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Chicken Enchiladas.jpg

Red Enchilada Sauce

This dish uses all-guajillo chiles to give it a lighter taste and redder appearance, so that it evokes the Sonoran-style red enchilada sauce Lynley grew up with in Arizona. Serve it with Red Chicken Enchiladas


This recipe was originally created for A Series of Unfortunate Cooking Lessons, based on the book series by Lemony Snicket. If you are the type of person who enjoys delicious food and interesting conversation, I suggest you cook the recipes I've created for this this series rather than reading the books, which are filled with badly-prepared food and unpleasant dining companions.

Red Chicken Enchiladas, made in the Adventure Kitchen.

Red Chicken Enchiladas, made in the Adventure Kitchen.


8 guajillo chiles

4 fat cloves of garlic, unpeeled

1 1/2 Cups chicken broth

1/2 teaspoon Mexican oregano

1/3 teaspoon cumin

Up to 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt, plus more if needed

Up to 1/2 teaspoon sugar if needed (see instructions below)


Preparing the Chiles and Garlic

1. Use a sharp knife to remove the stems from the chiles. Then, slice down one side to open the chile so that is lays flat, and remove and discard all the seeds. (The seeds will likely just fall out as you work with the chile, which is fine.)

2. Put about 3 cups of water in a kettle or saucepan and set it over high heat to come to a boil.

In various regions of Mexico, enchilada sauce may include tomatoes or a different combination of chiles, as well as other ingredients. Green enchilada sauce made with tomatillos is also common.

3. Set up a very large, wide dry pan or griddle over medium heat, or, if you don't have a large one, set up one small dry pan or griddle over medium-low and a second, larger one over medium. Have a large, wide bowl ready to put the chiles in as you work.

Skillet-roasting garlic

Skillet-roasting garlic

4.  Add the unpeeled garlic to the cooler pan or the coolest part of the large pan, furthest from the heat source. The skin will brown in places as the garlic roasts and softens while you work with the chiles. Toss them around occasionally so they brown evenly on all sides.

Toasting dried chiles

Toasting dried chiles

5. Lay the chiles in the hotter pan or hotter section of the large pan, skin side down, and flatten them with a spatula. They should brown and blacken in spots as you do this. Depending on the heat, this may only take a few seconds per chile. Flip them over and briefly toast the other side. You may need to work in batches depending on the size of your pan. As you finish the chiles, place them in the bowl.

Chiles submerged in a bowl with a plate

Chiles submerged in a bowl with a plate

6. Pour the boiling water over the chiles to cover them. The chiles will float in the water, so place a plate or bowl over them in the bowl to keep them submerged. Allow the chiles to soak and soften in the water for about 30 minutes.

7. When the garlic has softened (the skin will likely be blackened in spots), remove it from the heat and set it aside for the sauce.

Making the Sauce

8. While the chiles soak, warm the chicken broth over medium heat with the lid askew until steaming.

9. When the chiles are soft, add them to a blender. Peel the roasted garlic and add it to the blender along with the steaming chicken broth, Mexican oregano and cumin. Blend until thoroughly liquefied. (IMPORTANT: when blending hot liquids, briefly cover the blender while you turn it on, then carefully remove the center piece of the blender lid to allow the steam to escape while the blender works. Otherwise, the liquid can explode out of the top of blender!)

10. When the sauce has turned to liquid, stop the blender and taste: 

Salt: Depending on the saltiness of the broth you used, you may need to add a bit of salt. We used Pacific Organic Chicken Broth (not low-sodium), and we added 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt. If you are using a low-sodium or unsalted chicken broth, you will need more; if you are using a different brand of salted broth, you may need a bit less.  As always when tasting for salt, 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. If you simply notice the flavor has improved, you may want to add a bit more. You have arrived at the right amount of salt when it tastes delicious, but not salty.

Sugar: This may seem like a strange ingredient in enchilada sauce, but it is commonly used in cooking with Mexican chiles to counter any bitterness that emerges. If you notice a bitter taste (possible, but unlikely if you have used seeded guajillo chiles), add a pinch or two of sugar and blend to combine. The end result should eliminate the bitterness, but you should not detect any sugary taste.

11. When the sauce is properly seasoned, it is finished! You may wish to strain out any remaining bits of skin through a large-mesh strainer to make a more refined sauce, or simply whir it a bit longer in the blender. (On any given day we may take either course depending on how much time we have and the situation we are cooking for.)

12. Your Red Enchilada Sauce is finished! Keep it in a glass jar (glass is preferable to plastic due to the acidity of the chiles) in the refrigerator for a few days, or use it right away to make enchiladas such as our Chicken Enchiladas.