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Homemade Enchilada Sauce

For the past few years I’ve been compiling my culinary bucket list, and near the top has been to make a killer enchilada sauce.  I think I get to check that one off the list now.  Finally.  It has taken me way too long to figure this out and the most frustrating thing about it is that the path to this great sauce was right under my nose.

A couple of years ago I started my enchilada sauce quest with Rick Bayless’ recipe and quickly decided that whatever recipe I ended up with, it had to be much simpler than that.  A few more trials and errors led me to the answer which happened to be right there on my too-neglected cookbook shelf… “Mexican Family Cooking”, a collection of family recipes handed down from Mothers, Aunts and Grandmas.  You can always count on the Grandmas, right? 

Of course, I did a bit of tweaking to the recipe, but nothing major, and what I ended up with is a pretty simple, yet authentic, and delicious enchilada sauce.  Here’s pretty much how it goes…

We start with dried New Mexico chiles, which have lots of flavor without being super spicy (I buy them in bulk off the internet).  Just cut off the top, open ‘em up and remove the seeds...

After they’re all cleaned, just boil them for about 20 minutes and then drain..


Run them through the blender (1/2 of them at a time) with some water and garlic...

Strain through a sieve or strainer, or you can use a food mill, to separate whatever chunks of skin or seeds might still be left..

Cook up some flour in a little oil,

add some tomato paste and the strained chiles, simmer, add some salt, chili powder, a little sugar and some cayenne if you want to spice it up. 

Let this simmer for a few minutes to get the flavors all developed

and then you can either use it right away, can it, or freeze it for later.  Although I have canned this sauce several times with excellent results, I have not kept it longer than 3 months, so cannot attest to its reliability beyond that.

We here at the Circle B Kitchen love our enchiladas, so it’s about time we had a scrumptious sauce to go with them. 


So the bucket list just got a little shorter, and our enchiladas a little happier.  Here’s the recipe…


Click here for a printable recipe

Recipe adapted from Mexican Family Cooking

Makes 5-6 cups

10-12 New Mexico or Guajillo dry red chiles (3 oz)
5 cups cold water
1 tablespoon tomato paste
4 garlic cloves
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons salt
3-4 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon ground cumin 
1 tablespoon chili powder +1 teaspoon

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)

Stem and seed the chiles. Boil in a medium-sized saucepan in 1 quart of hot water, stirring often.  Be sure to push the chiles deep into the water, as then tend to rise.  Cook, covered, over medium heat for 20-30 minutes. 

Drain the chiles and puree in a blender, 1/2 at a time, each batch with 1 1/2 cups of cold water and 2 cloves of garlic.

Strain the chiles over a large bowl, using a stiff spatula to work all of the sauce through the strainer.  You should be left with just some seeds and skins in the strainer. You can also use a food mill for this.

When the chiles have been pureed and strained, heat 4 tablespoons oil in a large skillet or dutch oven and brown the flour in the oil to a light golden color.  Stir in the tomato paste and then the strained chiles, and the remaining 2 cups of water, whisking to create a smooth sauce.  When it's slightly thickened, add the salt, cumin, sugar, and chili powder.  Stir well and let it simmer for about 10 more minutes.  Taste for seasoning and add cayenne powder if you would like it spicier.  Stir to blend and simmer a few more minutes. At this point, the sauce will keep for several days in the fridge or frozen for longer storage.  I have canned the sauce with good results, but it makes me nervous to recommend this as I'm not certain the PH is correct for preserving.

Click here to ask a question or leave a comment

Reader Comments (46)

I spent most of my life in New Mexico, and there are is no other type of chile to use for enchiladas than real New Mexico chile.

Yours is probably a safer way to prepare the chiles than ripping the tops of with my hands as I have for years. Just need to remember not to rub your eyes or touch your nose. The capsacin in the peppers that gives them their heat is not mucus membrane friendly.

I have a stainless steel cone sieve with wooden pestle that I use to strain the meat and juice of the peppers from the outside skin. It makes quick work of this task.

