how to fix bitter enchilada sauce | Family Cuisine

Bitter enchilada sauce is a common dish in Mexican cuisine. It's made by simmering tomatoes, chili peppers, onions, garlic and spices with some chicken broth. The sauce is then simmered for 30 minutes to allow

Salsa Roja para Enchiladas

Use the visual recipe as your guide. Jump to the full recipe below for preparation details. All of the ingredients should be available at your local grocery store.

Homemade Enchilada Sauce Can’t Be Beat

Homemade enchilada sauce beats canned enchilada sauce every time. Period. If you have never made it from scratch, you should give this authentic Mexican recipe a try. It is much easier to make than you may think and the results are phenomenal.

A Versatile Sauce

It’s great for topping chicken enchiladas, beef enchiladas, cheese enchiladas, enchilada casserole, or even wet burritos.

Cheese Enchiladas with Red Enchilada Sauce
Cheese Enchiladas with Red Enchilada Sauce

Three Different Names, Equally Delicious Results

Depending on where you are, red enchilada sauce may also be called salsa roja, salsa roja para enchiladas or mole rojo. Whatever you call it, the results are equally delicious.

How to Make An Authentic Mexican Red Enchilada Sauce


  • 8 ancho chiles (mild fruity dried chili pods)
  • 4 pasilla chiles (mild fruity dried chili pods)
  • 1 medium onion quartered
  • 2 plum tomatoes
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • ½ teaspoon Mexican oregano
  • ½ teaspoon marjoram
  • 2 tablespoons cooking oil
  • Salt to taste
Red Enchilada Sauce Ingredients
Ingredients to Make Red Enchilada Sauce

The recipe calls for dried ancho chiles and pasilla chiles. Both are mild chiles with a pleasant fruity taste. Ancho chile translates as the “wide chile” and pasilla chile translates and the “raisin chile” due to its wrinkled texture and raisin-like fragrance.

Toast the Chiles

  • Toasting the chiles enhances the flavor of the chiles and make them more pliable and easy to work with.
  • In a hot comal or pan, you toast them for about 10 to 15 seconds per side. If you leave them on the heat too long they develop an acrid taste which you want to avoid. It is quite obvious from the smell that you have toasted them too long.
  • Discard any chiles that are overly toasted.
Toasting Chiles
First, Toast the Chiles Until Fragrant

Char the Vegetables

  • Charring the vegetables is another step that helps develop the flavor of your sauce. You want to blacken them.
  • Char them in a dry pan. Don’t oil the pan.
  • Avoid using a non-stick pan for charring. It’s not good for the pan and it’s difficult to get a good char on the veggies.
Charring Vegetables for Red Enchilada Sauce
Char the Vegetables

Prep the Chiles

  • Remove the stems, seeds, and veins from the chiles.
  • Tear the stems off using your fingers split the chiles down the side to get to the seeds and veins. Don’t worry if you are unable to remove every last seed from the chiles. A few seeds won’t affect the flavor or texture.
  • Save the seeds. They are edible. You can toast them and use them as a condiment to add heat to a variety of dishes.
Seeding Chiles
Remove Stems and Seeds From Chiles

Reconstitute the Chiles

  • Add the chiles and all of the other ingredients to your pan.
  • You are going to simmer the chiles for 15 minutes to reconstitute them and to soften the vegetables.
  • Add just enough water to the pan until the ingredients are nearly covered.
Soaking Chiles and Vegetables
Add Water and Simmer Until Chiles are Reconstituted
Blending Red Enchilada Sauce
Blend Until Smooth

Getting a Smooth Texture

  • After blending, strain the sauce to give it a smooth texture and to remove the chile skin which is hard to digest.
  • Push down firmly on the pulp to extract as much flavor as possible.
  • Discard the pulp that remains in the strainer.
Straining Red Enchilada Sauce
Strain the Sauce

Fry the Sauce

  • Once you have strained the sauce, you must fry it. I know frying the salsa sounds crazy but this is the step that most helps it develop a rich flavor. Do not skip this step.
  • Add 2 tablespoons of oil or enough to cover the bottom of your pan and get it really hot. Then you slowly pour the sauce into the hot oil. The sauce will begin to sizzle and the oil continues to sizzle as you pour all of the sauce into the pan.
  • Once you have fried it, which takes about 30 seconds, be sure to turn the heat down to low.
  • (NOTE: The oil tends to spatter. Be very careful with this step to avoid getting burned.)
Frying Red Enchilada Sauce
The Secret Step, Frying the Sauce

How to Avoid a Bitter Enchilada Sauce

Dried chiles are a seasonal natural product and the level of heat and bitterness can vary greatly which means at times your sauce isn’t going to turn out the way you had planned.

But, don’t worry. You will almost always be able to fix it. It may take a little trial-and-error until you get it just right.

Methods to reduce the bitterness of your sauce:

  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons agave syrup
  • 1 tablespoon creamy peanut butter (This is a reader recommendation that I haven’t tried but I think it would an interesting note to your sauce)

You want to add these ingredients little-by-little to avoid overpowering your sauce. A little goes a long way.

It’s an Easy Enchilada Sauce. Time to Start Cooking!

The first batch you make will be really good, the second batch will be excellent and your third batch will be out of this world. It doesn’t take long to learn to make an authentic salsa for enchiladas. Well? What are you waiting for?

More Salsas Made With Dried Chiles

  • Guajillo Chile Salsa
  • Salsa Taquera
  • Pasilla Tomatillo Salsa
  • Cascabel Salsa

You Might Like These Recipes Too

  • Salsa Verde Recipe
  • How to Use the Molcajete to Make a Rustic Salsa
  • Restaurant Salsa
What is your favorite enchilada sauce? Let me know in the comments below.

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