Many different foods at a thanksgiving dinner in New Mexico, including red and green chile sauces

Red Chile Sauce: A Study in Pure Flavor

The Heart of New Mexican Cuisine

In the Land of Enchantment, red chile sauce reigns supreme. It’s more than just a condiment; it’s a cultural touchstone, a fiery symbol of our state pride. The question “Red or Green?” echoes through New Mexican kitchens, and while we adore our green chile, there’s something undeniably special about the deep, earthy flavor of a well-crafted red chile sauce. Nearly every restaurant boasts its own secret recipe, a testament to the versatility and enduring appeal of this crimson condiment. If you want to make New Mexican food, this is our mother sauce, as important as Béchamel in French cuisine.

Red Chile Sauce Recipe

Ingredients

  • 12-15 dried Hatch red chile pods (choose your own heat level)
  • 4 cups water or chicken/vegetable stock, warmed
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 small onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • Optional: For extra heat, sprinkle in some other more spicy chile powder or blend in a hotter chile pod
  • Optional: 1 ounce unsweetened dark chocolate, finely grated
  • Optional: 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • Optional: 1/2 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano

Instructions:

  1. Revitalize the Chiles: Snip or break off the stems and shake out the seeds from your red chile pods. Give them a rinse to clean off any dirt or residue. Toast them briefly in a dry skillet over medium heat, just until aromatic. Barely submerge the chile in hot water, and simmer covered for 15-20 minutes until fully rehydrated and softened.
  2. Aromatic Infusion: Sauté garlic and onion in a touch of olive oil for 1 minute. Deglaze with a splash of the chile soaking liquid to capture flavor.
  3. Concoct the Base: In a blender, emulsify rehydrated chiles, garlic/onion mixture, soaking liquid, cumin, oregano, salt, and pepper until velvety smooth. Blend for a long time so the sauce has an even consistency. Don’t overfill your blender, as blending hot sauces can be dangerous.
  4. Refine and Enhance: Taste, and adjust salt/pepper. For subtle complexity, stir in the optional dark chocolate. If too thick, thin with additional liquid. If it is thin, you can cook it longer to evaporate the water.

Note: Some people prefer to change the water before blending, and many New Mexicans don’t like using cumin and oregano. This is my way to make the sauce, feel free to copy it or change some stuff up.

For storage, pour it into glass, as red chile will stain plastic containers permanently. You can also scoop it into freezer bags and freeze it in blocks for later use.

How to Use Your Red Chile Sauce

  • The Classic: Smother stacked enchiladas with this sauce, layering in your favorite cheese and filling for a quintessential New Mexican experience.
  • Carne Adovada: This is one of my favorite ways to eat red chile. It is basically stewed or braised shredded pork using red chile sauce to flavor it. This can be super messy, so don’t eat a carne adovada burrito it in the car.
  • Morning Spice: Drizzle over huevos rancheros for a fiery, flavorful start to your day.
  • Chili Champion: Build a hearty bowl of chili, using your sauce as the foundation for beans, meat, and vegetables. In New Mexico, our favorite “chili” is green chile and pinto beans, but our red sauce makes a fantastic base for a lot of meat and beans based dishes.
  • Creative Dips: Thin the sauce with a bit more liquid for a unique, flavorful dip with tortilla chips. It can blend quite nicely with a jarred salsa or hummus too.
  • Flavorful Marinades: Combine with a touch of lime juice and oil to marinate chicken or pork before grilling
  • Red Chile Pork Posole: Making a hearty soup with nixtamalized corn is a great way to fill up and warm yourself up in the colder months!
  • Red Chile Pork Tamales: This sauce is fundamental in making our classic New Mexican tamales. This is the perfect food for family get togethers like Christmas or Thanksgiving. Feel hungry, grab a tamale. Now you feel better.
  • Bloody Mary Mix: For the drinkers, try a quick spoonful of this in your brunch Bloody Mary. It will open your eyes and wake you up, that’s for sure.

For more ideas, be sure to check out our recipes section!

Unique ideas for a New Mexican fusion

I’ve lived in 5 different countries including the US, and worked as a chef in a couple of them. During this time, I did a lot of experimentation with different flavors that can blend quite well.

Some interesting things I’ve tried to make a unique sauce:

Instead of soup stock, miso is an interesting choice for saltiness. It also makes an awesome ramen base. It reminds me of a time pre-covid when I made a red chile miso with blowtorched chashu and green onion. the flavor of smoke was amazing.

Using soy sauce or fish sauce instead of salt. These can make the sauce a bit funky, but it will pair quite well with strong flavored dishes. I wouldn’t use this for a red chile focused dish like enchiladas, but it is amazing in carne adovada!

Mix in a different type of chili sauce, such as Gochujang or Harissa to give the concoction a more full kick of chile flavor.

Mix in different peppers like chipotle, chile pasado, or pasilla. Also add in some dark chocolate or ground nuts like almonds or cashews. This can make a very New Mexican, Mexican mole sauce.

Health benefits of red chile sauce

Red chile sauce, made with antioxidant-rich chile peppers, packs a nutritional punch. Its key ingredient, capsaicin, has been linked to potential health benefits. These include improved metabolism, pain reduction thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties, and possible boosts to heart health. While enjoying its fiery flavor, remember that moderation is key, and a balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables is essential for optimal health.

Enjoy your NM red chile sauce

Now you have a sauce that is equally important in New Mexican cuisine as our green chile sauce! Although you can get red chile sauce at restaurants year round, I feel that it is a more festive option than green chile. I eat red chile a lot more around the holidays, but I have green all the time. In case you are looking for an interesting way to try red chile sauce when visiting Albuquerque, I highly recommend a visit to The Dog House their red chile chili dog is one of the best hot dogs I’ve ever had.

One of the best ways to make a red chile sauce is with chile that falls off your chile ristra. As the ristras get older, they become more brittle, and also occasionally are damaged by wind or other interaction with the physical world. Instead of throwing the chile away, save it somewhere, and use it to make a sauce. Chile ristras are delicious! Dried red chile pods are good for a few years, so eating your old ristra when you when you decide to refresh your decoration is a tasty and eco-friendly idea!