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
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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

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

79 comments… add one
  • Anh

    I made this sauce for July 4th! I didn’t follow the instructions to an exact T but it almost didn’t matter: I removed all the seeds before toasting, I didn’t fry the sauce but did add olive oil to the sauce and left it sitting on a pan for about 15 min, and did not let it sit for 2 hours because it was already late by the time I wanted to use it for enchiladas! However, the sauce was flavorful and I enjoyed it immensely with my boyfriend. At my local grocery store, they sold “pasilla ancho” chiles as one chile type instead of having a bag just for pasilla and another just for ancho. So I used guajillo chiles as my second chile type for the sauce. I will definitely revisit this recipe again and attempt to make it even better for next time.

  • as a new blogger and old chef, now retired I am going forward , in my blogging full time, I am glad I came across your blog ,I just wish to add your love for Mexican food has made you a great chef, I love your recipes, I shall return, your sauces are original great work.
    Chef Ernie

  • Floyd Hall

    What sort of pan should you use? I have a square non-stick flat Calphalon pan I was planning to use. Should I use cast iron pans instead?

    • The non-stick pan will work just fine. I have never made salsa in a cast iron pan but I imagine that it would work well too. Cheers!

  • Barbie

    A tablespoon of peanut butter cuts bitterness as well.

  • Paul V.

    Many Thanks, Douglas !!!

    Recently made this sauce and it turned out fabulous, with a little tweaking to undo a very slight bitterness.
    I’d been using store bought, canned red & green enchilada sauces for years, BUT NO MORE !
    Have made it 3 times since with continuing excellent results – your sauce is even better than what I recall immensely enjoying at an excellent Mexican restaurant in Ajijic, Mexico a few years ago, where I had tasted my first authentic red enchilada sauce.

  • Paul V.

    Re; My comments above:
    I hasten to add that it was more than just ‘a few years ago’ that I had my first authentic red enchilada sauce in Ajijic, Mexico, I’ve since had other authentic red sauces on vacation while in places like Cancun, Playa Del Carmen, Acapuclo, Bucerias, and Puerta Vallarta, among others. And your sauce, Douglas, is just as good, if not better, than any sauces I’ve had in top notch Mexican restaurants in those cities – for sure!

    Bear with me while I add a few notes on ‘tweaking’ this sauce to ensure an excellent result:

    – I use only Ancho chiles & Guajillo Chiles to make it, and it turns out wonderful. (These Chiles are easily accessible here in Vancouver, B.c. for which I’m thankful )
    – Please don’t fry your chiles longer than the recommended 15 to 20 seconds per side., and do remove all seeds & ribs.
    – Once placed in hot boiling water for 15 -20 minutes as recommended, and after being blended with the other ingredients, you must vigoously strain through a fine mesh sieve, in order to produce a truly velvety sauce. Careful with water to be added when blending (or chicken stock which I used) to make sure your sauce is the consistency to coat the back of a spoon.
    – A little baking soda, brown sugar, some tomato paste or tomato sauce, and a little cumin will add ‘finish’ to your product.
    – I usually do chicken enchiladas, to which I add some cheese, some of the red sauce, and a teaspoon or two of canned mild green chiles.
    – Once assembled in the warmed tortillas, place them under the broiler for 2-4 minutes to slightly brown & tighten up the tortillas.for baking.
    – Add more canned green chiles atop the enchiladas, then your red sauce, then your grated cheeses(s) for baking.

    Hope this is fairly clear and possibly helps out a little.
    Paul V.

    • Cheryl Nelson

      I live in Richmond, BC. Where do you find the Ancho and Guajillo chilies in Vancouver?

  • Monica

    Yikes, very bitter unfortunately. Have a feeling it’s all the heat applied. None of the fixes helped at all. Would not try this particular recipe again.

    • Michele Fernandez

      Have had great success with many of Doug’s salsa recipes but this enchilada sauce failed on 3 separate attempts. Last attempt I added some of the chili sauce, after sieve, to tomatillo salsa I had just made. Not bad.
      This enchilada sauce was worse than what I’ve made with pasilla chili powder & tomato sauce. I will keep using the salsa recipes but I’m back to Las Palmas for enchilada sauce.

  • Erin C.

    I feel a little late to the party, but it’s good to know this recipe keeps on delivery. It did so for me, and mine was a teeny bit bitter – yes, I probably had the dried chiles too long in the pan. My two cents worth is that I added and a little smoked paprika during the summer, and juice of two limes off the heat, and it rounded out the thing beautifully. It’s impossible to get proper enchilada sauce in the UK, so this recipe is a godsend. We make chicken enchiladas similar to Paul V above, and just used it in chilaquiles.

  • glen warren spencer

    Dear Mr D. how much water do U add ? T U

  • glen warren spencer

    Hello Mr D, i used your recipe as a foundation ,it tasted bitter, i was eating a Hershey bar at the time so 2 pieces of Hershey went in , then fried it i made 4 cups so that i had something to dip my home made tortillas in . the end result was everybody at church that had a piece was very pleased : ) ! T U again, also where did U get those great looking plates in the pictures ?

  • Dan

    Nice, easy to follow recipe. Thanks! Another thing you could add at the end to lighten it up (opposed to sugar) is vinegar to make it pop a bit. Very nice, deep chili sauce as is though.

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