The best homemade tomato-based red enchilada sauce only needs about 5 minutes of prep time and a short simmer to get all the great tastes to come together. You will never buy canned enchilada sauce again.
We all hate canned enchilada sauce, and the powder mix is worse. I have never met anybody who thought they were even adequate. You must make it yourself for a great taste and avoid that tin can taste.
I'm using my tiny Mexican paperback cookbook I found in southern California. But it was a little bland, so I upped the spicing to make it just right. I also simplified the method.
Time to move your enchiladas from good to great.
👨🍳How to make this recipe
- Start with a nonreactive pan due to the acid in the tomatoes. This usually means a non-stick pan. Otherwise, some of the metal comes into the sauce and affects the taste.
- Cook the onion in oil for about 5 minutes until clearing but add the garlic near the end of cooking.
- Add all other ingredients, bring to a light boil, then turn down to simmer. It is best to simmer with a lid on the pan since the sauce will splatter some. Due to the spattering when simmering, remove the pan from the heat, then stir, then cover before placing back on the heat.
- A ten-minute simmer is enough if the sauce is cooked more, like a baked enchilada casserole. Otherwise, simmer for about 30 minutes.
Not all enchilada sauce will have a tomato component, but it is required for my "gringo" tastes. If you are looking for a non-tomato sauce, you will need another recipe.
I suggest a name-brand tomato sauce. Quality does matter here, and I use Hunt's®️. For a sweeter taste, use tomato paste diluted with equal water.
Aromatic vegetables deliver deep flavors, primarily when crushed or cooked. I suggest fresh garlic and onions, but garlic powder and onion powder could be used.
Resist the temptation to use too much onion just to use it up. It will dominate the taste. Less is more in this case.
A diced jalapeno or another pepper can add extra heat and taste.
Chili powder is the majority of the flavor. But cumin and oregano add to the Mexican flavor. Plus the usual salt and black pepper.
This is relatively mild but with lots of taste. You can add some heat with a diced jalapeno pepper or a dash of cayenne pepper.
Yes. Some enchilada sauce recipes will use thickens. I don't feel it is needed.
If you want a thicker sauce, cook the onion, then remove it from the pan. Add three tablespoons of vegetable oil over medium heat, then sprinkle with four tablespoons of all-purpose flour and whisk with the oil. Cook for a few minutes while continuously whisking until browning a little. Then proceed to add all the ingredients, including the cooked onion.
This moves the sauce from gluten-free to containing gluten. To thicken and stay gluten-free, use a gluten-free flour substitute.
The usual use is for enchilada or enchilada casseroles. But it also will find its way into soups or even chili.
There is no good substitute, but salsa can usually be used if you must. There are many common components, and it will usually work in a casserole. I would do this long before using the canned sauce.
To store homemade enchilada sauce in the fridge, seal airtight for 3-4 days. There are no preservatives, so no longer.
It can be stored in the freezer for 3-4 months. A good tip is to freeze ice cube trays and then seal them tightly in a freezer bag.
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🖼️Step-by-Step Photo Instructions
Add 1 tablespoon of oil to the medium-size saucepan over medium-high heat. Add ½ cup minced onion ( about 1 small to medium) and saute until transparent — about 5 minutes. Add the crushed or minced garlic for the last minute.
Add tomato sauce and spices. Mix well and simmer over medium-low heat. It is best to put a lid on the saucepan since it will tend to splatter. Remove from heat to stir.
Simmer for at least 10 minutes if used in a casserole or 30 minutes otherwise.
Homemade Enchilada Sauce - Tomato Based
- 32 oz tomato sauce
- ½ cup onion - minced about 1 small to medium
- 2 tablespoons oil
- 2 tablespoons chili powder
- 2 teaspoons paprika
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon ground cumin
- ½ teaspoon oregano
- 2 cloves garlic
- ½ cup minced onion ( about 1 small to medium) and saute until transparent — about 5 minutes. Add the crushed or minced garlic for the last minute.
- Add tomato sauce and spices. Mix well and simmer over medium-low heat. It is best to put a lid on the saucepan since it will tend to splatter. Remove from heat to stir.
- Simmer for at least 10 minutes if being used in a casserole or 30 minutes otherwise.
Your Own Private Notes
- Use a good brand-name tomato sauce. I like Hunts.
- Do not use more onion—it will dominate the sauce.
- Use a non-reactive pan with a lid. Usually, that means non-stick.
- Good refrigerated for 3-4 days and may be frozen for 3-4 months.
- This is high in sodium. The sauce is just part of a larger dish, so it is usually fine but cutting the salt in half is fine if you are concerned. People can always add a sprinkle of salt at serving.
To adjust the recipe size:
You may adjust the number of servings in this recipe card under servings. This does the math for the ingredients for you. BUT it does NOT adjust the text of the instructions. So you need to do that yourself.
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Editor's Note: Originally published February 1, 2010. Updated with expanded options, refreshed photos, and a table of contents to help navigation.
I made the enchilada sauce! You were right. It was unbelievable. I made the casserole and again, it was a show stopper! Tasted better than any restaurant I’ve had enchiladas in! Thank you!
Jane Mayhew Barnard
Hi, so does the garlic go in with the spices and not with the onion?
Dan Mikesell AKA DrDan
Welcome to the blog.
The garlic does not go in with the onion, it will tend to over cook/burn if cooked that long. You can add it to the onion when the onion is almost done but before the sauce and spices and cook it for a minute or just add it with the spices. Simmering the sauce will cook the garlic enough.
Dr. Dan, I agree about canned enchilada sauce and homemade is always the best. I will give this a try. I have a similar that uses chicken broth and flour rue in place of tomato sauce. I will try this as it simplifies the process and I am all for simplification.
One trick I wanted to share in case someone HAS to use a canned enchilada sauce. I doctor it up as follows. It makes a surprising difference.
1 can red enchilada sauce (I like hot)
1 tsp chili powder
1/8 tsp cumin
1/4 onion finely diced
Place all in sauce pan and simmer until slightly thickened.
So sorry for the delay in reply, all my fault.
The doctoring of the sauce should help some readers.
Thanks again for the note.