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What Makes an Enchilada Sauce? [moved from General Topics]

I am looking for a good recipe for a traditinal style red enchilada sauce and I cant make heads or tails of how it is different for other mexican sauces, like chili sauce.

What is the difference, there are so many variations most of which all contain onins, garlic, chili powder, tomato sauce as a base. Some hot, some not, some red some green, Is it just a lable?

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  1. I don't know what a Mexican "chili sauce" is but most red enchilada sauces do not use chili powder but rather ground dried chiles and only some use tomatoes.

    1. Just saying "enchilada sauce" is as amorphous as saying "pasta sauce". There are many kinds of flavors and colors.

      You are probably looking for a traditional rich reddish brown spicy sauce. It has no (or very little) tomato, but dried ancho chili's instead. In my red sauce- I use several kinds of dried chili (lots of ancho and maybe a chipotle or chiles de arbol), chicken stock, onion, cumin, garlic (and sometimes chocolate). I will use a scoop of tomato paste if it needs it. There are as many special recipes as hispanic grandmas, but I think the dried chili is what makes the difference to me.

      1. Traditionally, enchilada sauces are very smooth and rather thick: most recipes have you put cooked sauce in the blender and then send that through a sieve for maximum smoothness.

        1. This recipe is very easy and actually produces a thick, flavorful sauce. The trick is to use very good chili powder (aligned with your taste preferences.) It's from an Emeril site:

          • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
          • 1 tablespoon flour
          • 1/4 cup chili powder
          • 2 cups chicken stock
          • 10 ounces tomato paste
          • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
          • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
          • 1/2 teaspoon salt
          In a medium saucepan heat oil, add flour, smoothing and stirring with a wooden spoon. Cook for 1 minute. Add chili powder and cook for 30 seconds. Add stock, tomato paste, oregano, and cumin. Stir to combine. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and cook for 15 minutes. The sauce will thicken and smooth out. Adjust the seasonings.

          1 Reply
          1. re: penthouse pup

            I make a similar one. However, I saute all the spices with the flour and oil to bring out the oils. I don't use tomato paste, but rather add a can of tomato sauce and simmer until it is thick. I prefer this type to the dried chile sauce which is too bitter to me.

          2. Traditional Enchilada Sauce, aka Chili Gravy starts with a chili puree mixed with a roux for thickness. Robb Walsh has a great recipe, as does Homesick Texan. You can make the puree with either pureed whole chili pods or chili powder (along with cumin, oregano, etc) and the roux is either oil or lard with flour. Never seen tomatoes of any kind in it.

            16 Replies
            1. re: FoodMan88

              I fry the meat in the pan. Then add two tablespoons of tomato puré and one cup of water.

              To this I add chili powder, cayenne pepper, cummin, garlic powder, onion powder, white pepper, paprica powder and a little salt, and some sugar.

              Then I let it boil down to a thick saucy dish.

              1. re: FoodMan88

                I know that tomatoes are not in most enchilada 'gravies'. I got the idea of tomato sauce from a Modesto mexican food (oh, Modesto, California).

                1. re: pegasus505

                  If you use a tomato sauce when you want entomatadas. If you want enchiladas, you dip the tortillas in a sauce made from pureed chiles.

                  There is a standard enchilada sauce in two places - cans and Tex-Mex restaurants. :)

                  There no reason you can't use your favorite mole, or a tomatillo-chile sauce, or a creamy poblano sauce. There's even a name for a dish using soupy beans as the sauce (enfrijoadas).

                  1. re: paulj

                    If anyone got a recipe for how to use dry chipotles in enchiladas, I really want to to know your recipe!

                    I know chipotles in adobo sauce is used alot in the US and Mexico, but we can not get that here in Norway. The closest thing we have is actual chipotles, which are smoked and dried jalapenos. And they are really tough and hard to cut.

                    1. re: Ramius

                      I don't use a recipe, but this one is similar to mine: http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/enchilad...

                      You would not want to use all chipotle chili's, at least I have never heard of that. I use mostly dried ancho (6 or 7) then dried chipotle (1 or 2). A good practice is to discard the seeds and skin of the dried chili as they can make a sauce bitter. Soak them in very hot water for at least a half hour. I discard the water too as it can be bitter.

                      If I am making enchilada's with beef filling, I use beef broth- otherwise I use chicken stock for chicken, cheese, sour cream or chili enchiladas. If the sauce is too thin- I tend to reduce it rather than to thicken it (but thickening with flour is fine if you need to). Mine reduces on the stove as I am dredging my tortillas through it before filling and rolling. By the time I am done, the sauce is the proper thickness.

