New Mexico Red Chile Sauce

This essential sauce is adapted from Joseph Wrede, head chef at Joseph’s of Santa Fe. In it we use dried red chiles that we’ll rehydrate and combine with onions, garlic, cumin and coriander for an authentic Red Chile Sauce. In his recipe Chef Joseph uses New Mexico chiles, no doubt. I used Guajillo with a couple of Chipotles added to enhance the smoky flavor and add a little heat. You can make it with any of the large dried red chiles, New Mexico, Guajillo, Puya, Anaheim, California and so on. You can even substitute Ancho or Pasilla for a totally different flavored sauce based on the same process. Combine them for a more complex layered sauce, or throw in an Arbol or Habanero to make it very spicy. In this version, we’ll highlight the true flavor of the Guajillo, a workhorse chile of Mexican cooking. Since it is a more elaborate version of our basic Salsa Roja, I usually make a bunch and freeze it to have on hand as a base for Chile Colorado. We’ll be posting a recipe for authentic Chile Colorado in the coming weeks. Stay tuned.

Often, these rehydrated chile sauces will call for soaking the dried chiles for 30-40 minutes, we’ll just boil them for 10 minutes. There is also a divergence of opinion as to whether to use the chile soaking water to blend them or not. I think by discarding the water and using fresh water for the blending, it enhances the sweetness and natural flavor of the chiles, while reducing some of the bitterness. Using the soaking water makes the sauce too bitter for my taste. Chef Joseph agrees.

You can use this sauce for tacos, enchiladas and as a topping for chiles rellenos or burritos. It is versatile and once you get the hang of it, not too much hassle. Be careful, however. The red chile can stain, so wear an apron and I highly recommend using gloves when handling the chiles to remove the seeds.


New Mexico Red Chile Sauce –  Prep time 10 minutes – Cooking time 30 minutes – Makes 6 cups

½ pound dried red Guajillo chiles – Can use New Mexico or a blend of the two

3 dried Chipotle chiles

1 medium onion diced, about 1 cup

4 cloves garlic minced

1 Tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon coriander – can use whole or ground

1 teaspoon cumin – can use whole or ground

salt to taste.


Tear the stems off the Guajillo chiles and shake the seeds out over a bowl. You might have to tear them lengthwise to get at the seeds. Don’t worry about eliminating all the seeds. We’re going to strain the final sauce. You just want to get most of them. Slice the Chipotles in half lengthwise, leave the seeds in.




Add chiles to a large pot of lukewarm water and bring to a boil




Simmer for 10  minutes until the chiles soften and turn a nice bright brick-red color




While the chiles are simmering, warm oil in a pan and add the onions. Sauté over medium-high heat for 10 minutes until clear. Add the garlic, coriander, and cumin, and sauté for another 3 or 4 minutes until the spices become fragrant. 




Drain chiles. Put half in a blender with half the onions. If you have a huge blender, you can do it all at once. Add about ½ – ¾  cup of warm water.




Blend on high speed until smooth. Add a little more water if necessary. Pour into a strainer over a bowl, and repeat with the other half of the chiles and onions. Press the chiles through the strainer with a rubber spatula. Work the spatula back and forth being careful not to splatter.




After about 5 minutes, all that will be left in the strainer are the seeds and skin fragments.



Discard the seeds and skins, and repeat the process with the other half of the chiles. You will have about 6 cups of smooth silky sauce. Season with salt to taste, between ½ and one teaspoon.




This makes about 6 cups of sauce. I usually pour it into pint containers and put two in the freezer for later. We’ll use one of those pint containers as a base for Chile Colorado.




It makes a pretty good dipping sauce, but really shines as an accompaniment to the other dishes. Enjoy.


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