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Recipe: red chile (enchilada) sauce

What a lovely first week of fall! Jeremy drove out to Crested Butte to join me for the weekend. We’re not very good about celebrating our birthdays on time because September is typically a very busy month for both of us. We don’t buy presents for one another, we rarely throw birthday parties, we don’t even exchange cards. So the agreement was that we’d postpone our birthday dinner until we could be together. I took Jeremy to Soupçon, a truly special and exceptional restaurant in the heart of Crested Butte. You’ll hear more about it in a later post. The following evening we hosted several of our wonderful friends/neighbors for a New Mexican feast at our place. And of course, we chased a lot of fall colors both figuratively and literally – it’s the reason I’m here in Crested Butte!

dessert at soupçon

a toast before digging into the feast

goofing off while working

autumn trail run selfie

It’s been a big mix of colors this year which is far far better than anything we had last year (a total dud of a season). Aspens are predominantly golden come autumn, yet I can’t recall seeing so many brilliant stands of reds in the ten years I’ve been shooting fall colors in Colorado. I’m still waiting for a lot of the big stands to come online as they are still green. My hope is that they’ll weather these cold storms and then put on the magic show when Indian Summer returns. Even if the aspens finished tomorrow, I would still be quite pleased with the season we’ve had thus far.

handsome stands

bathed in golden light


impressive reds


tall and magestic aspens

lake reflection

Fall is also that amazing time of year when New Mexico’s green chiles are harvested and roasted. It’s one of the reasons we decided to host a New Mexican dinner – that and the fact that New Mexican fare is addictively good. We had three current or former New Mexico residents at dinner (Jeremy is the former) who could school us on red and green chile. If you are asked, “Red or green?” in a restaurant in New Mexico, it means “Would you like red or green chile sauce on your order?” You can answer red, green, or Christmas (both). I love green chiles so very much, but I must admit that I am a red girl. I love the red sauce. LOVE IT. I’m always annoyed when I have to buy canned enchilada sauce, because Colorado has a fear of hot enchilada sauce. It’s even a chore finding medium heat sauce. But really, you should just make it yourself because it’s ridiculously easy and – as always – far superior in quality and flavor to what you buy in the store.

red chile powder, salt, garlic, oregano, vegetable oil, onion, beef broth (or water)

minced garlic and diced onion


You maybe a little confused. Red sauce? Enchilada sauce? They are the same. In New Mexico, it’s red chile sauce or New Mexico red sauce. In the rest of the country, it’s enchilada sauce. There is no tomato in this sauce – the red comes from red chiles, as it should. It’s merely a matter cooking up some onions and garlic and then mixing the rest of the ingredients in. Then simmer for 20 minutes and you’re pretty much done.

stir red chile powder into the sautéed onions and garlic

stir the liquid in one cup at a time

add the salt and oregano

As you can imagine, the chile powder you use is going to make all the difference. “Chili powder” is a blend of red chile powder and additional spices like cumin, salt, and pepper. Chile powder should be 100% ground red chiles. You should be able to find bags of it in Mexican markets or international food sections of the grocery store. I bought mine from a roadside stand in southern Colorado. When the sauce is done, you can leave it as-is or blender it to make it smooth. I like my sauce smooth, so I used my immersion blender. I recommend wearing an apron or perhaps immersion-blendering the sauce in a larger (taller) pot.

for smooth sauce, use a blender

we like the red

a quart of delicious red chile sauce

Make your red chile sauce as hot or mild as you like based on the heat of your chile powder. The sauce will store in the refrigerator for 5-6 days or you can freeze it. We love to make enchiladas with the red sauce, but it’s great on almost anything: tamales, enchiladas (beer chicken green chile enchiladas, easy stacked enchiladas, chile rellenos, wet burritos, chimichangas, refritos, huevos rancheros. How can something so easy be so darn good?

now that’s a plate full of happy

New Mexican Red Chile (Enchilada) Sauce
[print recipe]
from The Border Cookbook

2 tbsps vegetable oil
1 medium onion, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 cup ground dried medium red chile powder (you can use mild or hot, as you like)
4 cups beef broth or water
1 tsp dried Mexican oregano
1 tsp salt

In a medium saucepan, heat the vegetable oil over medium high heat. Add the onions and garlic and sauté until the onions are limp. Stir the chile powder into the onions and garlic. Stir in 1 cup of beef broth (or water) at a time. Add the oregano and salt then bring the sauce to barely a boil. Reduce the heat and let simmer for 20-25 minutes. It will be thin, but should coat your spoon. If you like a smooth sauce (I do), you can let the sauce cool and place it in a blender or use an immersion blender to purée the whole thing. Refrigerate for 5-6 days or freeze the sauce. Makes 4 cups.

more goodness from the use real butter archives

beer chicken green chile enchiladas machaca (mexican shredded beef) carne adovada chile rellenos

17 nibbles at “red”

  1. Kristin says:

    I am ashamed to admit that I always assumed there was tomato in enchilada sauce. I haven’t bought any in over 20 years if that helps excuse my ignorance! I’ve never really liked it, maybe it’s time to make homemade. I’m glad this fall is better than last, and that you are sharing the gorgeous shots with us. Happy birthday time to you…what a great time of year to have another reason to celebrate!

