Making a really good red enchilada sauce is an extremely rewarding and messy procedure. Because that I order enchiladas at least once a week, I couldn’t go on any longer without paying tribute to this amazing Mexican comfort food.
Upon ordering I almost always choose green sauce. However, when my mom sent me a bag of dried red chilis from the San Xavier Coop in Tucson, Arizona I thought it was a culinary sign to go with red enchilada sauce for once. You can find several types of dried red chilis at any Mexican market, so by all means choose your own unique blend of peppers. I cheated a little by adding a can of chipotles in adobo sauce for a more complex, smoky flavor and also took advantage of the vinegar and “spices” in the adobo sauce.
When you want enchiladas you typically want them immediately and nothing about making enchilada sauce is quick and easy. Therefore it helps to treat the sauce-making as a separate event. Just make it ahead of time and store it in the fridge. The basic steps are quite simple … soak the chilis, roast your vegetables, throw them into a blender or food processor, strain the hell out of it, then add your stock and seasoning and simmer it a little to thicken up.
My first attempts at red enchilada sauce were met with mediocre results because I put in mediocre effort. To get a smooth, silky texture without seeds it really requires some patience with a cheesecloth and/or strainer. At the end your kitchen is going to look like a horror movie murder scene, so it helps to have a damp bleached towel on hand to quickly clean up so your surfaces don’t get really stained.
Ingredients for enchilada sauce
• ½ pound dried red chilis
• 10 cloves garlic, peeled
• 2 white onions
• 4 medium sized vine tomatoes
• one 7-oz. can of chipotle peppers in Adobo sauce
• 2 tablespoons of Mexican oregano
• 1 teaspoon of cumin
• 1 ½ cups of chicken or vegetable stock
• 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar
• 1 teaspoon of white sugar
• kosher salt to taste
1. Cut the stems off your chilis and shake out all of the seeds. If needed, you can make in incision lengthwise and open them like a drawer to also cut out the ribs and release any remaining seeds.
2. Place your dried chilis in a large pot and fill just enough to cover with water. Bring this to a brief boil, then turn the heat off. Let the chilis remain in the hot water for about an hour to fully hydrate.
3. Meanwhile, prepare the tomatoes, garlic and onion for roasting. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Peel and cut the onion into halves or quarters, core the tomato and keep it whole. On a roasting pan, spread the garlic tomatoes, onions and garlic in one layer on a roasting pan. Coat everything with olive oil and sprinkle with a dusting of little kosher salt. Roast these for about 20 to 30 minutes until the onion starts to brown. Remove from heat and set aside.
4. Transfer into a food processor the hydrated chili peppers, roasted vegetables, and the chipotle peppers in Adobo sauce. Blend until everything is broken down into a chunky salsa-like consistency.
5. Using a cheesecloth or mesh strainer, you need to extract as much liquid from this mixture as possible. Techniques for doing this may vary from kitchen to kitchen. Pour the blended mixture into a mesh strainer (suspended over a medium saucepan) in batches about 2 cups at a time. I suggest using a sturdy ladle to press out the liquid. No need to press hard, just keep a constant up and down motion to keep everything moving and you will soon be left with nothing but pulp.
6. Once all batches have been extracted, transfer the saucepan to the stovetop. Add chicken or vegetable stock, Mexican oregano, cumin, sugar, apple cider vinegar and kosher salt to taste. Simmer this for about an hour, stirring frequently. This will thicken and cook down into an amazing sauce, and you’re done!
Yield: About 4 cups of enchilada sauce. If you like your enchiladas completely swimming in sauce then by all means double the recipe. I like mine to be moderately saucy and I found this recipe to be sufficient. The amounts I use are what one standard food processor will allow.