I have never made a roux to thicken the sauce, nor would I ever add tomato. The acid in the tomato will cut the heat of the chile pepper. I do garnish with tomato, and possibly sour cream. I've been to many restaurants that say they have authentic Mexican food, but their enchilada sauce is just tomato sauce or some awful brown gravy, which is far from authentic.

Thank you for sharing your recipe. I hope it helps others to learn what "authentic" really is.

Vicki B. Lansing, Michigan

January 13, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterVicki B.

I've always used canned enchilada sauce, but I might have to try this recipe. Thanks for the pics, it makes it look do-able.

January 13, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKathryn B.

Thanks for your input, Vicki! The original recipe that I started with did not add tomato paste, but after trying it both ways, I preferred the richer flavor that it imparted. It was certainly good without it, so it's mostly a personal preference. As to the roux, most of the recipes that I referenced for this sauce used a roux to thicken it, and, again I like the saucy texture it provides. So great to hear from a New Mexican on the subject!

January 13, 2013 | Registered CommenterPatrice Berry

You're welcome,Kathryn. Hope you make this... So much better than the can.

January 13, 2013 | Registered CommenterPatrice Berry

My boyfriend's mother is from the Southwest and makes many authentic Mexican dishes. Her enchilada sauce is delicious and seems very similar to your recipe. She has bags and bags of New Mexico chiles in her pantry. Thanks for the great post!

January 13, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAllison

You make it sound and look so easy. Thanks for the recipe! Nice photos!

January 13, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterChristina

Thanks so much, Christina!

January 13, 2013 | Registered CommenterPatrice Berry

I've been looking for a good enchilada sauce recipe that isn't too difficult. This one still looks like a bit of work, but maybe I'm going to have give it a try sometime. Your enchiladas look dee-lish!

January 13, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLily Gregory

Thanks so much, Lily. It may look like more work than it really is. It all comes together pretty easily.

January 13, 2013 | Registered CommenterPatrice Berry

I have to take enchiladas to a party this weekend and I'm so excited to have found your sauce recipe! Thank you!

January 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBrooke

You're so welcome, Brooke. Enjoy!

January 14, 2013 | Registered CommenterPatrice Berry

Yummmmm. I might not wait til Cinco de Mayo ! (Sinco? brain fade)

January 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJen Duncan

You got it right, Jen... Cinco! And yes, that's way too far away.

January 14, 2013 | Registered CommenterPatrice Berry

I am eager to try this recipe. Your instructions say that it may be canned. Have you checked the PH to make sure it is safe for canning? I would love to make it in large batches and can, rather than freeze, for convenient use.

January 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJudy

I do not test the PH on recipes for canning, Judy, mainly because it is a highly unreliable method to determine whether a recipe is safe to can. Even if the PH tests OK when you can it, that can quickly change as it sits on the shelf. So many canning experts do not recommend it. Having said that, I have canned my enchilada sauce several times with excellent results. I have to say that I haven't tested if it keeps beyond 3 or 4 months because we use it up so quickly. There are so many factors that go into whether or not a home-canned jar will keep over time, it sometimes comes down to trial and error. If you have any reservations about canning this recipe, I would suggest you fall back on the freezing method or maybe do some trial runs yourself to see if the sauce will keep as long as you would like.

January 16, 2013 | Registered CommenterPatrice Berry

I love your blog and have used quite a few of your recipes which are incredible! I will have to try this sauce as it looks wonderful! I would be interested in the author/title of the Mexican cookbook...I have a friend who loves family cookbooks; can you share the info on the book?

January 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDebby

Thanks so much, Debby. The cookbook is "Mexican Family Cooking" by Aida Gabilondo.

January 18, 2013 | Registered CommenterPatrice Berry

Thanks for the recipe. Can't wait to try it out. I tried another one I found online and it was edible but too harsh - too much cumin and garlic powder I think. And I agree about Rick Bayless! Checked my cookbook and his looks like an entire afternoon and a sinkful of dishes!

Re: canning, I very much doubt it would be considered safe to BWB can with all the oil and flour. Pressure canning maybe? Even then I'm not sure. I think I'd stick with freezing the extra.

January 23, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAnnie

Thanks, Annie. I really hope you like this sauce. We'd love to hear what you think!

