice shop ;) I liked the consistency of the sauce,… had never thought of basically making a roux for enchilada sauce, but I’d like to know the “brand” and “style” of your chili powder you used to get such a red sauce. There are so many chili powders out there, and my sauce was too hot for some in my household.
    Thanks for sharing!

  19. ps…I make my own vegetable stock, but the depth of color in my stock I made was not any darker than chicken stock…

  20. I made enchiladas last week and used this sauce and they were a total hit! A super simple sauce that gives enchiladas that extra needed punch!
    Thanks for sharing

  21. Hi friends! The color of the sauce depends on the type of chili powder used. And mine was sitting in direct sunlight during photographing, so that brightened it up. If yours turns out browner or redder, no worries — should still taste great! :)

  22. Kudos for not putting tomato in the sauce. My dearly departed Martha would have rolled in her grave if you did. It was a pet peeve of hers, having been born and raised in Arizona.

  23. this is exactly how my mom (mexican) taught me to make her sauce, minus the oregano. but i’m gonna add it next time I make it. and I never heard of tomato sauce in REAL enchilada sauce either. and yes mine comes out different shades depending on the type of chili powder I use. great post. thanks.

    • I had never used tomatoes in sauce either. My husband went to construction jobs very early in the hot days and I watched cooking show where Mamacita made wonderful gravy. I will be trying this one, too. It seems a shame that I had to come from one border to another to lo learn such an important thing. Lol. CAROLYN

  24. For the people asking why theirs never thickened properly:
    The main thickening agent is the flour. In order for the flour to properly thicken it, it needs to be heated.
    If you have issues with this not thickening, make sure that you have the oil hot when you add the flour. While simmering, make sure that it is actually simmering (Not boiling, but as close as you can get).
    It should thicken as it cools.
    If you still have issues, try adding a bit more flour to the heated oil.

  25. Mine has been sitting about 15 minutes on simmer. It still appears runny and looks like its seperating a bit. Any suggestions?

  26. Aweome Enchilada sauce! Thanks for sharing this amazing recipe!!! I love enchiladas, but could never bring myself to buy store bought sauce. Now I can make my own and not have to worry “what’s in it”. I know it’s safe and vegatarian friendly (since I use vegetable stock instead of chicken stock).

  27. Thank you for this great recipe! My husband loves it :)

  28. This is truly the best enchilada sauce! So glad I found this. Thank you! I will never go back to a tomato based sauce or canned, again. My family definitely noticed the difference when I first used this recipe. Rave reviews! It makes the enchiladas taste so much better and more authentic.

  29. This was awesome. I can’t see myself ever going back to using a canned sauce. I used a mixture of regular, chipotle and ancho chili powders and it was terrific. Thanks for an awesome recipe.

  30. I’m wondering how much this makes and how much would be needed for a 9×13 pan of enchiladas? Looks and sounds yummy!

  31. I swear by this recipe! I use me own veggie stock to make it vegan, but I add this to everything! Yesterday I reheated it and used it to smother crisp burritos. I also swirl a bit in when I’m making homemade refried beans., I even drizzle it on baked potatoes. Yum!

  32. so easy and delicious!! I even added a dash or two of cayenne to give it a little extra kck. Never buying a can of sauce again!!!

  33. Can you can this?

  34. Do you think if you made a bunch at once, would you be able to can this enchilada sauce?

  35. Sounds good, but minus the cumin. My family NEVER uses cumin in their cooking. Oh, and here in New Mexico, we spell it chile with an ‘e’, not chili. Chili is the Texas stuff that’s best eaten on football Sundays with a truckload of saltines. :-)

  36. Can you tell me what the shelf life of this sauce is?

  37. Can this recipe be tripled or so, and sealed in jars and kept for long periods of time? Thank you.

  38. I quit making enchiladas at home a long time ago because I wouldn’t use canned enchilada sauce and never got around to finding a recipe for homemade. I was really craving enchiladas today so I finally took the time to look online for a recipe. There are so many to choose from but all I saw called for tomato sauce. Then, I found yours. As it happened, I had all the ingredients called for so I got right to it. It is so good.

    I made my enchiladas with shredded chicken breast (left over from last nights dinner) and cheddar cheese. I have two of them on my plate and am typing this comment between bites.

    Ali, your recipe made the best enchilada sauce I’ve ever had. Thanks so much for sharing your recipe.

  39. Thank you so much. Beautiful photos. lovely website. Blessings.

  40. I made this for Chilaquiles Casserole from Eating Well. It was quick, easy, and tasty. I was very pleased with the flavor.

  41. I thought I wrote the recipe down incorrectly, but it is true! There are no tomatoes in this sauce! This recipe beats canned 100 fold and any other recipe by at least 10X! Try it!

