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Aug 3, 2010 09:35 AM

Is There a Difference between Tamale Sauce and Enchilada Sauce?

At a resto in New Mexico I had tamales that were topped by a thin, smooth sauce which strongly resembled enchilada sauce, or what we call ranchero sauce here in Texas. Is it likely that this sauce was indeed enchilada sauce, or is it common to make a different type of sauce for tamales?


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  1. Red tamale and red enchilada sauces are seemingly very similar; sometimes the addition of tomatoes to the tamale sauce, and maybe a little oregano, is the only difference I've come across. But then, enchilada sauce sometimes has tomatoes in it. It seems that
    it's what your momma made before you and/or up to the chef du jour.

    The recipe I concocted, containing mostly anchos, a few pasilla or guajillos thrown in, or New Mexican chiles or japones, a chipotle for smoky heat, garlic, onions, cumin, chicken or pork stock, etc, can be used for tamales, enchiladas or even chilaquiles; a true multi- tasking sauce. One sauce, many dishes, yippee.

    De nada.

    1 Reply
    1. re: bushwickgirl

      Yeah, I've pretty much arrived at the same conclusion. There probably is no hard/fast distinction between a tamale sauce and an enchilada sauce.

    2. Authentically speaking, the is no one single enchilada sauce. Any pureed salsa recipe can be used to coat a tortilla and form an enchilada. What most Americans think of enchilada sauce is actually a variation on a salsa roja used to make Enchiladas Rojas.

      When it comes to tamales, apart from some regional variations, they usually are not served with sauce on top; this is more of a Tex-Mex thing. Tamal fillings, on the other hand, are often made with reduced salsas.

      All salsas are defined by their ingredients and not their use. Some traditional dishes DO have a traditional salsa recipe though like My favorite enchiladas, Enchiladas Suizas. Take a tomatillo salsa, fresh or jarred, mix with some fresh crema or sour cream, use to coat warmed tortillas, stuff with chicken or cheese, top with more sauce and cheese and broil till melty.

      7 Replies
      1. re: javier.reyes

        The tamales I have in mind were actually from Chope's in La Mesa, New Mexico just south of Las Cruces. The sauce--far more like an enchilada sauce than any salsa--was unique and sublime. I suspect they used an unusual powdered chile rather than the chile powder typically used to make enchilada sauce.

        PS--I made a tamale/enchilada sauce last night with veg. oil, flour, garlic powder, salt, beef stock and powdered chile de arbol, and it was very good. Much hotter than your typical tamale/enchilada sauce, however.

        1. re: Perilagu Khan

          Sounds like a chile flavored gravy.

          1. re: Perilagu Khan

            Chope's has their own family recipe for everything they serve. It's why you have to stand in line so often! Sauce on tamales is very much a regional thing in the American southwest. In El Paso, a "Spanish" sauce of tomatoes and onions, sometimes with celery in it, was popular. Here in Dallas, chile con carne is a favored topping. (yuck!) Whether eating in or taking out, I usually ask for "bare naked tamales with some salsa on the side." The liquid from the salsa makes a nice moistener if the tamales are dry. But I don't order tamales often. I'm from California, and these Texas and New Mexico tamales where they skimp seriously on filling are always disappointing. Always!

            And WHY am I participating in a two year old thread??????? This is happening a LOT lately!!! We must have rampant archive raiders among us....

            1. re: Caroline1

              I, too, find that salsa on tamales works well. And I agree that chile con carne on tamales is abominable. I also agree that the virtually unfilled tamales are irritating.

              1. re: Caroline1

                And now I need to go to Chopes to try their tamales to compare the sauce to the enchiladas...not that I really need an excuse. It's a fun ride down Rt. 28 on my Vespa.

                1. re: Jackie007

                  Assuming 007 refers to James Bond, you really need to read Ian Fleming's The Spy Who Loved Me. You will never again see your Vespa in the same way.

          2. I know this is an old posting that I'm replying to. Recently I started making tamales, just a couple of weeks ago but been a long time fan of them. I made chicken with green or verde sauce out of tamatillos. Was so good. Now I'm off to make beef with red sauce. I had some so-called gourmet tamales the other day and they were so good. So now I tried to make some red tamale sauce recipe via some recipes from the Internet and they were good for what they were but not the red sauce I had with my gourmet tamales. What you describe as the sauce you ate with yours in NM is a great description of what I had on mine. Since the red tamale sauce I tried to make was not right I started to think the sauce they used was enchilada sauce but modified. Did not taste like straight on enchilada sauce but something similar. So now I am doing searching on enchilada sauce. I found your posting here about tamale vs enchilada sauce. I see from a later post you made a good sauce. Would you please share your recipe but not so hot version? I like spicy but not to the point all it taste is hot. Thanks much!

            1. My tamale sauce is thickened with a roux, and enchilada sauce not.

              2 Replies
              1. re: letsindulge

                I think I figured out what I need for my tamale sauce. It's called Bombero Sauce. That's exactly what I want and I found a recipe for it. Thanks.

                1. re: letsindulge

                  No not true ... I have a great enchilada sauce that is thickened with a roux... it is fabulous to say the least.

                2. I like tamales with salsa fresca and a dab of sour cream. No napping sauce needed. To me, sauce on tamales is like frosting on brownies: hiding dryness.

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: toodie jane

                    Okay, check this video out and see the Bombero sauce that the lady is making towards the end of the video. It's the stuff they are putting on the burrito. This is the stuff that my tamales have when I get them from this great tamale place in Pocoima. I couldn't figure it out but found this and this looks just like it -


                    1. re: HoundDogz

                      thanks for that video -- i'm also happy to know DD&D is on youtube. i always get hungry watching that show!

                      by the way, i think that javier reyes' post from august 2010 (above) is worthy of the weekly chow digest! i found it very informative -- and it made *sense* to me as a novice in mexican food.

                      1. re: HoundDogz

                        I was unable io open the Utube showing how to make the tamale sauce so would you please send me the tamale sauce recipe? I buy some homemade tamales but they don't sell sauce. Thank you so much in advance.

                        1. re: donnaethridge

                          That video was from a Food Network DDD show. They don't give recipes on that show. They just show a restaurant cook preparing various dishes. A cook who knows what they are doing can get ideas from such segments, but that's it.

                          Searching on FN for 'bombero' turns up this link to a Phoenix restaurant:


                          As noted else where in this thread, tamales don't normally come with a sauce, especially when you buy them from a vendor. Restaurants may serve them with a sauce, but there's no standard. The OP is about a particular New Mexico style of serving tamales.