With just a few staple pantry ingredients and 15 minutes of your time, you can whip up an Enchilada Sauce Recipe infinitely better than anything you’ll find at the grocery store. Our version is tangy, smoky, and slightly sweet with just a touch of heat. Perfect on enchiladas, tacos, or quick tex-mex inspired pastas.
Enchilada Sauce Recipe
While I am not ashamed in the slightest to take a shortcut and purchase pre-packed pesto, pie crust, or hummus, there are certain items you’ll never see me grabbing at the grocery store. A few top examples included in this not-so-exclusive group are bottled salad dressing (hello Creamy Lemon Vinaigrette), homemade pancakes (sharing our favorite recipe very soon), and canned enchilada sauce.
Our version of a classic enchilada sauce is not only a hundred times more delicious than anything you’ll find at the grocery store, but super simple to throw together, and I’m willing to bet you have a majority of the ingredients on hand.
Translation: There’s absolutely no need to buy something subpar when you could whip our easy enchilada sauce recipe up in mere minutes.
The perfect enchilada sauce for me, has plenty of bright tomato flavor, a pop of acid, the juxtaposition of sweet and smoky, and always a swift kick of heat on the backend. It’s flavor-forward, but also adaptable to suit any palate.
The base recipe for our enchilada sauce is what you’re going to want to reach for when you’re craving classic chicken enchiladas, but you can also dress it up in something like our Taco Quesadilla. We also love to toss it with ground chicken to top tex-mex inspired salads.
Ingredients in Enchilada Sauce
Oil. Even though you should probably use a more neutral oil, I still like to use olive oil since it’s heart-healthy. We don’t need much, so even if you use extra virgin, it won’t overpower the enchilada sauce.
Garlic. A lot of recipes call for diced onion, but I like to keep things simple by using just garlic. To avoid pureeing the sauce, I grate the garlic directly into the oil so we add plenty of garlic flavor without big pieces of garlic in each bite.
Tomato paste. I love using tomato paste for enchilada sauce because it adds a wonderfully concentrated tomato flavor to the sauce. It’s also a thickening agent, so it’s what is going to make the sauce really luxurious and thick
Spices. The spices are what take us from tomato broth recipe to enchilada sauce recipe. We use a combination of chili powder, onion powder, garlic powder, cumin, oregano, and for a little bit of heat, ground chipotle chili powder. These days you should be able to find chipotle powder at any grocery store. It’s super smoky with a big kick of heat I love. If you can’t find it, you can swap out a pinch of cayenne pepper or leave it out altogether.
Chicken stock. Instead of using water as the liquid in our enchilada sauce, I like to use something with more flavor. Pick up a chicken stock that’s good-quality and low-sodium. If you want to stick with a vegetarian enchilada sauce, you can use vegetable stock.
Sugar. Every time you use tomato paste, sauce, or puree, you need to add a little bit of sugar to balance the flavors out. A generous pinch is all you need.
Vinegar. My enchilada sauce needs to have a serious amount of tang, and we get there with apple cider vinegar. It seems like an odd ingredient to add in an enchilada sauce recipe, but trust me, it’s the secret ingredient that takes it from ordinary to extraordinary.
Let’s make Enchilada Sauce
- Sweat the garlic. You want to slow-cook the garlic in a little bit of olive oil just until it gets fragrant. If you cook it any longer than that, you risk burning the garlic and having to start over.
- Cook the tomato paste. I always add the tomato paste to the garlic and oil and let it warm through for a minute or two before adding the rest of the ingredients Doing this gives the enchilada sauce an additional layer of flavor you wouldn’t get if you simply threw it with the remaining ingredients.
- Stir all the other ingredients in. Whisk in the chicken stock, spices, sugar, and apple cider vinegar.
- Simmer. Bring the mixture to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Simmer for about 8-10 minutes until thickened.
- Use as you wish!
Can I make this Enchilada Sauce Recipe in advance?
Absolutely. I’ll even make a double batch, use half of it and store it in the fridge for something later in the week.
Can I freeze enchilada sauce?
Yes. Let it cool completely. Transfer to a ziplock freezer bag. Lay flat in the freezer until frozen solid. Store for up to a month.
Substitutions and Tips and Tricks for Recipe Success
- Keep the heat low when you sweat the garlic, you don’t want it to burn,
- Add in extra chipotle chili powder for extra heat.
- Make sure to use low-sodium chicken stock.
- For more smokiness, add a little bit more cumin.
- If your sauce gets too thick, add a little bit more chicken stock.
More of our favorite tex-mex dishes
- While we love a good classic enchilada, we also adore these Enchiladas Verdes made with jalapeños, cilantro, and tomatillos.
- As much as I preach about the easy of our homemade enchilada sauce, sometimes, you just want to throw a few ingredients together and call it a day. This is where our 5-Ingredient Chicken Enchiladas come in – store-bought ingredients and virtually no effort at all.
- Our Shredded Beef Enchiladas are definitely not as easy as all the above recipes, but they’re so good, it’s worth a little bit of extra effort.
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 large garlic clove, grated
- 4 oz tomato paste
- 2 cups low-sodium chicken stock
- 1 tbsp chili powder
- 1/4 tsp chipotle chili powder
- 1/2 tsp dried oregano
- 1/8 tsp ground coriander
- 1/4 tsp garlic powder
- 1/2 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
- 1/2 tsp sugar
- 3/4 tsp kosher salt
- Heat a medium-low saucepan to a medium heat. Add oil and garlic. Sweat until slightly softened, about 1-2 minutes.
- Add tomato paste, cook 1 minute. Whisk in chicken stock, chili powder, chipotle powder, oregano, coriander, garlic powder, apple cider vinegar, sugar, and 3/4 teaspoon salt.
- Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Simmer for 10-15 minutes until thickened. Season to taste with salt and pepper.