Spicy Red Enchilada Sauce

There’s nothing like a casserole of homemade Mexican enchiladas. Loaded with your favorite fillings, plenty of cheese and of course that delightfully tingly Mexican red sauce. Did you know that that spicy enchilada sauce is super-easy to make right in your own kitchen and it’s way better than store-bought canned enchilada sauce. I love it because you can adjust it to your tastes… This recipe uses fresh garlic and dried chipotle powder, chili and spices for a smoky chipotle enchilada sauce that’s great with beef, chicken and pork enchiladas. It’s the best and this quick red sauce is ready in about 10 minutes.

Spice blend and ingredients for the Mexican red sauce - a spicy enchilada sauce for your favorite recipe.

Believe it or not, this spicy enchilada sauce has its roots in French cooking. Yes, the sauce starts with the same makings as a roux (the classic thickener for a béchamel). Instead of flour and butter, however, this one uses vegetable oil with the flour and classic Mexican spices with a pinch of cinnamon. It’s ready to use in minutes, but you can also make this chipotle enchilada sauce a few days ahead of time too. Just keep it refrigerated until you’re ready use it.

Ingredients for spicy Mexican red sauce

Adding flour cumin, chili, chipotle and spices to the chipotle enchilada sauce.

Before you start assembling your Mexican red sauce, I advise measuring out all of your ingredients in advance; specifically the flour and spices. this sauce comes together so quickly, that you’ll risk burning the red sauce if you’re measuring out each ingredient while the sauce is over the heat. Chop the garlic and measure the flour and spices in advance. Trust me, it’ll make life easier.

How make spicy enchilada sauce

  1. Place a medium skillet or saucepan over medium high heat and add the oil.
  2. When the oil starts to shimmer and moiré in the pan, it’s hot enough to add the garlic. Stir it constantly until it’s fragrant, but don’t let it brown.
  3. When the garlic is tender (after about 30-40 seconds) add the flour and spices and stir so that the dry ingredients are coated with the oil. Cook for about 1 minute to bloom the spices and cook the raw-flour.
  4. The chipotle and chili spices add heat and a little color to the enchilada sauce, but to get that classic red sauce look, add tomato paste and mix it in well, stirring constantly until you have a very thick paste.
  5. Stir in the chicken broth, about half a cup at a time, mixing well after each addition until its smooth.
  6. Bring the sauce to a boil, stirring constantly for about 1 minute until the sauce has thickened.
Stir in the tomato paste until it's thick, then add broth to form the spicy enchilada sauce

Why acid?

When the spicy enchilada sauce is smooth and saucy, you’ll want to stir in a bit of apple cider vinegar. Why? That little bit of acid brings just enough tang to the red sauce to wake up the Mexican spices, otherwise the sauce would have heat, but be bland. If you don’t have apple cider vinegar, you can also use wine vinegar (red or white) or even a good squeeze of lime juice.

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finish the spicy enchilada sauce with a bit of acid.

Can I use whole chipotle peppers?

I’ve used dried chipotle chili powder in this red enchilada sauce, but I’ve also made it with canned chipotles in adobo sauce (to be honest, I was planning on using it for this batch, however, I’m writing this in the midst of a Covid-19 quarantine and dashing out to the store is frowned upon right now.)

How to swap canned chipotle in adobo

  • To make the switch, skip the chipotle powder and use one chipotle pepper and 1 teaspoon of adobo sauce.
  • Chop the pepper very finely and add it to the roux with the adobo sauce at the same time you’re adding the tomato paste. This will intensify the smoky chipotle flavor.

What can I substitute for chipotle in the enchilada sauce?

Conversely, if you’re also in quarantine and don’t have chipotles in adobo or dried chipotle powder, you can use one tablespoon of regular chili powder instead of 2 teaspoons. Trust me, it’ll work too.

Can I make it vegan?

Yes. To make this Mexican red sauce vegan, use vegetable broth in place of the chicken broth.

How thick is spicy Mexican enchilada sauce?

