Red Enchilada Sauce

Salsa Roja para Enchiladas

Use the visual recipe as your guide. Jump to the full recipe below for preparation details. All of the ingredients should be available at your local grocery store.

Homemade Enchilada Sauce Can’t Be Beat

Homemade enchilada sauce beats canned enchilada sauce every time. Period. If you have never made it from scratch, you should give this authentic Mexican recipe a try. It is much easier to make than you may think and the results are phenomenal.

A Versatile Sauce

It’s great for topping chicken enchiladas, beef enchiladas, cheese enchiladas, enchilada casserole, or even wet burritos.

Cheese Enchiladas with Red Enchilada Sauce
Cheese Enchiladas with Red Enchilada Sauce

Three Different Names, Equally Delicious Results

Depending on where you are, red enchilada sauce may also be called salsa roja, salsa roja para enchiladas or mole rojo. Whatever you call it, the results are equally delicious.

How to Make An Authentic Mexican Red Enchilada Sauce

Our recipe calls for whole dried chiles instead of chili powder, fresh tomatoes instead of tomato sauce or tomato paste, and fresh garlic instead of garlic powder that you will find in many recipes.


  • 8 ancho chiles (mild fruity dried chili pods)
  • 4 pasilla chiles (mild fruity dried chili pods)
  • 1 medium onion quartered
  • 2 plum tomatoes
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon Mexican oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon marjoram
  • 2 tablespoons cooking oil
  • Salt to taste
Red Enchilada Sauce Ingredients
Ingredients to Make Red Enchilada Sauce

The recipe calls for dried ancho chiles and pasilla chiles. Both are mild chiles with a pleasant fruity taste. Ancho chile translates as the “wide chile” and pasilla chile translates and the “raisin chile” due to its wrinkled texture and raisin-like fragrance.

Toast the Chiles

  • Toasting the chiles enhances the flavor of the chiles and make them more pliable and easy to work with.
  • In a hot comal or pan, you toast them for about 10 to 15 seconds per side. If you leave them on the heat too long they develop an acrid taste which you want to avoid. It is quite obvious from the smell that you have toasted them too long.
  • Discard any chiles that are overly toasted.
Toasting Chiles
First, Toast the Chiles Until Fragrant

Char the Vegetables

  • Charring the vegetables is another step that helps develop the flavor of your sauce. You want to blacken them.
  • Char them in a dry pan. Don’t oil the pan.
  • Avoid using a non-stick pan for charring. It’s not good for the pan and it’s difficult to get a good char on the veggies.
Charring Vegetables for Red Enchilada Sauce
Char the Vegetables

Prep the Chiles

  • Remove the stems, seeds, and veins from the chiles.
  • Tear the stems off using your fingers split the chiles down the side to get to the seeds and veins. Don’t worry if you are unable to remove every last seed from the chiles. A few seeds won’t affect the flavor or texture.
  • Save the seeds. They are edible. You can toast them and use them as a condiment to add heat to a variety of dishes.
Seeding Chiles
Remove Stems and Seeds From Chiles

Reconstitute the Chiles

  • Add the chiles and all of the other ingredients to your pan.
  • You are going to simmer the chiles for 15 minutes to reconstitute them and to soften the vegetables.
  • Add just enough water to the pan until the ingredients are nearly covered.
Soaking Chiles and Vegetables
Add Water and Simmer Until Chiles are Reconstituted
Blending Red Enchilada Sauce
Blend Until Smooth

Getting a Smooth Texture

  • After blending, strain the sauce to give it a smooth texture and to remove the chile skin which is hard to digest.
  • Push down firmly on the pulp to extract as much flavor as possible.
  • Discard the pulp that remains in the strainer.
Straining Red Enchilada Sauce
Strain the Sauce

Fry the Sauce

  • Once you have strained the sauce, you must fry it. I know frying the salsa sounds crazy but this is the step that most helps it develop a rich flavor. Do not skip this step.
  • Add 2 tablespoons of oil or enough to cover the bottom of your pan and get it really hot. Then you slowly pour the sauce into the hot oil. The sauce will begin to sizzle and the oil continues to sizzle as you pour all of the sauce into the pan.
  • Once you have fried it, which takes about 30 seconds, be sure to turn the heat down to low.
  • (NOTE: The oil tends to spatter. Be very careful with this step to avoid getting burned.)
Frying Red Enchilada Sauce
The Secret Step, Frying the Sauce

How to Avoid a Bitter Enchilada Sauce

Dried chiles are a seasonal natural product and the level of heat and bitterness can vary greatly which means at times your sauce isn’t going to turn out the way you had planned.

But, don’t worry. You will almost always be able to fix it. It may take a little trial-and-error until you get it just right.

Methods to reduce the bitterness of your sauce:

  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons agave syrup
  • 1 tablespoon creamy peanut butter (This is a reader recommendation that I haven’t tried but I think it would an interesting note to your sauce)

You want to add these ingredients little-by-little to avoid overpowering your sauce. A little goes a long way.

It’s an Easy Enchilada Sauce. Time to Start Cooking! 

The first batch you make will be really good, the second batch will be excellent and your third batch will be out of this world. It doesn’t take long to learn to make an authentic salsa for enchiladas. Well? What are you waiting for?

