Recipes Recipes By World Cuisine Mexican Mexican Sauces

Mexican Red Chili Sauce

Here is a Mexican red chili sauce, made with dried Ancho chiles. Perfect for making tamales and enchiladas!

Red Tamale Sauce in bowl
Elise Bauer

Red chili sauces are used in many Mexican and Tex-Mex dishes, such as red chile enchiladas, Red Chile Marinated Chicken, or tamales.

On doing research for this post I found references to many different ways of making red chili sauce. In Mexico alone, there are as many ways to prepare this sauce as there are varieties of chiles! Even more when you take into account the regional twists.

The following is a recipe for a basic red chili sauce, made with Ancho chilies (called by some Pasilla chiles - see notes). The basic technique was taught to me by my Mexican friend, Arturo Vargas, and helped along with notes from Diana Kennedy's From My Mexican Kitchen: Techniques and Ingredients.

ancho chile for red chili sauce
Dried ancho chile. Elise Bauer

Make Your Own Tamale Sauce

Why make your own sauce? Making your own red chili sauce is not much different than making your own spaghetti sauce. If you have the time, it's worth doing! Not only do you create a sauce with fantastic taste, dried chiles are inexpensive and easy to store.

If you are making up a large batch of tamales, enchiladas, or chili beans you will likely need a lot of sauce. If you make homemade chili sauce, you can easily make as much tamale sauce, enchilada sauce, etc. as you need.

Do you have a favorite recipe for Mexican or Tex-Mex homemade chili sauce? If so, please let us know in the comments.

More Authentic Mexican Recipes

Mexican Red Chili Sauce

Prep Time 5 mins
Cook Time 25 mins
Total Time 30 mins
Yield 1 cup
According to Diana Kennedy, Pasilla chiles are a long and skinny variety of chili, while Ancho chiles (dried poblanos) are shorter and wider. However, in certain parts of Michoacan, Mexico, the Ancho chili is called Pasilla, and because of immigration, is commonly known as Pasilla in many parts of the US.


  • 3 dried Ancho (sometimes called pasilla in the US) chiles OR 2 Ancho and 2 Guajillo chiles
  • Water
  • 1 large clove garlic
  • 2 black peppercorns, crushed
  • A pinch of ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt, more to taste
  • Extra virgin olive oil


  1. Cut the chiles open and remove stem and seeds:

    Working on one chili at a time, use a paring knife to cut a slit all the way down one side of a chile. Open up the chili and remove the stem and seeds. Remove as much of the veins as you can.

    Reserve a few of the seeds or veins for adding later if you want added heat.

    Note when working with chiles, either wear protective gloves or wash your hands very thoroughly with soap and warm water after handling the chiles. Do not touch or rub your eyes if you have been handling chili peppers.

  2. Heat the chiles on a skillet:

    Heat a large skillet on medium heat. Flatten out the dried chiles as well as you can and place on the skillet to heat.

    Press down on the opened chilies and leave for a few seconds. Turn the chiles over and heat a few seconds more.

    You do not want to toast or burn the chiles! If they burn, they'll turn bitter. Just heat them enough to draw out more of their flavor.

  3. Soften the chiles in hot water:

    Add the chiles to a small saucepan and add enough water so that they are just covered. Bring to a boil. Remove from heat and let sit for 10 minutes, until the chiles have softened and plumped up.

    (OR pour place the chiles in a small saucepan and pour boiling water over them to cover. Let sit for 15 minutes, until softened.)

  4. Purée with garlic, seasonings, water or poaching liquid:

    Reserving the soaking water, remove the chiles from the pan and place in a blender. Add the garlic, salt, crushed peppercorns, ground cloves, and 1 1/2 cups of the soaking liquid (taste the soaking water first, if it seems bitter, use plain water instead).

    Purée for 2 minutes, until the sauce is completely smooth. Taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning. If you want more heat, add in a few of the seeds or veins and purée some more. Add more salt if needed.

  5. Strain through sieve into a skillet, simmer:

    Pour the sauce through a sieve into a skillet. Add a tablespoon of olive oil to the sauce.

    Bring to a simmer and reduce heat to maintain the simmer, cook for 10 minutes. Skim off the foam.

    Remove from heat. Use immediately or pour into a glass jar (plastic will get stained) and refrigerate.


Chili Gravy - from Homesick Texan