Mexican Red Chili Sauce


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

Photography Credit: Elise Bauer

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

On doing research for this post I found references to many different ways of making red chile sauce. In Mexico alone, there are as many ways to prepare this sauce as there are varieties of chilies! 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

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Make Your Own Tamale Sauce

Why make your own sauce? Making your own red chile 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 chilies 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.

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Mexican Red Chili Sauce Recipe

  • Prep time: 5 minutes
  • Cook time: 25 minutes
  • Yield: Makes a little more than 1 cup


  • 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

* According to Diana Kennedy, Pasilla chilies are a long and skinny variety of chile, while Ancho chilies (dried poblanos) are shorter and wider. However, in certain parts of Michoacan, Mexico, the Ancho chile is called Pasilla, and because of immigration, is commonly known as Pasilla in many parts of the US.


1 Cut the chiles open and remove stem and seeds: Working on one chile at a time, use a paring knife to cut a slit all the way down one side of a chile. Open up the chile 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 chilies, either wear protective gloves or wash your hands very thoroughly with soap and warm water after handling the chilies. 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 chilies 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 chilies over and heat a few seconds more.

You do not want to toast or burn the chilies! 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 chilies 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 chilies have softened and plumped up.

(OR pour place the chilies 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 chilies 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.

tamale sauce in blender

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.

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Chili Gravy - from Homesick Texan

Elise Bauer

Elise Bauer is the founder of Simply Recipes. Elise launched Simply Recipes in 2003 as a way to keep track of her family's recipes, and along the way grew it into one of the most popular cooking websites in the world. Elise is dedicated to helping home cooks be successful in the kitchen. Elise is a graduate of Stanford University, and lives in Sacramento, California.

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64 Comments / Reviews

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Did you make it? Rate it!

  1. Maureen

    my sauce tasted bitter. What did I do wrong?

    Show Replies (1)
  2. Brooke

    I make a version of this with a mix of chiles (ancho, guajilla, new mexico) and add a white onion. I also like to fold it into a roux at the the end – gives it a little extra body and mouthfeel.


  3. Jack Davis

    Who only makes. 1 cup, by quart I can see.

  4. kathleen

    it was tasty with my homemade tamales except i used avocado oil


    Show Replies (1)
  5. Tammy

    Much better than anything you can get from a can!


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