                      1. re: Ramius

                        With dried chiles, including chipotles you have several options:

                        - simmer one or two whole ones in your sauce, and let them contribute their heat and flavor. They may soften up enough to blend with the sauce, or you can just fish them out

                        - use blender or food processor the grind the dried chile, and use that powder as seasoning

                        - soak the dried chile in water (hot makes it faster). Then blend or pass through a foodmill (which separates pulp from skin). Use the pulp in the sauce. Taste the soaking water. If too bitter toss it, otherwise you can use it to dilute the sauce as needed.

                        Chipotles are pretty hot, so use your own judgement on how you use.

                        1. re: paulj

                          I just scrape the pulp out with my knife and don't bother with the food mill. The skin separates easily enough if you get the chili nice and soft first.

                          1. re: paulj

                            Are you certain the blending trick works for powder? Have you actually tried this yourself? Because the ones we have available are indeed dry, but not as dried as dry chili. They are quite sticky and tough, very hard, and I´m unsure if the blender would be able to pulverise them.

                            1. re: Ramius

                              Grinding to a powder works better with the really dry chiles, not the leathery ones. With a coffee mill (not a regular blender) I've gotten them down to small flakes, not a real powder. More often then not I go the soaking route with whole ones, and buy the powder in cello bags from the Mexican spice rack (mainly ancho/passilla and guajillo).

                              1. re: paulj

                                I split and deseed anchos and guajillos, place on a cookie sheet and dry briefly in a low oven. Then grind to a powder. Coffee grinder of high power blender if doing a lot. I keep both on hand at all times

                          2. re: Ramius

                            Soak in hot water to soften. Deseed to cut down on he heat but they will still be pretty caliente

                      2. re: FoodMan88

                        - If I have time I start with a mix of dried and deseeded whole chile pods of whatever strikes my fancy - New Mexico, guajillo, ancho, negro - and for more heat add de arbol or chipotle. Multiple types give complexity.
                        - I've never had good luck with powdering them myself, prefer an overnight soak before pureeing. Still, some types (guajillo) just never seem to break up completely so straining is necessary.
                        - The cel packets of powdered varietal chile are great to save time, just make sure they look fresh and brightly colored.
                        - I go for very minimal tomato in a red enchilada sauce, canned American sauces go way overboard. Other ingredients really depend on what else is going in the enchilada.
                        - Roux is a Tex-Mex addition. I can't recall any traditional Mexican recipes using it, but I'm sure someone will find one :-).

                        1. re: DiveFan

                          In D Kennedy's Tortilla book, all the enchilada recipes use a blender to make the sauce. The sauce body comes from pureed tomatoes, romaine, onion, chilies, hard cooked egg, or peanuts.

                          1. re: paulj

                            Please, can you post a recipe from the book? It sounded very exciting, and I´m considering making it tomorrow!

                          2. re: DiveFan

                            I recently made posole by cooking anchos and guajllos until soft then puréed in my Vitamix. I was going to strain it but it was super smooth and there was no need

                        2. Thanks for all the great advice!

                          1. Okay I am reviving this thread.

                            A store has just started selling chipotle in adobo sauce here. And I just made enchiladas with it. One word: HOT HOT HOT HOT AAAAAHHHHH SO HOT.

                            I put the whole can in. Was that wrong?

                            First I
                            1. Seared ground beef.
                            2. Added paprica, red beans and one can of chipotle with adobo sauce.
                            3. Mixed it all quickly
                            4. Added one cup of water and let it boil down and thicken.

                            Result: Great new taste, but very very hot.

                            9 Replies
                            1. re: Ramius

                              Every recipe I've ever seen, as well as all of the posts above, say you're supposed to use one or two chipotles, not a whole can of them. So yes, that was wrong.

                              1. re: acgold7

                                That depends on your individual preference. For me, a can of chipotles with adobo sauce would be lovely. Blow-the-top-off-your-head hot, but still lovely.

                                1. re: Bacardi1

                                  Oh, absolutely, I agree with you. I'd like it too. I was just referring to the instructions already given in this thread and in recipes.

                              2. re: Ramius

                                Yes. I'm afraid that was very very wrong. You're supposed to put one pepper and a little bit of sauce in.

                                On the up side, your tastebuds should grow back within a week or so.

                                1. re: Ramius

                                  As stated by others. Chipotles are usually used as a flavoring agent rather that a base for the sauce. Since the canned ones in adobo are already re-hydrated you should add them one at a time till you get the heat level you like.
                                  Also this recipe of your sounds like a riff on Chili con Carne not enchilada sauce.

                                  1. re: chefj

                                    I dont know the difference.

