At its core, enchilada sauce should be little more than dried chiles, steeped and blended (then fried). If you’ve ever looked at a store bought can of enchilada sauce and seen tomatoes or flour – run away – that’s not authentic at all. Heck keep reading that can, look at all those preservatives, sodium and junk in there. It’s way healthier, interesting and ultimately tastier to make your own from scratch. Once made it freezes up perfectly so you can always have some on hand.
A great enchilada sauce begins life with dried chiles. You can find these in many grocery stores but I like to use a good supplier on Amazon. Good quality chiles are pliable and fruity in aroma, low quality are brittle and crumble when flexed. Getting to grips with dried chiles can be daunting, but don’t worry, you’ll be a pro after your first outing.
How to steep dried chiles
To use dried chiles you first need to rehydrate them in water. Start by getting some gloves on, simple sterile kitchen gloves are fine. Trust me, it makes this all so much easier and less messier.
Next, using some kitchen scissors, snip the ends of all the chiles and shake out the interior seeds. After that carefully cut down the length of the chiles to open them up flat. Scrape out any remaining seeds and any excess pith. Some like to toast the chiles in a pan next (I do) – just a few seconds to let the aromas bloom. Be careful though, it’s very easy to burn the chiles and this turns them bitter.
Next boil 1.5 cups of water, add the chiles and submerge. Cover for 45 minutes – and that’s it! Super easy – they’re now ready for blending.
How spicy are dried chiles
Only the chiles de arbol add heat in this dish. The three chile de arbol I like to use creates a fairly spicy dish. You can certainly use less, just use one for a tame sauce. The other chiles – guajillo and ancho – just add flavor. Remember that you shouldn’t be drowning your enchilada in sauce, a little can go a long way, there’s a lot of flavor here!
- 3 guajillo chile
- 2 ancho chile
- 3 chile de arbol
- 1 garlic clove
- 1 small onion
- 1.5 cups water
- 1/2 tsp cumin
- 1/2 tsp coriander
- 1/2 can of rotel diced tomatoes (optional)
- 1 tbso canola oil
Add prepared chiles (see notes) to a bowl with 1.5 cups boiled water. Cover, ensure chiles submerged, leave for 45 minutes.
In a small frying pan saute chopped onion and crushed garlic. Cook for five or so minutes to soften, not to brown.
After 45 minutes, carefully add steeped chiles to a blender, followed by all the water. Add the sauteed garlic, onion and spices, blend into a puree.
Optional step – for a slightly more accessible flavor profile feel free to blend in tomatoes, a little sugar, maybe a little lime juice too.
Add pureed enchilada sauce to a sauce pan with canola oil. Fry for about five to ten minutes covered.
Not so authentic enchilada sauce
O.k. with all of the above said, the ultra earthy flavors of a powerful chile sauce might not be immediately palatable to all; especially when so many of us have been trained to enjoy sauces loaded with sugar, salt and fat. With that mind it’s easy to tweak the above recipe to retain the authentic chile flavor, but to also soften it with a little sweetness and zest. Over time you’ll come to love the chile flavor more and more, and hold back on the additives – I know I have.
I personally add about a a half cup of diced rotel tomatoes into the blender with the chiles. I also add a teaspoon of sugar and a half teaspoon of salt. You might also find a little freshly juice lime juice and cilantro helps too. Be careful and add items one by one slowly. It’s easy to dilute the sauce’s flavor too much, so keep tasting and tweaking till you find the balance you like.
Hi, I’m Stuart, nice to meet you! I’m the founder, writer and wrangler at Gastronomic SLC – Utah’s biggest and oldest online food magazine; I’m also a former restaurant critic of more than five years, working for the Salt Lake Tribune. I’ve worked extensively with multiple local publications from Visit Salt Lake to Salt Lake Magazine, not least helped to consult on national TV shows.
I’m a multiple-award winning journalist and have covered the Utah dining scene for the better part of fifteen years. I’m largely fueled by a critical obsession with rice, alliteration and the use of big words I don’t understand. I started Shop Smart to catalogue my adventures in the grocery store and kitchen. Follow along on Instagram too!