January 23, 2013 | Registered CommenterPatrice Berry

I am so happy I found your post about enchilada sauce. Making homemade enchilada sauce has been on my bucket list, too, and I tried a recipe tonight that uses pasilla chiles. It was so disappointing! It was very strong tasting in an earthy, bitter sort of way. Most of the recipes I've been finding have used mostly tomato sauce and no actual chilies, and that doesn't seem very authentic, although I don't really know what is commonly used in Mexico. I plan on trying your recipe next to see if the New Mexico chilies make a difference. Thank you for sharing it!

January 24, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterShari Kelley

Hope you enjoy the sauce, Shari! I know what you mean about that strong, bitter flavor... I found that to be true for many of the sauces I tried. Pasilla chiles are definitely stronger than the New Mexico chiles, so I hope you like this one!

January 24, 2013 | Registered CommenterPatrice Berry

I make a similar version of enchilada sauce but because I'm LAZY I use ground hot NM chili pepper found in packets in the Mexican spice section of the grocery store. I use a 1/4 cup of the ground pepper per batch of sauce.

January 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSolaera

I'm wondering why the recipe has us discard the water you boil the peppers in at the start of the recipe. Wouldn't it be tastier to include that water as part of the final sauce?

Glad I stumbled on this recipe. It's cooking right now!

January 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterUncle Vinny

I thought the same thing, Vinny, but if you add the water from cooking the peppers, the sauce will come out very bitter. The fresh water brightens the flavors. Hope you like it! Nice to hear from you!

January 28, 2013 | Registered CommenterPatrice Berry


I'm really glad I found your site - I am drawn to your food "style" and it's similar to mine..LOL!

I've just made your Enchilada Sauce and will test it tomorrow - in a devious way, I hope my guests aren't too crazy about the Chicken Enchiladas (also from your site) it so I can eat what they may not want!
Is this anyway to lose ten pounds?!

Thank you..

Doug in NC

March 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDoug

Glad you found us, Doug. I do hope you enjoy the enchiladas and the sauce. Great to hear from you!

March 3, 2013 | Registered CommenterPatrice Berry

Hi! Thanks for posting this recipe, I've been looking for a good homemade enchilada sauce and this one looks perfect! I'm curious though if you have ever tried to thicken it with masa flour instead of regular wheat flour. I use it to thicken some of my other Mexican dishes and love the subtle, slightly toasty corn flavor it imparts. Any thoughts on the matter?

Thanks again :)


April 29, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBridget

I also like to use masa flour as a thickener in Mexican soups and sauces, Bridget. I even use it in meatballs, but I'm a little leery of using it to thicken enchilada sauce, solely because it creates a distinctive texture, whereas the flour basically melts into the sauce. I would also be afraid that the masa would mute the flavors of the spices a bit. But I would encourage you to give it a try and let me know what you think. You may like it if you prefer a fairly thick enchilada sauce. Great to hear from you!

April 29, 2013 | Registered CommenterPatrice Berry

I feel like I should call you Mom. LOL Your blog has such a great feel. I have made numerous recipes from your site that my family appreciates. I can always count on you to make something good authentic food. I have one question. Is this sauce a bit spicy? I usually opt out of any recipes that call for any kind of chiles because I think they might be spicy. I am making these for my children tonight and don't want to make it spicy.



May 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNykiah

This is not a spicy recipe, Nykiah. Leave out the cayenne powder and it will be very mild. And be sure to use a mild chile powder (most are very mild). Hope that helps! Enjoy the enchiladas!

May 16, 2013 | Registered CommenterPatrice Berry

So glad I found this recipe. I love Rick Bayless and have slaved over his black mole sauce, but today I wanted something quick. I tend not to follow recipes, so I had just looked at the ingredients, went shopping, then started. I forgot the oil and flour, but by taste, I removed the bitter by adding some heavy cream and honey. I also added dried coriander and cumin. Delicious an easy!

July 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterApril

Thanks for this recipe. I add one extra tbls of tomatoe paste and about 4 tbls of crushed garlic, because my wife likes it that way. Your recipe is great and thank you for the best tasting home made enchaladas!

November 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMaxx Christopher

Thanks so much, Maxx! Great to hear from you!!

