How to Make Canned Enchilada Sauce Better

How to Make Canned Enchilada Sauce Better

Enchilada sauce is a staple ingredient in Mexican food, and the flavor and texture of your sauce can make or break your dish. As much as we would want to make our own homemade enchilada sauce, preparing it from scratch can add extra time. You’d first have to toast dried chiles, then soak them and blend them into a sauce.

However, with the right additives and technique, canned enchilada sauce from the grocery store can act as a great shortcut and is an easy way to get the authentic Mexican flavor you’re seeking. All you’ll need are a few simple pantry ingredients to turn a more bitter, bland canned enchilada sauce into the best enchilada sauce you’ve ever had. Check out our list of secret ingredients below!


What is Enchilada Sauce?

Enchilada sauce is a chili powder simmered in a broth with onion, garlic, tomato paste (or sauce), and thickened with flour. Red and green are the two most common types of enchilada sauces. However, red is a bit spicier than the green enchilada sauce as it contains tomato paste and red chili powder. In contrast, green uses roasted and peeled poblano peppers, cumin, and oregano.

Overall, enchilada sauce is zesty and full of flavor. You can bake this spicy sauce smothered with enchiladas, drizzle it over tacos, or use it to enhance the filling in burritos or chimichangas.


Ways to Use Canned Enchilada Sauce

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Canned enchilada sauce can be used in various ways. It is most traditionally and commonly used as a base for enchiladas, but it can also be used to make a wide range of other Mexican dishes. To use it, all you have to do is heat it up and add it to your dish. Simple!



After cooking your beef, stir in 1/2 cup enchilada sauce and chiles in a skillet over medium-high heat. Then spread 1/2 cup evenly at the bottom of a baking dish, placing the stuffed enchiladas on top. Sprinkle some cheese on top and bake for 20-25 minutes or until hot and bubbly.



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Add an entire can of enchilada sauce to some cooked ground beef and let it simmer on medium-low in a skillet. Once thickened, you’ll have the best, most flavorful meat for your tacos!


Smothered Burritos

Brown some ground beef with diced onion and season with taco seasoning. Next, build your burrito to your liking and roll up your burritos. Place them in a skillet to bake for 25 minutes. Pour your enchilada sauce over the burritos and sprinkle on more cheese. Then continue baking the burritos for about 15 minutes until the cheese melts and the sauce is bubbly.


How to Make Canned Enchilada Sauce Better

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Little effort is needed to make the best canned enchilada sauce. However, if you’d like to elevate your canned sauce to become restaurant-quality, the following ingredients will certainly get you there! Here are some of our secrets to making the perfect enchilada sauce.


Add Onions and Garlic

Onions and garlic will help give your enchilada sauce a deeper, more robust flavor. Just sauté them in a bit of oil until softened, then add them to the sauce.


Add Sweetener

Canned enchilada sauce can sometimes have a bitter taste. Sweeteners like sugar and Agave syrup will help remove any bitterness and bring out the vibrance of the other ingredients.


Add Chocolate

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Only a few know that Mexican chocolate is a traditional ingredient in enchilada sauce. You only need a small piece or an eighth of a circular tablet of Mexican chocolate to give you that real, authentic taste.

Don’t have Mexican chocolate? Unsweetened cocoa powder or turbinado (raw sugar) are great substitutes!


Thicken it Up

Many canned enchilada sauces can come out watery, but you can easily thicken up the sauce by heating some butter in a saucepan until it becomes foamy. Then add some flour and vigorously stir before adding in your enchilada sauce. Next, pour in some chicken broth and sprinkle on some salt. This will create a roux, so your sauce is nice and thick.


Add Fresh Cilantro

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Something as simple as fresh cilantro can brighten up your enchilada sauce’s flavor and give the fresh, herby taste of a homemade sauce.


Make it Smoky

Try roasting your own chili peppers and incorporating them into the sauce! This will make your enchilada sauce taste smokey while adding a kick of heat.


Add Acidity

Adding acidity to your sauce is another way to reduce the heat and bitterness of the sauce. Lime or lemon juice works great for this, but adding vinegar or tomato sauce will also neutralize the fiery-heat flavor.


Add Spices

Open spices on the table

Spices such as chili powder, paprika, dried onion flakes, onion powder, palm sugar, cumin, cayenne pepper, and garlic powder will amp up the flavor profile of your enchilada sauce and make it taste less bland.


Add Dairy

Adding dairy, like sour cream and yogurt, to your enchilada sauce will help cool down the heat if it’s too spicy.


Add Guajillo Peppers

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Go the traditional route and add dried guajillo peppers to your enchilada sauce. These dried peppers are full of flavor and aren’t as spicy as other peppers used in enchilada sauce. Just rehydrate them in hot water, remove the stems and seeds, and puree until smooth.



Does canned enchilada sauce go bad?

Yes. Although it’s canned, it can only be stored for up to 18 months. However, if you store it in a dry, cool pantry, you may be able to keep it for up to two years. A can of opened enchilada sauce will last 2 to 3 days at room temperature, a week in the fridge, and up to 3 months in the freezer.


Is canned enchilada sauce spicy?

Yes. Canned enchilada sauce is usually spicy. But, of course, the level of spiciness varies depending on the enchilada sauce brands you use. We recommend tasting the sauce before using it if you are sensitive to spice.


What is the difference between the taste of green and red enchilada sauce?

Red sauce has a spicy, earthy flavor, while green sauce has a mild, fresh taste. Either sauce can vary on spice levels depending on the brand or type of enchilada sauce you have.


What is authentic enchilada sauce made of?

To make a traditional enchilada sauce, don’t use any tomatoes. Instead, all you’ll need dried chiles, garlic, salt, and Mexican chocolate.


What to do with leftover enchilada sauce

  • Dip tortilla chips or veggies in it.
  • Pour it over scrambled eggs or a breakfast burrito for a spicy kick.
  • Marinade chicken or tofu in it.
  • Drizzle it on a plate of nachos.
  • Use it as a base for spicy tomato soup.
  • Mix it with cream cheese for a tasty dip.
  • Use it as a sauce for a Mexican-style pizza.
  • Use it as a topping for baked potatoes.


How long does enchilada sauce last in the fridge?

Once opened, enchilada sauce can last up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator.


What is the difference between red and green enchilada sauce?

The main difference between red and green enchilada sauce is the type of chili used in the sauce. Green enchilada sauce is made with green chilies, and red enchilada sauce is made with…you guessed it… red chilies.

The chilies used in green enchilada sauce are typically green tomatillos and green chilies, while red enchilada sauce comes from dried, ground red peppers such as ancho or guajillo chiles. The red sauce brings a depth of flavor to meat-based dishes, while green sauce adds freshness to seafood or vegetable-based meals.


Is enchilada sauce gluten-free?

Old El Paso Red Enchilada Sauce and Siete Red Enchilada Sauce don’t list any gluten-containing ingredients on their labels, but it varies from brand to brand.


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Written by Laurie Graves

Laurie is a 50-something wife and boy mom, who loves to share easy recipes, DIY home ideas, and food hacks. She truly believes that with a little inspiration, anyone can make their home and meals feel special.