Making homemade red enchilada sauce at home is so easy and worth the small amount of time. Not only is it easy and quick, but it's so tasty! Your choice of peppers will determine the end flavor, of course, but the best part is that you can control the ingredients according to your tastes and eating preferences.
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Traditional Enchilada Sauce is composed mostly of chiles and what kind you use is pretty much up to you. I like a mixture of guajillos, anchos (dried ripe poblano peppers), and chiles de arbol (the spicy bit so if you want more heat--add more!), but feel free to experiment with any that you prefer. I like using chipotles sometimes, too, for a bit of smoky flavor.
Should enchilada sauce have tomatoes or flour in it?
There are lots of recipes for enchilada sauce that include tomatoes and in fact, you can even find commercially produced enchilada sauces that have tomatoes in them. I've read that tomatoes started being included when Mexican food became more popular in the US because the American palate didn't appreciate the traditional flavor of enchilada sauce made from chiles, onions, and garlic. I don't know definitively, but I do know that Mexican chefs and recipe writes that I've read concur with the "chiles only" sauce. So that's what this recipe is about.
As for flour, it seems that flour is often included when powdered chiles are used as opposed to whole ones. Whole chiles will thicken more on their own and don't require flour.
Flavor trick for Homemade Red Enchilada Sauce
One of the tricks to great flavor is to put the peppers in a skillet and toast them slightly over medium heat, just till they start to puff up a little. It's almost like they reconstitute a bit. Just a couple of minutes is all it takes! Then cover them with hot water and let them sit for about 20 minutes.
While they are rehydrating, chop an onion and some garlic and saute them till they are tender.
When the peppers have soaked, lift them out of the water and place them in the blender along with the onions and garlic. Be sure to keep the water that the peppers soaked in to use to thin the sauce.
Blend it, adding pepper water, until you achieve the consistency you want. Season it with salt and you're ready to go.
NOTE: You can use fresh water rather than the pepper water to freshen the sauce. This is a great option to keep the spiciness down.
What if my Homemade Red Enchilada Sauce is too spicy?
Ah ... great question! And this is a probable situation, especially if you don't remove the seeds from the dried peppers.
Let me say right off that if you taste your enchilada sauce right after blending it, it will taste more spicy. That is because the oils in the peppers are freshly bruised. It doesn't hurt to let the sauce sit a few hours before making adjustments. Here are some options:
- Thai cuisine often uses citrus to cut the effects of spice. Lime juice, lemon juice, ... you can also use a splash of vinegar.
- Nuts will also cut the heat. Peanuts are often used, but this is a good reason to make your own if you have a peanut allergy. Or to find some other way to counter the heat!
- Dairy is another help. Given that enchiladas have cheese and potentially sour cream, the spice is usually felt a bit less.
- How about a bit of starch? Because you eat enchiladas with rice (usually!), the starch helps neutralize the heat. A bit of sugar added helps, too, but don't add too much to your sauce because sweet enchilada sauce is NOT what you're after.
Storing Homemade Red Enchilada Sauce
I make this sauce to use in the moment or within the week. However, you can make it ahead and freeze it. Don't forget to label the jar!
How to use Homemade Red Enchilada Sauce
Of course, my primary use for homemade red enchilada sauce is to make enchiladas! But you can use it to season chili, soups, or stews. You can also use it to swirl into beans for flavor and to add to pulled pork for tacos or burritos.
Other recipes you might like:
Homemade Red Enchilada Sauce
- 4 dried guajillo peppers stems and seeds removed
- 4 dried ancho peppers stems and seeds removed
- 4 chiles de arbol stems and seeds removed
- oil for sauteeing
- 1 small onion, about 1 cup chopped
- 4 garlic cloves chopped small
- 2 teaspoons salt or to your taste
- water as needed to thin the sauce
- Place the stemmed and seeded peppers in a skillet over medium heat and dry roast them just a couple of minutes on each side. Put them in a large bowl and cover with hot water. Let sit for 20 minutes or until they are soft.
- While the peppers are softening in the hot water, add some oil to a skillet and saute the chopped onion until it is translucent 5-7 minutes taking care not to brown it. Add the garlic and let it warm through.
- Take the peppers out of the water and put them in the jar of a blender. Add the sauteed onions and garlic and the salt to season. Blend, adding either some of the pepper water or fresh water to achieve the consistency you want.
- If the sauce is too spicy, add a splash of acid (citrus juice or vinegar), some nuts, dairy, or starch. I recommend the acid because of nut allergies and because the dishes you will make using enchilada sauce will likely have both dairy and starch in them.