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Authentic Mexican Red Enchilada Sauce

This is the brick red sauce that bathes and brightens stuffed and rolled tortillas, enchiladas. Mexican red enchilada sauce, or salsa roja, is a basic cooked not-too-hot Mexican sauce with deep earthy pure chile flavor. To make this blender sauce, you soak dried chiles, and then whir them in the blender with onion and garlic and spices.

Red Enchilada Sauce Salsa Roja

Click here to PIN Authentic Red Enchilada Sauce.

Red Enchilada Sauce soften and soak

Salsa roja is what makes enchiladas “en-chil-lada”, or “seasoned with chile.”

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.

Round out your red enchilada sauce with a little dried oregano and cumin, if you like. But really, they aren’t essential.

Red Enchilada Sauce blend and strain

Hanging out in Baja Mexico, my goal 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. It’s in my brain for good right now, 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.

Two see-through bags of dried chiles, one with anchos, one with guajillos, (affiliate links) 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 vegetarian chard enchiladas. Red enchilada sauce is a flavorful “barbecue sauce” that brightens grilled potatoes, eggs, and meats, and of course enchiladas!

You will also love this sauce with spinach and black bean enchiladas!


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.
  • 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.

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PS If you make this recipe and love it, please consider leaving a blog post comment. Your comments help other readers learn more about the recipe. If you’d also give the recipe a ✮✮✮✮✮ rating, I’d be even more delighted!


  • 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

      • Enchilada Sauce red

        Great easy and fun. Gracias Amiga! 🌹🏜️🌵 Reply · 28 July, 2021

  • 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

  • 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

  • Glen

    you very much for that recipe I was wondering what the balance was with the Chili’s I also put a Chipotle pepper in it sometimes I use Liquid Mesquite flavoring cuz down here in Arizona there was always rodeos and barbecues and that’s all we ever ate was food cooked on mesquite wood so thank you very much for that and then I put chocolate in it and fried it and it just intensified it so thank you very much now I know how to make it Reply · 3 February, 2019

    • Hi Glen,
      Thanks for the note! As you figured out, authentic red enchilada sauce is not that difficult to make. I bet it tastes good with the mesquite flavoring! Reply · 4 February, 2019

  • Glen

    Hello lady thank you for responding to my text the Mesquite flavor just gives it a flavor like it was cooked over an open fire I kind of miss that growing up eating over campfires and now I’m sitting here getting ready to make enchilada sauce. And homemade tortillas just figuring out what spices to put in the tortillas cuz then I’m going to make homemade chips and put spices in the flour to so thank you again for putting your recipe out there it’s good to have a foundation to build on and yours is about the best there is so thank you and take care and God bless and thank you again Reply · 5 February, 2019

  • Paula

    The only change I made was using passillia peppers vs ancho. Could that have ruined the taste? Reply · 21 May, 2019

  • Dorothy

    This is the basic recipe and technique I’ve been looking for!! I USED TO make my own and recently bought the dried chiles but I couldn’t recall the order of the steps. Thank You for this recipe!! We will be using this over the fresh, homemade pork tamales we are making over this next week. 🤤 Reply · 17 December, 2020

    • Oh yes! Tamales and holidays go hand in hand! Thank you! Reply · 24 December, 2020

  • JeanieC

    I’ve been making your red enchilada sauce for years now and it’s the only one I’ll make. I sometimes swap the peppers or the quantities (and usually double the batch) but it’s always wonderful.

    Made it again last night with a brand new batch of guajillos that were sweeter than any others I’ve ever had previously. Different flavor profile for the sauce but still wonderful and unique.

    Thanks so much for sharing this recipe. Reply · 9 January, 2022

    • Thank you Jeanie! I bought some guajillo peppers from Rancho Gordo and made this sauce with them. It was sublime. Reply · 14 January, 2022

  • Chris

    I followed the recipe to the T. I just finished cooking it and it tastes terrible. Bitter. I used 2 dried ancho chiles, rinsed and
    5 dried guajillo chiles. What can fix this? I don’t want to waste it but can’t eat it. Reply · 11 April, 2024

    • Chris, If your chiles were warmed in the skillet and no way burnt, I would try to cook the sauce gently on the stove a bit more. If the chiles were toasted too much, there isn’t much you can do. Burnt chiles make bitter sauce. Sadly, I’ve made that mistake. Let me know. Reply · 12 April, 2024

  • STG

    Delicious👌🏽 Reply · 20 April, 2024

  • Deb

    Hi Letty,

    Made this Authentic Mexican Red Enchi Sauce today and find the heat is just right but the sauce has bitter undertones. What can I do to prevent this in future? Reply · 5 May, 2024

  • Deb

    Never mind, I read your reply to Chris. Reply · 5 May, 2024

    • Deb, let me know how your sauce comes out next time. Thank you for your note. Reply · 6 May, 2024

  • Leo

    I have been experimenting with different red sauce recipes, and both the ones I have tried did turn out bitter, like someone mentioned above. But it was not because I toasted the chiles too much — because that step was not in the recipes. I feel like it’s the broth from the soaked chiles that provides that slight bitterness. Any other insights into red sauce bitterness. I don’t haves this problem with green sauce. Reply · 6 days ago

    • Hi Leo. Thank you for writing. The person who taught me to make red enchilada sauce used the soaking liquid and so I’ve always made it that way. I love this discussion. I’m going to make the sauce tomorrow and discard the soaking liquid. I’m betting your’re right–that the soaking liquid is the bitter culprit. If I agree after testing, I plan to update the recipe. We want everyone to make this sauce with grand success! Reply · 5 days ago

3.95 from 34 votes (26 ratings without comment)

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