                                    But okay lets say I use two chipotles next time. What else do I put in to get enough sauce? Do you guys just stretch it out with water or something else?

                                  2. re: Ramius

                                    Whew, that must've blown you out of the water! I'm actually super confused at this enchilada recipe. Was it a one-pan kind of deal, where this was used to sauce cheese-filled, rolled tortillas?

                                    My basic ench. prep goes something like this (boiled down version, I grind my own meat, use a mix of home-blended chili powder with prepared chili powder, sometimes add anchos instead, etc.)

                                    1. Cook meat and onion, reserve pan juices. Place meat in a large bowl.
                                    2. Use pan juices plus a bit of lard to start my sauce, make a roux w/flour, add chili powder, mexican oregano, salt, pepper, cumin, etc, and broth (usually chicken). Add about a half can of El Pato hot tomato sauce, and sometimes a can of tomato sauce.(I'm a big fan of adjusting seasoning to taste as I go, aka, I can't follow a recipe to save my life.) Basically, it's about a half cup flour, half cup lard/reserved drippings, two 3-4 cups of broth.
                                    3. Mix meat and onions with about half as much crumbled queso fresco, plus a few generous handfuls of shredded cheddar.
                                    4. Heat about a cup of lard in a skillet, dip corn tortillas into hot lard for a few moments on each side.
                                    5. Dip each softened tortilla into sauce, fill with meat mixture, roll and place into baking dish. Cover with a generous drizzle of sauce, queso fresco, cheddar, and bake for about 15 minutes - just enough to melt cheddar - at 400.

                                    Taking the chipotles in adobo into account, I'd sub out the El Pato & most of the chili powder for about three chipotles and a bit of the adobo, let them simmer down in the sauce and pull them back out, maybe adding one back into the pot before hitting with an immersion blender to smooth it out.

                                    But the best advice with chipotles in adobo is to test every single can - some are awesomely hot and smoky and you want more in everything (try one or two chopped in smashed potatoes with sour cream, cheese and bacon - heaven), and some are so hot you need to seed & de-membrane and use about half a pepper. They vary widely, even across the same brand.

                                    1. re: shanagain

                                      Thats a great recipe and all, but I think you will have to be the one making it for me.

                                      And yes, the mixture I made I put in corn tortillas, rolled them together and baked them in the oven with cheese on top. I just ate the leftovers.

                                      1. re: Ramius

                                        Anytime you find yourself in the Middle of Nowhere, Texas I'll be glad to!

                                        They are kind of a pain, but so worth it.

                                  3. Here is the Robb Walsh recipe for Chili Gravy.

                                    1/4 c lard (or vegetable oil)
                                    1/4 c flour
                                    1/2 t black pepper
                                    1 t salt
                                    1 1/2 t powdered garlic
                                    2 t ground cumin
                                    1/2 t dried oregano (I use Mexican oregano)
                                    2 T chili powder
                                    2 c chicken broth (or sub water)

                                    Heat the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Stir in the flour and stir for 3-4 minutes, or until roux is light brown.

                                    Add the dry ingredients and continue to cook for 1 minute, constantly stirring and blending. Add chicken broth or water, mixing and stirring until sauce thickens. Turn heat to low and let sauce simmer for 15 minutes. Add water to adjust thickness, if necessary. Makes 2 cups.

                                    9 Replies
                                    1. re: Wtg2Retire

                                      I feel like we're playing leapfrog over each other's posts today, Wtg! Or more accurately, I'm just piggybacking onto yours.

                                      I love this recipe and use it as my base, for sure - but have found I need to double the recipe, 2 cups seems like a lot, but not in my house! (To be fair, I feed a family of five plus guests frequently, so in order to have leftovers, I generally make two pans, for 24 enchiladas total.) I also add tomato sauce and El Pato to this as well, and could happily eat it with a spoon.

                                      1. re: shanagain

                                        Shanagain, I have copied and pasted your notes above to the Chili Gravy recipe in my Word document. Never had thought about adding El Pato to this, but that does sound mighty good. I was reared in West Texas so love just about all things that are Tex-Mex.

                                        I truly am glad of your comments and as stated above have posted them to my Word documents for Chili Gravy and Mexican Rice.

                                        1. re: Wtg2Retire

                                          But do you all usually make enchiladas with a separate sauce you pour over the ingredients?

                                          I combine absolutely everything into one complete fill.