Panela Cheese Enchiladas with Red Enchilada Sauce
Print Pin
4.1 from 50 votes

Red Enchilada Sauce Recipe

Recipe for an easy red enchilada sauce, also known as salsa roja or mole rojo, prepared with dried ancho and pasilla chiles. Use it as a base for Pozole too.
Course Salsa, Sauce
Cuisine Mexican
Keyword How to Make Red Enchilada Sauce, Red Enchilada Sauce Recipe
Prep Time 35 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 5 minutes
Servings 8 servings
Calories 113kcal
Author Douglas Cullen


  • 8 ancho chiles mild fruity dried chili pods
  • 4 pasilla chiles mild fruity dried chili pods
  • 1 medium onion quartered
  • 2 plum tomatoes
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon Mexican oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon marjoram
  • 2 tablespoons cooking oil
  • salt to taste


  • Toast the chiles in a hot pan until fragrant. (about 10 to 15 seconds per side)
  • Allow chiles to cool and then remove stems, seeds, and veins.
  • Char the onion, tomatoes, and garlic in a hot pan.
  • Place the chiles, onion, tomatoes, garlic oregano and marjoram in a pot with just enough water until the ingredients are almost covered.
  • Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to low.
  • Simmer for 15 minutes to reconstitute the chiles and soften the veggies.
  • Blend the chiles, onion, tomatoes, garlic, oregano marjoram, and the soaking water until smooth. It usually takes about a minute.
  • Add water little by little if necessary to blend. You may have to blend in two batches
  • Strain the mixture.
  • Add two tablespoons of cooking oil to a hot pan add the strained sauce to fry it.
  • Reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes until the sauce has thickened.
  • Add salt to taste.
  • Allow the sauce to sit for at least 2 hours so that the flavors meld.
  • Warm the sauce before serving.


  • You can add a pinch of cumin.
  • Substitute chicken broth or vegetable broth for the soaking liquid.
Preparation Notes
  • The sauce is ready when it coats the back of a spoon.
  • To runny? If it is a little runny and you need to thicken it just simmer until it has reduced the desired consistency.
  • Too thick? If it is a little too thick, add water a couple of tablespoons at a time until it has reached the desired consistency.
  • Too bitter? Add only one of the following to reduce bitterness: 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, 1 to 2 teaspoons sugar, 1 to 2 teaspoons agave syrup.
  • Use any neutral flavor cooking oil to fry.
  • Serving size is about 1/2 cup per person.
If you are unable to find the ingredients at your local store, you can order them online through Amazon or Mexgrocer.
The sauce will keep in the refrigerator for 5 days. It freezes very well. Try making a double or even triple batch and freezing the extra into portioned 2 cup bags.
Alternative Uses
  • You can also use this enchilada sauce as the base for red posole or on poached chicken breasts.


Serving: 1/2 cup | Calories: 113kcal | Carbohydrates: 17g | Protein: 4g | Fat: 4g | Sodium: 497mg | Sugar: 5g

 More Salsas Made With Dried Chiles

You Might Like These Recipes Too

What is your favorite enchilada sauce? Let me know in the comments below.

79 comments… add one
  • glen spencer

    Hello mr. D one quick question is enchilada sauce the same thing people talk about in New Mexico as red chili sauce I was looking at recipes and it looks like the same thing as enchilada sauce to me anyway thank you for your comments

  • Nancy

    This is an outstanding enchilada sauce. It does take a little bit of time but is so definitely worth it. My sauce was a little bitter, but added sugar and everything melded. When I put everything together, using this sauce…wow..have to say..the best enchiladas I have ever made..Thank you for the recipe…

  • Aaron

    I made this using dried chiles that I boiled to soften. Maybe this will help others doing this for the first time. I ended up with an extremely bitter sauce and had to add many teaspoons of sugar to get it edible. I also like bitter coffees, chocolates, etc, but this was just way too much without a lot of sugar. It never stopped being bitter, but was good enough to use as a rather light sauce for the enchiladas (I dipped the tortillas in the sauce and rolled them with my meat filling- no more). Too much sauce was just too bitter. Here are a couple thoughts if you are doing this with dried chiles. Do not boil the chiles too long as you want to avoid cooking the seeds too long and making everything that much more bitter. You just need to be able to open them to de-seed them. Be very careful using the boiled chile water in the rest of the recipe. Taste it. If it’s bitter, do not use it. Use water or stock instead. You will get enough flavor from the chiles. For my taste, using the amount of dried chiles listed in this recipe, I would use double to triple the amount of tomatoes, double the garlic and herbs, and 1.5 the onion.

  • Patty C

    Incredible sauce! Most complain about the bitterness, word of advice….don’t use the liquid you reconstitute the chiles in…use broth or water. Besides that change, the sauce was amazing…made it with beef.

  • SallyHern

    This recipe was great, almost exactly the same as my mother in law’s (who lives in mexico) recipe. The only difference is she does not usually char the tomatoes.

    This recipe has a good amount of depth and the chili flavor is great. I find too many versions of red enchiladas in the US are very tomato heavy, more like a tomato sauce. I like the slightly smokey flavor the charring of the vegetable gives. Definitely recommend!

  • Egghead

    Great response to Jerry! Also, I have been living in New Mexico for about 8 years, and I really appreciate this recipe. I always found the idea of making my own red chile sauce intimidating, but man do I love it (as much as a good green chile sauce these days!)

  • know-net

    STEP 9: After each stock addition, continue to mix well, breaking up any clumps, for a smooth sauce.

  • Haverford Lyminal Brown

    I just tried this and it’s a great recipe! My thoughts afterwards.

    A dash of cinnamon and cocoa powder (and/or chocolate bar squares) goes a long way. Lime and white vinegar at the end is a good idea. The recipe says salt to taste but ground black pepper is a nice addition as well.

    I made the mistake of not worrying about getting dried ancho chiles and substituted with other varities because the Mexican market I went to was out of them. Well, I found that it just didn’t taste right until I added multiple teaspoons of ancho chili powder that I serendipitously found in the cupboard. So….really do buy ancho chiles. You may be disappointed otherwise. In the end it’s close to the flavor I was after, but no quite. My fault, not the recipe.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recipe Rating

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.