Red Enchilada Sauce

A few weeks ago, I decided to find out if I could make a killer homemade red enchilada sauce. I had a few ground rules. The recipe needed to be quick and easy (if it wasn’t, I knew I’d end up reaching for the red enchilada sauce can), I wanted it to be low in sodium (my biggest complaint about canned enchilada sauce), and it needed to have epically delicious flavor. No biggie right? RIGHT! I proudly present: the best (EASY!) Red Enchilada Sauce.

A quick and easy recipe for the best red enchilada sauce from scratch. Ready in just 15 minutes and so delicious! This amazing homemade enchilada sauce used whenever a recipe calls for a red enchilada sauce can.

The Best Red Enchilada Sauce

Not only does this easy red enchilada sauce beat the pants off of whatever you’ll find on a store shelf, you’ll feel great knowing what’s in it. It’s smoky and you can adjust the spice level to your taste.

Unlike many authentic red enchilada sauce recipes, my shortcut red enchilada sauce recipe only calls for a 15 minutes of simmering on the stove, making it completely attainable on a weeknight.

This red enchilada sauce recipe also yields a good amount (3 1/2 cups, or the equivalent of nearly three 10-ounce cans or two 14-ounce cans). You can use it in recipes that call for a larger amount of sauce or freeze it individual portions, then use it as a red enchilada sauce substitute whenever a recipe calls for a can.

The best red enchilada sauce recipe can be made from scratch in just 15 minutes! Perfect for homemade enchiladas.

What Spices Are in Enchilada Sauce?

This can vary based on the recipe. In many classic red enchilada sauce recipes I found, chili powder, cumin, oregano, and even cinnamon were mentioned.

Most sauces also start with a roux, which requires cooking flour on the stove in oil, then slowly splashing in liquid. I managed to avoid this step by blending a chipotle chile pepper in adobo (you’ll find this in a can in the Hispanic section of most grocery stores) right into the sauce to thicken it instead.

Chipotle peppers have an incredibly rich, smoky flavor, and I loved the heat they bring to the sauce. If you are extra sensitive to spice, feel free to leave out the pepper and use the sauce only.

Also, please note that this sauce won’t taste exactly like what comes out of the can. I’d argue it is much, much better, but if you don’t care for the flavor of chipotle, this is probably not the sauce recipe for you.

Are Red Chili Sauce and Red Enchilada Sauce the Same Thing?

Yes…and no. Chili sauce is used as a general term for a spicy sauce that can be made of one of a variety of peppers. In the case of red chili sauce, those chilis are (as you have no doubt deduced) red.

Chili sauce can be found in both Asian and Mexican cuisine, but the flavors of the two are different, because different spices and herbs are added to each. They also have different bases. Asian chili sauce is usually more oil based, while Mexican red chili sauce (like this recipe) is tomato based.

Red enchilada sauce is a type of Mexican red chili sauce. My hunch is that the name “enchilada” was added after the fact, since enchiladas are one of its most popular uses.

Can You Use Taco Sauce Instead of Enchilada Sauce?

From what I can tell, the major difference between the two is that taco sauce is thicker (mostly likely because each taco only needs a few tablespoons versus the 2+ cups required for enchiladas). The taco sauces I’ve tried are usually more mild than enchilada sauce too.

If you want to use taco sauce instead of enchilada sauce in a recipe, I’d suggest blending it in a food processor or blender with a chipotle pepper in adobo or two to amp up its flavor and add other spices like garlic and oregano to taste.

What Can You Use in Place of Enchilada Sauce?

I found this handy hack I thought it would be fun to share:

  • For every cup of enchilada sauce, stir together 1 cup of spaghetti sauce with 1/2 to 1 teaspoon garlic powder, 1 teaspoon dried oregano, 1 teaspoon ground cumin, and 2 teaspoons of chili powder. I’d also toss in a hit of cayenne for heat. Taste and adjust to your liking.

Easy homemade red enchilada sauce gets its rich, smoky taste from chipotle peppers in adobo.

How Do You Make Red Enchilada Sauce?

I have all the details for you in the recipe below, but here’s a quick preview:

  • Combine the ingredients in a saucepan: tomato sauce, chipotle peppers in adobo, garlic powder, and either water or chicken broth.
  • Add a little salt and pepper and a touch of sugar to balance the heat.
  • Simmer for 5 to 10 minutes.
  • Blend.
  • That’s it! You can now use your sauce in any recipe that calls for red enchilada sauce.

Recipes to Use New Homemade Easy Red Enchilada Sauce

A quick and easy recipe for the best red enchilada sauce from scratch. Ready in just 15 minutes and so delicious! This amazing homemade enchilada sauce used whenever a recipe calls for a red enchilada sauce can.
4.5 from 2 votes
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Red Enchilada Sauce

Yield: 3 1/2 cups
Prep Time:
5 mins
Cook Time:
10 mins
Total Time:
15 mins

A quick and easy recipe for the best red enchilada sauce. Ready in just 15 minutes and so delicious! Can be used whenever a recipe calls for a red enchilada sauce can.