After cooking the sauce is the consistency of many canned enchilada sauces. However, the sauce will thicken as it cools, and if refrigerated will thicken even more, but still be very spreadable.

How much does it make?

This recipe makes slightly more than 2 cups of sauce, which is good for a medium dish of enchiladas (about 8). If you want more sauce, the recipe is easily doubled.

Storing red enchilada sauce

Once you’ve made the Mexican red sauce, it’s ready to use in all your favorite enchilada combos. If you’re not ready to assemble your recipe yet, transfer the spicy enchilada sauce to a jar and refrigerate it. The sauce will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week.

This zippy sauce is tongue tingling good and can be used in everything from your favorite enchiladas, burritos and soft tacos or even as a sandwich spread to add a spicy flair. Try it with smoked chicken and cheese in a panini — SO GOOD.

More Mexican Inspired Sauce Recipes:

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Spicy Red Enchilada Sauce
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4.42 from 12 votes

Smoky Spicy Enchilada Sauce (Mexican Red Sauce)

This quick and easy enchilada sauce comes together in about 10 minutes and makes about 2 cups of sauce. It’s spicy, smoky and utterly delicious with chicken, pork, beef, even bean or sweet potato enchiladas. Make this sauce vegetarian by using vegetable broth instead of chicken.
Author: Lisa Lotts
Course Condiments
Cuisine Mexican
Keyword enchilada sauce, mexican sauce
Dietary Restrictions Dairy-Free
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 5 minutes
Total Time 10 minutes
Servings 8


  • 3 tablespoons vegetble oil or canola oil
  • 3 tablespoons all purpose flour
  • 2 cloves garlic minced
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon chipotle powder
  • 1 ½ teaspoons cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon oregano
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • pinch cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 cups chicken stock from rotisserie chicken (or low-sodium broth or vegetable broth for vegan sauce)


  • For this recipe, it’s important to have all of your ingredients prepped and ready BEFORE YOU START because it comes together very quickly once you start cooking and you don’t want to be futzing around assembling the ingredients once you start.
  • In a small dish, combine the chili powder, chipotle powder, cumin, oregano, kosher salt, black pepper and cinnamon. Set aside. Have the minced garlic, flour, tomato paste and chicken broth measured and ready to go.
  • In a medium skillet or saucepan, heat the oil over medium high heat. When the oil is hot and shimmery add the minced garlic and quickly saute, stirring constantly for about 30 seconds. It should be aromatic and slightly softened, but not browned.
  • Add the flour and the spice combination and stir constantly as the dry ingredients are absorbed to form a fragrant paste. Cook and stir for about 1 minute, then add the tomato paste and stir until well combined.
  • Add the broth in 1/2 cup additions, not adding more until the previous addition is fully combined. Bring the sauce to a boil, stirring constantly and cook for one minute. Remove from heat.
  • Enchilada sauce can be stored in an airtight container for up to one week.


Calories: 67kcal | Carbohydrates: 4g | Protein: 1g | Fat: 6g | Saturated Fat: 4g | Sodium: 405mg | Potassium: 109mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 1g | Vitamin A: 283IU | Vitamin C: 5mg | Calcium: 11mg | Iron: 1mg

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  1. 5 stars
    Used a bit more chipotle. Good recipe! Did run a quick zip in my Ninja to smooth out.

  2. 5 stars
    Lovely – thank you. I lived the apple cider vinegar added at the end which really lifted the whole thing!

  3. Just for Foodies says:

    5 stars
    this looks so easy and delish!

  4. 5 stars
    Super smooth and smoky. A great enchilada sauce that pairs well with any filling!

  5. Veena Azmanov says:

    5 stars
    Homemade and so many uses for best of dishes . Amazing combination. Need to make a batch soon.

  6. 5 stars
    Love how simple and flavorful this enchilada sauce looks! Trying this ASAP. 🙂

  7. Taylor Kiser says:

    5 stars
    Homemade for the win! So much better than anything from a jar!

  8. 5 stars
    I need to give this a try. I have NEVER enjoyed any of the bought ones. We love Mexican food, and this would be pefect for sure.