November 3, 2013 | Registered CommenterPatrice Berry

You used to have a slightly easier recipe for enchilada sauce with your recipe for enchiladas--any possibility I could see it again? This one looks great but a little more time consuming. Thanks!

March 12, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterCaroline

This one really is so much easier, Caroline. Here's a link to a printable version of it...


March 12, 2014 | Registered CommenterPatrice Berry

Just discovered you, love this recipe and off to the market to find the dried new mexico chillis to try it out....a question, and I will preface it my saying I understand your reservations about recommending BWB canning this...I am going to give it a whirl and see how long it last...my question is should I process in the boiling water for what - 10 minutes? That is the bit I am unsure of....thanks......

June 11, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNicole

I've had no problems canning this enchilada sauce, Nicole, but because of the unknown PH, I can't recommend it without risk. Having said that, I'll tell you how I do it and you can decide for yourself. After my sauce is made and at a good hot simmer, I sterilize my jars, lids and a canning funnel in a pot of boiling water for 10 to 15 minutes. Using sterile tongs, I remove a jar from the hot water, fill it with hot sauce, leaving an inch or so at the top. I quickly screw on the sterile canning lid and turn the jar upside down on the counter. I leave the jars upside down for about 30 minutes and then turn them over. The lids should start popping within a few minutes which means that they've sealed. Any that don't pop, just put in the fridge and use within a week or two. If you're more comfortable using the boiling method, I would boil them for about 40 minutes before removing them from the water to cool. Hope that's helpful!

June 11, 2014 | Registered CommenterPatrice Berry

This sounds like it is exactly what I have wanted. However I eat gluten free and wondered if any one has used any all purpose gluten flour mix or receipe to thicken sauces? I thought about corn meal or masa but just read your comments re that. What about any other thickener. Potato starch? Corn starch? Tapioca? Other gluten free flours?
This is my first visit to your blog. I am excited to join u and your fellow bloggers. Thanks for being out there. Sharon

July 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSharon MS

Welcome, Sharon! So happy to have you become a part of the party here! Hopefully someone will have some helpful advice for you for a gluten free thickener.

July 6, 2014 | Registered CommenterPatrice Berry

i just want to thank you for sharing your recipe and fantastic photos. I made this today and felt very proud of the results thanks to your great directions.
Great job!!!

November 19, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSharon Wanzer

Thank you so much, Sharon. High praise, indeed. And thanks so much for letting us know how well it came out! We're never without a good stash on hand here. Nice to hear from you!

November 19, 2014 | Registered CommenterPatrice Berry

Thank you for replying to my comment. I also found a recipe on foodgawker for homemade corn tortilla crepes that were real good too.
What ingredients do you use for the filling? I mixed chopped chicken, black beans, refried beans, salsa and a little sour cream for the filling. Rice, cheese and corn would be great to add as well,
In the sauce, I substituted half the water with chicken broth and added a dash of cinnamon. I topped finished enchiladas with sharp cheddar before putting in the oven.
My whole family LOVED the sauce? Yesterday, my son had an enchilada for breakfast, with scrambled eggs on the side. He said it was wonderful.
Thanks again for your great post and photos. It makes me want to try to be a foodgawker blogger. :-)

November 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSharon Wanzer

So happy that your enchiladas were so awesome, Sharon! That recipe on Foodgawker for the Corn Tortilla Crepes was mine too. :-) I think there's a link on the enchilada sauce recipe for my chicken enchiladas. Yours sound marvelous!! And you made some nice touches to the enchilada sauce. As always, very nice to hear from you.

November 21, 2014 | Registered CommenterPatrice Berry

Looks good except the word enchilar means to be made hot. You should always use hot New Mexican chile like from Chimayo.

July 17, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterSusan

This enchilada sauce is awesome!! I made it for chili Colorado burritos and my husband said it tasted better than our favorite Mexican restaurants. Thank you so much for creating and sharing this wonderful recipe!

August 2, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterDeneen

You're very welcome, Deneen! I'm so glad you liked it! And thank you for letting us know!

August 2, 2015 | Registered CommenterPatrice Berry

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