2 cups chicken broth (see notes)
4 fat cloves of garlic, unpeeled
1/2 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano (see notes)
1/3 teaspoon cumin
Up to 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt (or half this amount if using table salt), plus more if needed
Up to 1/2 teaspoon sugar if needed to counter bitterness
1. Put about 3 cups of water in a covered saucepan or kettle and set it over high heat to come to a boil. In another saucepan, warm the chicken broth over medium heat with the lid askew until steaming.
2. Set a small, dry skillet over medium-low heat and add the unpeeled garlic to the pan. The skin will brown in places as the garlic roasts and softens. Toss them around occasionally so they brown evenly on all sides, for about 15 minutes.
3. Set a larger, dry skillet over medium heat. Use a sharp knife to remove the stems from the chiles. Then, slice down one side to open each chile so it can lay flat. Remove and discard all the seeds. Work in batches to toast the chiles in the skillet, by flattening them into the pan with a spatula, skin side down. Depending on the heat, it may only take a few seconds for each chile to brown and blacken in spots as you do this. Flip them over and briefly toast the other side. As you finish the chiles, drop them into a large bowl. Pour the boiling water over the chiles to cover them. If they float, place a plate or bowl over them to keep them submerged. Let the chiles soak and soften in the water for about 30 minutes.
4. When the garlic cloves have softened, squeeze them out of their papers and into a blender. Add the steaming broth, Mexican oregano, cumin and half the salt and pulse a few times to combine. When the chiles are softened, remove them from the soaking water and add them to the blender. Blend until thoroughly liquefied, venting the steam periodically to prevent the hot liquid from exploding out the top. (Yes, really.)
5. When the sauce has turned to liquid, stop the blender and taste:
Salt: This will all depend on the saltiness of the broth you used. In most cases, you'll need to add the rest of the salt, so that you'll use a full 1/4 teaspoon. If you are using low-sodium or unsalted broth, you'll need more. If you happen to be using very salty broth, you may need less. It should taste delicious but not salty. If you're not sure, add a pinch, blend it to combine, then taste. If you notice a salty taste emerging, stop. But if you just notice the flavor has improved, you may want to add a bit more.
Sugar: This may seem like a strange ingredient in enchilada sauce, but it is commonly used to counter the bitterness that sometimes emerges when cooking with dried chiles. If you notice a bitter taste, add a pinch or two of sugar and blend to combine. The end result should eliminate the bitterness, but not turn the sauce sweet.
When the sauce is properly seasoned, pour it through a large-mesh strainer to remove any tough bits of skin or stray seeds.
Use a flavorful chicken broth, either homemade or store-bought. If you're using low-sodium or unsalted broth, you'll need quite a bit more salt than called for.
Mexican oregano is actually a different plant than Italian oregano, and it's got a different flavor. It's sold dried in the US (I've never seen it sold fresh). If you can't find it, you can either substitute half as much dried Italian oregano, or just leave it out.
This recipe was featured in my Series of Unfortunate Recipes, inspired by the foods in the Lemony Snicket books and Netflix series. (Don't worry - this sauce is tasty. It's the story that's unfortunate.)