Mexican Red Chili Sauce

SauceMexicanAdoboChili

Mexican red chili sauce, made with dried Ancho chilies or Pasilla chilies. Perfect tamale sauce or for red chili enchiladas.

Photography Credit: Elise Bauer

Red Chili Sauce

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

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. In addition to creating 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.

Mexican Red Chili Sauce Recipe

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

Ingredients

Ancho chili for tamale sauce

  • 3 dried Ancho (sometimes called pasilla in the US*) chiles OR 2 Ancho and 2 Guajillo chiles
  • Water
  • 1 large clove garlic
  • 2 whole cloves, crushed
  • 2 black peppercorns, crushed
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt, more to taste
  • 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 Mexico, the Ancho chile is called Pasilla, and because of immigration, is commonly known as Pasilla in many parts of the US.

Method

removing chili stem for tamale sauce dried chilis for homemade chili sauce

1 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 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, just heat them enough to draw out more of the flavor.

chilis in pan for red chili sauce how to make chili sauce - chilis in pan

3 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.)

tamale sauce in blender

4 Reserving the soaking water, remove the chilies from the pan and place in a blender. Add the garlic, salt, ground pepper, ground cloves, and 1 1/2 cups of the soaking liquid (taste the soaking water first, if it seems bitter, use 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.

how to make red chili sauce - putting tamale sauce through sieve boil homemade chili sauce on stovetop

5 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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Links:

Red chili sauce from The Rogue Gourmet

Chili Gravy - from Homesick Texan

Guajillo Hot Sauce - it's HOT, from Kirsten's Home Cooking

If you make this recipe, snap a pic and hashtag it #simplyrecipes — We love to see your creations on Instagram, Facebook, & Twitter!

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.

More from Elise

53 Comments / Reviews

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Did you make it? Rate it!

  • Norma

    This sounds delicious…would like to know if there is a process for pressure canning this recipe.

  • Cecilia

    Add chicken bouillon for boiling the Chili’s. Gives it a great flavor!

  • shante

    If you do feel the heat of the hot seeds and juices use lime and suger to make a paste rub. Really helps the burn.

  • Susan Lopez

    My father always used a food mill to puree the chiles after soaking. I use a blender but it’s not as smooth -even after straining. Only lightly roast the chiles or they will burn and taste bitter.

  • Martina McConnell

    My son recently grabbed a hot chili and touched his eyes, he cried so hard I googled a few ways to get the sting out. We found water and alcohol worked fast, Made the sting go away and no longer burnt his eyes when he touch his fingers to eyes or mouth. Gloves are the best but if you need a fast fix it works. We tried Milk also it worked but took longer and still had a little sting.

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Red Tamale Sauce in bowlMexican Red Chili Sauce