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red enchilada sauce in a blue and white bowl

Red Enchilada Sauce

Red enchilada sauce is a delicious, smoky sauce made with dried guajillo chiles, charred tomatoes, onions, and garlic. Great for a weekend cooking project, then store it in the freezer for busy weeknights.
Course Sauce
Cuisine Latin American
Prep Time 25 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 55 minutes
Author Michelle Frank


  • 8-10 dried guajillo chiles
  • 1 medium onion, cut into 1/4" rings
  • 2-3 medium tomatoes
  • 3 medium garlic cloves in their husks
  • 1 tbsp. flavorful lard, divided
  • 2 cups beef broth
  • 1/4 tsp. salt, or to taste
  • 1-2 canned chipotle chiles (optional)
  • 1 cup tomato sauce (optional)
  • 1 tsp. cumin (optional)


  • Bring the beef broth to a simmer over medium heat. Cut the tops off of the guajillo chiles and empty the seeds. Cut the chiles into pieces that can lay flat in a skillet; strip out the membranes.
  • Set a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Using a paper towel, spread about 1/3 of the lard evenly on the bottom of the skillet. Working in batches, add the pieces of chile to the skillet. Toast briefly until the chile becomes fragrant and begins to darken in color (this takes about 15 seconds). Flip and repeat on the other side. Add to the beef broth. Repeat until the chiles are all toasted. Remove the broth and chiles from the heat.
  • Meanwhile, re-coat the skillet with another 1/3 of the lard. Add the onion slices, tomatoes, and garlic cloves. Rotate or flip the vegetables as they begin to develop a dark brown char. Remove and set aside. When the chiles have rehydrated for 45 minutes, add them to a food processor along with the charred vegetables, the chipotle chiles (if using), and half of the broth. Purée until smooth. Pass through a food mill or a coarse-mesh sieve into a bowl, pressing on the solids to extract as much liquid as possible. Pour the remainder of the beef broth over the solids and into the bowl (pressing once again on the solids).
  • Place a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the remaining lard. When the lard is melted and sizzling, CAREFULLY add the purée (use extreme caution because the sauce tends to splatter). Fry the sauce for 30 seconds and reduce heat to low. Add the cumin (if using) and salt. Simmer for 30 minutes, or until the sauce darkens and thickens slightly. Check the seasoning, adjusting as necessary. Cool and keep in the refrigerator or freezer.


If you can't get good tomatoes, use canned tomato sauce and add to the puréed sauce just before frying.