  2. Brianne says:

    Yum! My husband is from New Mexico, and his mom overnights him a frozen box of roasted Hatch green chiles every fall. We just got our new supply, so we made green chile sauce and served it with chicken tacos one night and huevos rancheros the next morning! The last time we were both in Albuquerque, we brought back a big bag of dried red chiles and made some salsas and enchilada sauce. Both were good, but we’re definitely green chile lovers in this house. Your fall color photos are beautiful! I’m excited to see some red aspens!

  3. suzyMcQ says:

    Jen, Your photos are exquisite…took my breath away! Thank you so much for sharing them and for the education on red chili sauce. This PA girl is going on an internet search to find authentic chili powder. If anyone can direct me to a good spot, I’d be quite grateful, as I’m sure I have to find it online.

  4. cherie says:

    thanks for my morning dose of gorgeousness – and the great recipe :)

  5. Stephane in Alaska says:

    “Now that’s a plate full of happy.” YES!

  6. Karishma says:

    Like Kristin, I also was never aware of the lack of tomato! I always used to do garlic, onion, tomato and lots of chili powder. This one clearly looks more delicious!

  7. Judy says:

    While I like green, I’ve always preferred red. Every place I’ve lived, I’ve tried all the Mexican restaurants to find an acceptable red sauce, but it just never happens. No one does a good red sauce like a New Mexican restaurant. When I’m not in NM, I make my own. Thanks for another version.

  8. Susanne says:


  9. Marissa Drake says:

    Oh man add an addendum for your enchiladas pleeeeease.

  10. Debbie says:

    You have the best job in the world…I’m sure you know that. Wow. I. Want. To. Be. There. Now.

    Those aspens!!!!! Ok. And the red sauce too.

  11. Denise Dewire says:

    I’m green with envy in both the fall colors and this sauce! Living in SoCal we certainly have plenty of “hot” sauces but I want to make my own. And those New Mexico chills, oh yum, especially the Big Jims!

    So enjoying your fabulous photography of the Colorado fall colors. Dreaming of my last year trip to the Eastern Sierras! Heading to Virginia in a few days so will be checking out their fall colors.

  12. Lisa says:

    I can image that any one of those aspen pictures will enhance my living room walls. Gold color is typical Colorado fall color. Virginia’s fall color are red dogwood leaves and varieties of red, yellow and golden leaves of maples, and oaks. Sailing on the James River or York river in the fall is a joy.

  13. Kimberly L. says:

    This may seem like a silly question, but what is “red chile powder”? I’m assuming you don’t mean cayenne. Maybe New Mexican chile powder?

  14. jill says:

    I love all the angles and differences in your aspen photos. Such a delight to see all the varieties.
    And wow, that is a plate of HAPPY! xo

  15. jenyu says:

    Kristin – don’t worry, as I assumed the same thing! Thanks for the bday wishes :)

    Brianne – We like both red and green, but given our druthers, it would be red. So glad you enjoy the fall photos!

    suzyMcQ – you’re so welcome. And if you have a Wegmans nearby, they will likely carry it. If not, you can probably order online.

    cherie – :)

    Stephane – yay!!!

    Karishma – I’m sure tomato doesn’t hurt, but the standard recipe doesn’t use it apparently :)

    Judy – it’s so true. If not in NM, just make your own, right?

    Susanne – ;)

    Marissa – oops! I’ll add those now!!

    Debbie – I think everyone thinks certain jobs are glamorous or romantic, but in truth – while I love what I do, it is most certainly work and not necessarily play :)

    Denise – Virginia should have some beautiful colors too!

    Lisa – Hope you all are enjoying your autumn.

    Kimberly – not silly at all!! It’s actually VERY confusing how various cultures label their chilies or chiles. New Mexico red chiles can be mild, medium, or hot (or extra hot). They are the green chiles that have been allowed to turn red, then they are dried and then ground to make the chile powder. It isn’t cayenne, no. You should be able to find it in the Mexican food section of a decent grocery store (or better yet, in a Mexican market!)

    jill – thank you! xo

  16. sara says:

    Wow, those enchiladas look amazing! I have to admit I usually make my enchilada sauce with the regular “chile” powder + some other spices, but I’ll have to try your version…it looks fantastic! And — those shots of the fall color are absolutely beautiful! :)

  17. sandra says:

    Hi.I just found this website. Fun. FYI, for those looking for the chile powder. I get mine from Amazon. Angelina’s Gourmet. For the red sauce I get the New Mexico/Anaheim Chile Powder and the
    Ancho Chile Powder. I did not get this one from there but at a grocery store I think, Spanish Paprika. When I make a red sauce for those that do not like heat, I use this and it makes a nice red sauce they can handle while some of us eat the best red sauce. Also, for chicken enchiladas I also get the Angelina’s Gourmet Jalapeno Powder from Amazon. They are all wonderful. I bought other spices from them also. They are in 16oz containers. Have fun. I am going to go warm my enchiladas up now. Yumm, you made me hungry.

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