Cuban Red Chile Sauce

I am far from being an expert when it comes to Mexican cooking. So, like most cooking, it’s a bit of a journey. You go with the best, until something better comes along.

And it has.

In the case of enchilada sauce. I have posted one here, called Bring it On Enchilada Sauce. It came from a website that was touted as being authentic. And I have no doubt it was and is. Trouble was that it was not very tasty. Still it was useable.

But I have found and tried a recipe that is both authentic and delicious, and so I’m posting it. I urge you, if you haven’t tried the other, to abandon it, and try this one instead.

It comes from Juliann Esquivel an excellent cook who posts at JustaPinch. Juliann has blue ribbons, which I have yet to gain, so she knows her stuff!  She says this recipe is 200 years old, and has been passed down through the generations. It is, I admit, not an easy recipe, but not really as hard as you think at first glance. It’s more messy than anything.

I’m only giving you the sauce. I will post the cheese enchiladas separately which we really enjoyed today. You can make your own chicken stock and I’ll leave that to you since there are recipes everywhere. I confess that I’m addicted to the ease of using the boxed stock, (no salt), but please feel free to be as masochistic as you wish, and make your own! I’ve made homemade stock and it’s easy enough, I just haven’t been disciplined to save my extraneous chicken parts lately to make my own.

This recipe makes enough sauce for about 40 enchiladas. I used what we needed for ten, and then divided the balance of the sauce into three quart freezer bags and put them in the freezer. That will substantially lighten the work load, since you don’t have to make fresh sauce each and every time.

So here goes:


For softening the Chilis:

  • 6-8 dried chilis (anchos, pasilla, New Mexican, guajillo) any combo (check the package which tells you the heat level) I used half anchos and half New Mexican with 1 de arbol (a Serrano which has been dried, and is quite hot).
  • 1/2 of a large onion
  • a bit of salt
  • water to cover

For the Chili paste:

  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 tsp peanut butter
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 dried oregano
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne (optional–wait to the end, taste and decide)
  • 6 tbsp or so of chicken stock
  • 1/2 lg tablet of Mexican chocolate ((okay, Juliann was kind enough to give me a substitute, since I can’t find this: Take a spice grinder and place 2 cinnamon sticks and 1/4 c roasted almonds and grind up into powder. (the almonds will be a  big pasty). Remove and place in a bowl, and add 6 oz of baking cocoa (unsweetened) and 1 c of sugar. Mix thoroughly.)  Juliann says each tablet is about 2 oz (1/2 would be 1) and so use about 3 heaping TBSP of this mixture in place of the Mexican chocolate)) you will have lots of this left over, so just label and place in a container in your pantry for use when you need it. Might be a good idea to indicate that 3 tbsp = 1/2 tablet for future reference.

For making the Roux:

  • 1/2 c oil (corn or canola)
  • 1/2 c flour
  • As much as 20 oz of chicken stock


  1. Clean your chilis by opening them and removing seeds, rinse them off and place in a sauce pan. Add the half onion, cover with the water, and bring to a boil, reducing and simmering for 15 minutes. Take off the heat and let sit for at least an hour, more if you can.
  2. Gather the chili paste items, and get out either a blender or a food processor.
  3. Make your roux in a saute pan. Using a whisk, stir the flour into the oil and continue stirring as it bubbles and the oil is absorbed into the flour. When you start to smell it, take it off the heat and continue stirring. It will be a medium nutty color, darkened from the light yellow when it starts. Set this aside.
  4. When you are ready to deal with the soaking chilis, use tongs or strain out the liquid, and place 1/2 of the chilis and onion into the blender/processor.
  5. Add 1/2 of each of the chili paste ingredients.
  6. Blend until well pureed. It will look similar in color to the picture above but will be more pasty than the picture. Dump in the roux pan.
  7. Do the other half the same way and add that to the roux pan.
  8. Now turn on the heat, fairly low, and begin by adding a good cup of the stock and blending with a whisk. Bring to a very soft boil, stirring all the time so it doesn’t burn on the bottom. Take this slow and easy, if it burns it will be bad. Once it seems hot, continue adding stock and stirring, until you think it is the right consistency.(thick but pourable. Think of it as a spaghetti sauce instead of a pizza sauce,  when you are seeking the right balance).
  9. You are done.

Serves: I fixed 10 enchiladas, and I froze 3 bags with enough sauce in each to make another 10 each. This is the best I can offer as a guide.

5 thoughts on “Cuban Red Chile Sauce

  1. Pingback: Bring It On Enchilada Sauce | What's On the Stove?

  2. Pingback: Si, Si, Cheese Enchiladas | What's On the Stove?

  3. I have a couple of questions. I really want to make this enchilada sauce. I have bought dried chili peppers. Do I seed them & everything like is described above or do I need to only use fresh chilis. Also, I have found the Mexican chocolate – my blender does not do a great job chopping stuff up. Can I melt the chocolate first, then blend? I asked these questions on Just A Pinch but have never gotten answers. I really want to be able to fix this correctly. Any comments, answers, suggestions are very welcome. Ann

    • I use dry pods for this recipe. You do shake out the seeds before you put them in water unless you really really like heat. Then keep as many as you wish. You can try melting the chocolate and that might work okay, but you can also grate it on a box grater or other type grater. Hope this helps…

      • Thank you Sherry. I will try to grate the chocolate as you suggest. I never thought about that. Grate (great) idea !!!

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