                                          1. re: Ramius

                                            Typically an Enchilada ("in chili" is what it means) is a filled Corn Tortilla that is bathed in a chili sauce and either served as is or baked just to get things bubbly.
                                            The filling is separate from the sauce.
                                            As to "what the rest of the sauce is" Basically it is a onion garlic and dry med hot chili (Ancho Guajillo or New Mexico. simmered with stock or water and pureed till smooth.
                                            Here is a link to a very typical recipe

                                            1. re: chefj

                                              Ramius is in Norway, and may not have access to anchos, guajillo or NM chiles. I'm wondering what would be a workable alternative. Hungarian paprika (as used in goulash) comes to mind, but the mild version is entirely too sweet. How about a how paprika? or something from Turkey?

                                              Another route is to make a smooth tomato based sauce, and add chile heat to taste. It's not the same as using a mild chile base, but could taste good.

                                              1. re: chefj

                                                is a Bayless version that uses a tomato sauce, hot green chiles, and cream (which makes them 'Swiss' in Mexican terminology).

                                                1. re: paulj

                                                  There are many sauces that you could do that are delicious and do not require dried chiles but for me it does not have that earthy soul satisfying flavor that a real red chili sauce has and is not as representative of the basic Mexican kitchen.

                                                  1. re: paulj

                                                    I'm still thinking that a riff on Robb Walsh's chili gravy sauce would work really well with the available chipotles - just sub out the chili powder (or most of it) for a couple of chipotles and a bit of adobo.

                                                    In short, Ramius' question, how to stretch it, would be to rework his recipe from the start - brown the meat and onion, if using, and set aside. Then make a roux, add two chipotles, onions and cumin, garlic and salt and pepper to taste. Add broth (1/4cup each flour and fat for roux to 2 cups or so of broth) and allow to simmer. Taste frequently to see if more spice is required. Blend for a smoother sauce, strain for even smoother. Then from there, assemble your enchiladas by softening them in hot oil, dipping in sauce, filling, more sauce, then cheese on top if desired.

                                          2. I think I get subliminal messages from chow. Made my first ever from scratch enchilada sauce tonight. Cooked a pork shoulder roast in the crock pot while at work today.

                                            Strained the broth and chilled. Took a couple tablespoons of the fat and used that to make a roux with flour, chili powder, cayenne pepper and garlic powder. Used the de-fatted pork stock for the liquid.

                                            Enchiladas are in the oven as I type this. Filling is the pork, onions and Serrano chilies.

                                            1. No tomato in any form in my enchilada sauce. The base does start with a roux though. Nice if you have time to toast, and puree your dried chiles, but I admit resorting to a blend of prepared powders blended with hot water (or stock) in a pinch too.

                                              1. Good lord...while some of these recipes sound delicious, they aren't enchilada sauces.

                                                Enchilada simply means "in chile sauce". Just like an enmolada means "in mole" and an enfrijolada means "in beans". It's generally a corn tortilla dipped in the sauce, filled and served.

                                                It's pretty danged simple. Roast or char tomatoes, onions garlic, and 1 or 2 serrano chiles, whirl up in the blender. You need about 2 cups of sauce, if your tomatoes don't yield that add stock or water to make up the difference.Heat some oil in a wide, large skillet. When hot add the sauce and stir. Simmer until it turns color and thickens just slightly. Cool to about lukewarm and stir in 1/2 cup of crema or sour cream.

                                                Run a tortilla through hot oil to soften, dip in sauce to coat, fill with your choice of fillings, fold or roll, put on plate, douse with a little bit more sauce, sprinkle with some chopped white onion, minced cilantro and crumbled cotija, then eat. Mexican enchiladas are not generally baked, they are pan to plate to mouth food. You can also Google for enchiladas sencillas (simple enchiladas) for a pictoral

                                                3 Replies
                                                1. re: DiningDiva

                                                  And Mole means sauce from the Nahuatl launguage, like Guacamole (Guac = green and Mole=sauce)

                                                  1. re: DiningDiva

                                                    you left off entomatada, though I did mention it in a much earlier post. While one can make these distinctions based on the type of sauce, 'enchilada' can also be used as a generic term to cover the whole lot.

                                                    And for the poster in Norway with limited access to the milder Mexican peppers, I think if worth while to take the broader view. The ultimate goal in cooking is to make something that tastes good, not to pick semantic bones.

                                                    1. re: paulj

                                                      You're right, I forgot the entomatada.

                                                      If the OP has access to fresh chiles/peppers, like the ubiquitous jalapeño, s/he can still make perfectly good enchilada sauce. I would think the more difficult ingredient would be the tortilla.

