This rich, robust Slow Cooker Enchilada Sauce recipe is subtly complex blend of spicy, sweet, and smoky, and all comes together with just 15 minutes of hands-on prep time. You may never buy canned sauce again.
Why Make Enchilada Sauce from Scratch?
I don't know about you, but I am not a fan of canned enchilada sauce. Sure, it's convenient, and... yeah, I can't think of anything else I like about it.
This recipe came about after we made some pan-fried rockfish, seasoned with this amazing dry rub recipe. When it was all said and done, there was a fist full of various ground chili peppers leftover, which got Mr B and I thinking about how we could use all those savory sweet spices in other dishes.
Homemade enchilada sauce was the first thing that came to mind.
It took a little experimenting, but we finally came up with a combination that wallops the pants off every canned enchilada sauce we've ever tasted. Now I'm not claiming it's better than (or even as good as) your abuela's sauce, but it'll beat anything you can buy off the shelf by ten miles.
I cannot believe how good this stuff turns out - and it's so easy to make! It only takes about 15 minutes to throw together; after that, the slow cooker does all the work. Get ready to elevate your enchilada game and savor the rich, authentic flavors that only a homemade sauce can deliver.
Red Enchilada Sauce Ingredients
- Butter: Use salted or unsalted butter.
- Garlic: Use fresh garlic.
- Chicken broth or vegetable stock: Use canned, boxed or thinned homemade chicken stock or vegetable stock.
- Canned tomatoes: I use petite cut tomatoes with garlic added, but any canned tomatoes with work.
- Tomato paste: Just regular old tomato paste.
- Tomato sauce: I typically use regular tomato sauce; or for a little extra spice, use El Pato mild tomato sauce (in the yellow can).
- Ground chile peppers
- Dried oregano
- Ground cumin
- Brown sugar: I always add a little sugar or brown sugar to tomato-based sauces. Sugar cuts the acidity of the tomatoes and creates an overall more balanced sauce. It's difficult to list an exact amount though, as it varies with the variety and acidity levels of tomatoes and tomato products used.
- Kosher salt
- Lemon juice: You can use bottled lemon juice for this recipe. (Fresh will work fine, too.)
Where to find ground chile peppers: You can find ground pasilla pepper and ground New Mexico chili pepper in the Mexican/Hispanic foods aisle of most grocery stores (in my area, Winco, Freddy’s, and Safeway all stock them) or in your local Hispanic Mercado (i.e., Su Casa Imports, El Mercado, etc).
I found the ground chipotle pepper in the bulk section at Winco. All of the dried ground peppers are very inexpensive, and a little goes a long way. You can also find all everything you need at your local spice shop.
How to Make Homemade Enchilada Sauce in a Slow Cooker
For easier clean-up, spray your slow cooker with non-stick cooking spray before adding any of the ingredients.
Heat butter in a medium skillet over MEDIUM heat. Add chopped onion and sauté until onion becomes translucent and begins to turned light golden brown. Add minced garlic and sauté 30 seconds more.
Put sautéed onion and garlic mixture along with all the remaining ingredients into a slow cooker. Cook on LOW for 4-6 hours, or HIGH for 2 hours.
Sauce is ready to use immediately.
If you prefer your enchilada sauce smooth, use an immersion blender to puree it right in the slow cooker. (This is totally optional.)
Chili Peppers Substitution: Omit all 3 dried ground peppers, and add 2 tablespoons of regular chili powder. The flavor will be slightly less complex, but delicious just the same.
We make homemade enchilada sauce in our big 6-quart slow cooker, but this recipe will easily fit in a 5-quart crockpot, too. (You can also use the slow-cooker mode on your InstantPot.)
If you don't yet have a slow cooker and are looking to buy one, consider these points regarding size, shape, and function:
- Size: Most slow-cooker recipes are developed for use with a five- or six-quart unit, but if you consistently cook for a crowd, there are larger slow cooker options.
- Shape: After decades of slow cooker cooking, I can say with confidence that I much prefer oval over round. Not only is the shape more aesthetically pleasing, but it also functions better for cooking large, whole ingredients, like chicken, pot-roast, or ribs.
- Locking Lid: Some years ago, I was taking a huge pot of chili to a potluck, and dropped the crockpot on the driveway. The crock exploded, and chili was everywhere. (Yes, like Kevin in The Office. Exactly like Kevin, except without the floor surfing.) You may not need a locking lid often, but when you do, it can be a lifesaver.
- Fully removable crock: I've seen a few slow cooker models that have the heating element fused into the crock. This (IMO) is insanity. You want the crock to slide smoothly from the base so that it can be easily cleaned.
- Programmable Timer: Having a programmable slow cooker was life-changing. Not critical (I raised my kids without one) but really nice to have.
Allow sauce to cool completely, and then pour into an freezer container, mason jar, or freezer bag. (Double bag to avoid leaks!)
- Refrigerator: Enchilada sauce will last 4-5 days in the refrigerator.
- Freezer: Homemade Enchilada Sauce freezes very well, and will last up to 3 months. (We use a vacuum sealer for prepping enchilada sauce for the freezer, and it lasts over a year without getting freezer burn or losing flavor.)
- Preserved: Enchilada sauce can easily be preserved in a pressure canner. For safety, consult the Ball Canning Experts for step-by-step instructions before pressure-canning any low-acid food.
- Leave 1-inch headspace. Process 1-pt. jars at 10# psi (for a weighted-gauge canner or 11# psi for a dial-gauge canner.)
You can add any varieties of dried chiles you want to your enchilada sauce; but to avoid a boring, Johnny-One-Note sort of sauce, be sure to use more than one kind of pepper.
When choosing the chiles you plan to use, consider both the level of heat and the flavor they bring to the plate. And remember: you can always heat the sauce up more, but it is far more difficult to reduce the heat once it's gone too far.
More Slow Cooker Recipes
Ways to Use Homemade Enchilada Sauce
Love homemade tortillas, too? They are so easy to make! Check out our easy Homemade Flour Tortillas recipe.
Slow Cooker Enchilada Sauce
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 medium onion chopped
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 2 cups chicken broth or vegetable stock
- 14 ounces canned tomatoes
- 12 ounces tomato paste
- 8 ounces tomato sauce
- 1 tablespoons ground pasilla pepper
- 2 teaspoons ground New Mexico chili pepper
- 1 teaspoon ground chipotle pepper
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 tablespoon packed brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- Heat butter in a medium skillet over MEDIUM heat. Add chopped onion and sauté until onion becomes translucent and begins to turned light golden brown. Add minced garlic and saute 30 seconds more.
- Put sauteed onion and garlic mixture along with all the remaining ingredients into a slow cooker.Cook on LOW for 4-6 hours [or HIGH for 2 hours].Sauce is ready to use immediately.
- OPTIONAL STEP: If you prefer your enchilada sauce smooth, use an immersion blender to puree it right in the slow cooker.
This website provides approximate nutrition information for convenience and as a courtesy only. You are solely responsible for ensuring that any nutritional information provided is accurate, complete, and useful.
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