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Authentic Mexican Red Enchilada Sauce

Mexican red enchilada sauce, salsa roja, this is the perky salsa that bathes and brightens stuffed and rolled tortillas, enchiladas. It’s a basic cooked not-too-hot Mexican sauce with deep earthy pure chile flavor. Salsa roja is what makes enchiladas “en-chil-ada”, or “seasoned with chile.” Make this easy blender sauce once, and the next time you won’t even need a written recipe.

Red Enchilada Sauce Salsa Roja

Hanging out in Baja Mexico, my goal, call it a New Year’s resolution if you want, is to get a couple of Mexican sauces down pat, to be able to make them from memory. This rusty red enchilada sauce is one of those recipes. I think it’s in my brain for good, but check back with me in a year. Because if I had a nickel for every baking recipe I knew by heart and forgot, I’d be rich.

Click here to PIN Authentic Red Enchilada Sauce.


Red Enchilada Sauce soften and soak

The chile essence, slightly tart, smoky and fruity, is like nothing you can buy in a can. You could make my quick enchilada sauce out of chili powder if you are in a big hurry and want homemade red sauce. But if you have thirty minutes to soak the dried chiles, make this authentic red enchilada sauce. One taste and you’ll get what I mean.

One time I started soaking the chiles but never got around to the sauce. (I may have had a beer or two.) I put the submerged chiles in their bowl in the refrigerator and finished the sauce the next morning. No problem.

Round out your red enchilada sauce with a little dried oregano and cumin, if you like. But really, they aren’t essential. Here in my trailer kitchen I’ve been making my red enchilada sauce uncomplicated, with just onions and garlic as aromatics.

Red Enchilada Sauce blend and strain

Two see-through bags of dried chiles, one with anchos, one with guajillos, jumped into my bolsa the first day we were here. I’m trying to use them up before we leave, though one bag lasts quite a while.

This is the sauce you want for chard enchiladas. Red enchilada sauce is delicious on grilled potatoes. It’s a flavorful “barbecue sauce” that brightens everything, not to mention enchiladas. I can’t wait for you to taste this sauce with eggs!


About the chiles used in red enchilada sauce:

Guajillo (gwah-HEE-yoh) chiles have a tapered shape and reddish-brown color and mild tart flavor. Ancho chiles are darker than guajillo with wrinkle-y skin; they add a raisin-y fruity accent to sauces. Before drying, anchos are poblanos, the chiles often used for chile rellenos. Because this is a basic recipe, feel free to use all of one dried chile or the other, or the ratio you please.

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4.56 from 9 votes
Red Enchilada Sauce Salsa Roja
Authentic Mexican Red Enchilada Sauce
Prep Time
30 mins
Total Time
30 mins
Taste the incredible deep chile flavor—the enchilada difference. Make ahead and freeze and you’ll be a happy red enchilada sauce camper. Soaking time, 30 minutes; actual working time, less than 15. All you need is a skillet, a blender and a strainer.
Course: Component, Condiment
Cuisine: Mexican
Keyword: homemade, enchilada sauce, authentic
Servings: 2 cups.
Author: Letty Flatt | Letty's Kitchen
  • 2 dried ancho chiles
  • 5 or 6 dried guajillo chiles
  • 2 ½ cups boiling water
  • ¾ cup chopped white or yellow onion
  • 2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
  • ¾ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • ½ teaspoon dried oregano , optional
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin , optional
  • 1 tablespoon olive, avocado, or grapeseed oil
  1. Warm the chiles on a comal or griddle, or in a dry cast iron skillet. You want the chiles to soften—do not allow them to burn.
  2. Cut off the stems. (Scissors work well.) Cut a slit in the chiles and tap them over a bowl so the majority of the seeds fall out.  Discard the seeds.