Ingredients

  • 2 cans tomato sauce — (15 ounce cans)
  • 1-2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce — use two individual peppers for a spicy sauce or one if you prefer medium heat; if you like mild, try omitting the peppers and adding just a few teaspoons of the adobo sauce to begin; you can always add more sauce later for additional heat
  • 1 tablespoon adobo sauce — from the can of chipotle peppers in adobo
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 cup water — or low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon coconut sugar — or brown sugar

Instructions

  1. In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, stir together the tomato sauce, chipotle peppers, adobo sauce, garlic powder, water or broth, salt, pepper, and coconut sugar. Bring to a steady simmer, then reduce the heat to medium low. Cover the pan and let simmer gently until thickened, about 5 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a blender or food processor and blend until very smooth. Tip: Place a thick layer of paper towels over the top of your blender before you turn it on. Hot liquids in blenders love to splatter—don’t ask me how I know. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired.

Recipe Notes

  • To freeze, portion the sauce into individual containers and freeze for up to 3 months. Let thaw overnight or (if you are in a big hurry) reheat gently in the microwave or on the stove.
  • Because of the chipotle peppers, the flavor of this sauce is deep and smoky (deliciously so!). If you prefer a more classic, right-from-the-can taste, I'd suggest seeking a different recipe. (I don't have a specific one I recommend, as this is the recipe I always use.)
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Mexican
Keyword: Easy Enchilada Sauce, Red Enchilada Sauce

Nutrition Information

Amount per serving (2 tablespoons) — Calories: 13, Carbohydrates: 3g, Fiber: 1g, Sugar: 2g

Did you try this recipe? I want to see! Follow Well Plated on Instagram, snap a photo, and tag it #wellplated. I love to know what you are making!

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About Erin Clarke

I’m fearlessly dedicated to making healthy food taste incredible. Wearer of plaid, travel enthusiast, and firmly convinced that sweets and veggies both deserve a place at the table. MORE ABOUT ERIN…

4 comments

  1. I made this Red Enchilada Sauce because I did not have any canned enchilada sauce for the Crock Pot Mexican Casserole recipe that is also on this website.  This sauce is easy to make — I appreciate the short list of ingredients.  It is also very tasty and made the house smell wonderful while cooking.  I look forward to trying it in the casserole recipe.  (The sauce is now in jars in the refrigerator.)

    With all that said, I did simmer the sauce for about 45 minutes instead of just 10 to 15, as called for in the recipe, because the additional time was needed for the sauce to really thicken.  (It yielded 32 oz. instead of 36 oz.)  I wasn’t in a hurry, so this wasn’t a problem.  Also, I used a hand-held immersion blender to mix the sauce in the same pan after cooking because it was much less trouble than dirtying a traditional blender or food processor.

    Other than the cooking time, I made the recipe exactly as written except that I used beef broth in place of the chicken/vegetable broth (or water) because I wanted the extra savory flavor.  I  used 2 chipotle peppers and a full tablespoon of adobo sauce, as the recipe calls for, and it was just the right amount of spicy for my tastes — not too spicy for me, but suit yourself.

    In fact, I think the main take-away from this recipe is that you should make your sauce so it tastes good to you, and if this sauce’s taste is not your cup of tea, you should find a different recipe.  Isn’t this really true of all recipes and all the cooking we do?

    For example, my spouse is a native Mexican.  He says this sauce is very tasty but reminds him of the plainer flavors of Central American cooking.  He told me, “It needs Knorr Suiza to have that Mexican flavor.”  That’s a brand of chicken bouillon popular in Mexico that’s also available here.  “But it has real beef broth,” I countered — to no avail.  Again, to each his own, right?  (For what it’s worth, I would proudly serve this sauce to his mother and am certain that she would approve.)

    So, thanks for this useful recipe, and “Vive la différence!” when it comes to the way sauces taste — make it the way you like it.  I like this sauce and was grateful to find the easy, fast, and tasty recipe.  Thank you, Erin!

    P.S.  My Mexican spouse has fallen in love with my mother’s Midwestern Meatloaf recipe.  To my surprise and out of the blue, he suggested that this Red Enchilada Sauce would be an excellent substitute for ketchup in the meatloaf — and I wholeheartedly agree!  You talk about” vive la différence!”  I’m going to try it and bet it will be delicious!

    • I’m so happy to hear you enjoyed the sauce, Scott! Thank you so much for taking the time to share your tweaks too!

      • You’re welcome, Erin — and now, having used this sauce to make the Crock Pot Mexican Casserole recipe that links here, I’m changing my rating of the sauce from four stars to five.  This Red Enchilada Sauce is PERFECT for that casserole recipe!  And I look forward to trying it in other recipes, too — like that meatloaf I mentioned.  Well done, Erin, and thank you for the delicious recipes!

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