  42. This is the way enchilada sauce should be made…WITHOUT TOMATO SAUCE. Superb!!

  43. This was great! Super easy to make. I had all of the ingredients already which is alway nice. Thanks for sharing.

  44. MUCHAS GRACIAS for this recipe!!! We are currently living in South Africa for my husband’s job and there are NO good Mexican restaurants here. I made enchiladas tonight with this sauce and my husband said they were the best enchiladas he had EVER had …. better than any restaurant and that is saying something since we lived in AZ for over 20 years before coming here where it seems there are GOOD Mexican restaurants everywhere!! AMAZING!! And super easy. Again, thank you, thank you, thank you!

    • Just had to comment … I lived in Arizona for a few years and know what you mean … I live in Ghana now, and we are missing Mexican food too! I’ve been making enchilada sauce for years but wanted something a little more authentic. I hope this recipe will be it. I’m off to make it now. If I could find some corn tortillas I’d be a happy woman!!!

    • Kaye, Tortillas are so easy to make! I live in Cambodia in which it is difficult to find many ingredients. I make my own flour and corn tortillas. For the flour version you only need Flour-baking soda/powder (depends on your taste) salt and hot water! The corn tortillas are even easier. Just corn flour salt and water!!! :)

  45. This recipe is so easy, and tastes amazing! I’m never buying store bought enchilada sauce ever again! I’m so glad I found your blog, I’ll be visiting often for more recipes!!

  46. Thanks for a great, recipe! Thanks to your sauce enchiladas are the most frequently requested meal at my house.

    Any recommendations on how long a jar of this sauce could stay in the fridge before being used up? Thanks!

  47. I stumbled across this website looking for a homemade enchilada recipe, which was delicious on its own but made dinner fantastic, and I have been hooked since!

  48. I have followed this enchilada sauce recipe several times and I am so happy with it. I didn’t have canned sauce on hand so looked this recipe up. I was surprised that there is no tomato sauce in it. It’s much better than what comes in a can at the store. And so, so easy to make. My whole family loves it. Thank you for the recipe!

  49. that is not the original recipe for enchilada sauce, it should not even have that title. That is the lazy american way of making it. The right way to make it is using the dry whole california pepper, guajillo chili pods, and pasilla ancho pepper. they sell these anywhere. take out the seeds, boil them, when that’s done, put them in a blender with 1 or 2 garlic teeth, some salt then blend and it’s ready. oil is an option.

    • Carmen your way is also the way I make mine and I tell you when I use the dried chili peppers the flavor is out of this world. I will never buy canned again. When I was origainaly given the recipe from my friend she also told me to use chili powder but I figured since I had the dried peppers on hand I would use those instead. But I don’t think one way is really easier than the other. I think if we were actually talking about an American way it would be using tomato sauce because I used to always think tamato sauce was the base of any enchilada sauce but not because I am a lazy American; I was just raised with different recipes in my family

    • I fully agree with Carmen. The ingredients list above maybe works in places like the midwest, but would never pass muster in California, Texas, Arizona and New Mexico. I always start with whole chilies.

    • Why did you not just say this is the way you make this without saying ” The Lazy American way”? Would have sounded much nicer!

    • RUDE! So what is this is not the traditional way. I did not google “traditional way of making enchilada sauce”. If you already know why are you even on here. Its her version ans if its easy and delish then im in.

    • Yes, I would have to agree the comment was rude. My Mexican grandmother and her mother made the sauce both ways, but she would never have been so ungracious as to say the posted recipe was the lazy american way of making sauce. She was cognizant of the fact that one does not always have the time to make the sauce from scratch, or that Mexican sauces differ due to regional differences. She realized ingredients are not always available in the country a person lives. Perhaps the commenter should have stated “Where I come from/where I was raised, we make our sauce…” instead of implying her way is the only right way.

    • I also agree this comment un-called-for negative. My family is Mexican, and my grandmother taught us how to make enchilada sauce. Ali’s recipe is very close to my grandma’s and exceptionally good! The method that you describe, Carmen, is often used to flavor shredded pork or beef and used in tamales and burritos in my region. It is a very different sauce than the traditional enchilada sauce. Your recipe may be used for enchiladas in your region, but you certainly could have shared your thoughts without the ‘lazy American’ comment.

  50. Ali, I made your Red Enchilada Sauce; however, my sauce did not thicken as much as I would have liked. I did triple the recipe. It looked liked the canned variety, though the taste was so much better, but I was hoping for a sauce that was a bit more thick. I must say that my son absolutely loved it and he is a very picky eater. Any suggestions on what I might have done wrong. Many thanks for the recipe.

    • Hi LaWanda,

      Thanks for trying the recipe! It is not intended to be super-thick, so if you want a thicker sauce, I would say to add an extra tablespoon more of flour to the recipe at the beginning. Glad your son enjoyed it!

      ~Ali

    • I added a tablespoon of cornstarch…also some tomato paste…thickened it up perfectly, sooo good, unbelievable!!!