  3. Place the chiles in a bowl and cover with the boiling water. Place a small plate on top to keep them submerged. Set aside for 30 minutes, or longer. (see note)

  4. Drain the chiles, reserving the soaking water.
  5. Place the chiles in the blender. Add the onion, garlic, salt, and if using, oregano and cumin. Pour in 1 1/4 cups of the soaking liquid. Blend until you have a smooth puree.
  6. Strain through a wire sieve, pushing through as much of the smooth puree you can. You should have only about 2 tablespoons of skin/seeds left in the strainer.
  7. Heat the oil in a medium skillet. Add the strained puree and cook 3 to 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. The sauce should be the thickness of heavy cream. If it seems too thick, stir in a little more of the soaking liquid.

Recipe Notes

I soaked the chiles overnight with dandy—no problema—results.


  • You know Letty, there is an issue with your blog. When I get the notification and click on it – it takes me back to Letty’s kitchen. Still, that’s a good place! I learned to make my own enchilada sauce a few years back and was so impressed with simplicity and flavor! Reply · 27 January, 2015

    • sorry, I meant that it takes me to Muffin talk. Reply · 27 January, 2015

      • Letty

        Thanks Tammy for the heads up. Reply · 27 January, 2015

  • I’ll have to give this sauce a try. So easy and delicious! Reply · 28 January, 2015

    • Letty

      Thanks Barbara–yes–I use to use canned enchilada sauce, but now I can hardly consider it. Reply · 30 January, 2015

  • Enchilada sauce is one of those things that has been on my To DO list for quite some time – you make it look and sound so easy! I must whip up a batch and use it on some chard enchiladas 😉 XO Reply · 30 January, 2015

    • Letty

      Thanks Julie. Yes–great sauce. I made a double batch and froze some for emergency enchiladas! Reply · 30 January, 2015

  • This impresses me because it’s what good cooking (and good cooks) are all about. GREG Reply · 31 January, 2015

  • Louise Redmond

    Hi Letty,
    I just wondered if you use Mexican oregano or Italian oregano in this recipe.. Reply · 5 February, 2015

    • Letty

      Thanks for the note Louise,
      I used Mexican oregano, because that’s what I bought down here. But it really doesn’t matter. Italian (or Greek) oregano would flavor the sauce just as nicely! Reply · 6 February, 2015

    • Letty

      Thanks for the note Louise. I used Mexican oregano–because I bought it here it must be Mexican, right? But Italian (or Greek) oregano will be just fine in the sauce, and likely easier to find. Reply · 6 February, 2015

  • kathryn deckert

    Letty – this sauce is beautiful to gaze down upon while cooking. The oil adds flecks of gold that swirl as you stir while heating up this sauce. Using this with an old enchilada recipe filling of avocado and toasted cashews from the old Enchanted Broccoli Forest Cookbook. David, Patricia and Patti will help me test it out. Gracias Reply · 9 February, 2015

    • Letty

      How cool is that? Thanks for the telling me about your making Kathryn. I want to make that filling of avo and cashews, I don’t think I ever have. Reply · 9 February, 2015

  • kathryn deckert


  • Letty

    Thanks Kathryn! So happy you liked it ALL! Reply · 10 February, 2015

  • […] vinaigrette, made with the more picante hot guajillo chiles. Also, check out my simple homemade red chile enchilada sauce made with spicier-than-New […] Reply · 6 August, 2015

  • Eduardo

    Thank you for sharing this recipe!!! So delicious, WOW!!! Reply · 4 March, 2018

  • Vicky

    Can this be canned? Reply · 9 July, 2018

  • Bobby

    After grilling, de seeding & sweating,
    We painstakingly scrape the flesh from the skin with the back of a spoon and then use the blender with chicken stock instead of using the soaking water. We found the skin to be a bit bitter. It’s a huge hassle but worth it Reply · 7 September, 2018

    • Thanks for the note Bobby. Whew that does seem like a lot of extra work. I don’t think I’m up to it.;-) I could follow your suggestion and use broth, in my case vegetable broth, instead of the soaking water. Reply · 10 September, 2018

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