                                                  2. Diane Kennedy, The Tortilla Book

                                                    Enchiladas chapter

                                                    Swiss Chard Enchiladas -
                                                    wilt swiss chard, fry with garlic
                                                    blend tomatoes, garlic, onion, 2 canned chiles chipotles
                                                    fry puree with broth (and a bit of salt and sugar

                                                    Aguascalientes red enchiladas
                                                    sauce uses chiles anchos, milk, garlic, hard boiled egg yolk

                                                    Aguascalientes green enchiladas
                                                    sauce use chiles poblanos (fresh mild peppers), romaine leaves, garlic, broth, sour cream

                                                    a cooked bean sauce (but in the enchiladas chapter)

                                                    tomato enchiladas - sauce made from tomatoes and some hot green chiles

                                                    entomatados - tomato sauce without chiles

                                                    This recognized expert on Mexican cooking is quite willing to use 'enchiladas' in a generic sense, as well as distinguish various styles based on sauce, filling, and construction.

                                                    9 Replies
                                                    1. re: paulj

                                                      What do you guys mean by softening a tortilla in hot oil?

                                                      Do you fry it in the pan before filling i? Because I experience the corn tortillas to be very easily broken.

                                                      1. re: Ramius

                                                        Using soft shell corn tortillas - Heat about 1/4" oil in skillet over medium heat. When heat has been reached, add soft shell corn tortilla for approximately 30 seconds, turn over and heat other side for about 30 seconds. Then either add filling for enchiladas, roll up and place seam side down in baking dish and repeat with remaining tortillas. For tacos, just fold soft shell corn tortilla in half and add fillings.

                                                        If you are using hard shell tortillas (tortillas that are preformed and are hard), you cannot do this.

                                                        Hope this explains the difference. It sounds as if you may be using the hardshell, preformed tortillas.

                                                        1. re: Ramius

                                                          Can you readily wrap your tortillas around the filling without softening?

                                                          Tortillas soften when warmed. I don't know if the oil is important or not. If they are already soft, it might be enough to just dip them in the sauce briefly before wrapping.

                                                          1. re: paulj

                                                            I think it keeps it from falling apart

                                                            1. re: paulj

                                                              I've never had any luck rolling enchiladas well without warming the tortillas in oil for a moment - they tend to crack or break in my experience. Warming them doesn't just soften them, as tortillas frequently feel soft to the touch but will still crack, but it also makes them more pliable.

                                                              1. re: shanagain

                                                                Agree with Sanagain. Even though a corn tortilla is pretty pliable to begin with, the quick dip in the oil bath softens it up enough to fold or roll without cracking or tearing. It also acts as a barrier to the sauce so that the tortilla doesn't disintegrate when sauced.

                                                                I've tried rolling without the oil when I've had very soft corn tortillas only to have them absorb so much of the sauce (once rolled, plated and napped with more sauce) that they got too mushy and the texture became too mealy. It was back to the oil after that.

                                                                1. re: DiningDiva

                                                                  Excellent point about acting as a barrier, you are so right.

                                                            2. re: Ramius

                                                              It's more like a quick dip in the oil than frying.

                                                              Pour enough oil into a wide skillet (10" works perfectly) so that it's between 1/4" - 1/2" deep. Heat it over medium heat until very hot, but no where near smoking. Reduce the heat. Place a tortilla in the hot oil for about 15-20 seconds, flip and cook on the other side about 15-20 seconds. Remove from the oil with tongs and place on a paper towel to drain. Continuing softening and draining until you're ready to fill the tortillas. You can stack the softened tortillas with paper towels between them as you soften the tortillas. I've found that I can soften 8-12 tortillas before I need to stop and fill them before they get too hard and too tough.

                                                              The softening step makes the tortilla very pliable, prevents it from absorbing too much sauce and prevents it from breaking when rolled or folded. Once softened they then get dipped into the enchilada sauce, filled, rolled or folded and then doused with some extra sauce and some garnishes like white onions, cilantro, and cheese.

                                                              In Mexico some enchiladas aren't filled, they're simply softened, dipped in the sauce, then folded, sauced and garnished. Mexican sauces aren't about the protein, they're about the sauce, proteins and fillings are just the vehicle for the sauce :-)

                                                              1. re: DiningDiva

                                                                I just tried the oil technique. And frankly I found it unnecessary. The only advantage it gave me was that the enchiladas kept the fold better, Whereas dry corn tortillas could open up. But I solved that easilly by placing the enchilada with the fold DOWN in the tray. So I don´t think I will be doing that anymore.

                                                                By the way. can you get bigger corn tortillas there in the US? Ours are very very small. Its anoying.

                                                                And I used only half a chipotle box last time. Much better. Then I stretched it out with water, added some freshly ground salt and pepper, and fresh coriander near the end of simmering. But still I prefer my one-fill technique.