Whether ordered in a restaurant or homemade, enchilada sauce is a delicious, Mexican-style sauce that goes great with a variety of dishes, including tacos, fajitas, and, of course, enchiladas themselves.
Although enchilada sauce does not need to be a very specific consistency, if it is too thin, it won’t stick properly to your dishes, especially tortillas and other carbohydrate-rich foods.
Let’s look at some basics about enchilada sauce, especially which of its ingredients make it thick. Then, we’ll discuss some great ideas for how to thicken enchilada sauce when it comes out too thin so that you can enjoy this delicious Mexican sauce anytime you want!
What Is Enchilada Sauce?
Enchilada sauce is a Mexican sauce. It is characterized and differentiated from other sauces by its use of chili powder.
It is made with a few basic ingredients. Red enchilada sauce has a tomato paste or tomato sauce base, and it also contains garlic, onion, oil, flour, and chili powder, which makes it spicier.
The first step in many enchilada sauce recipes is to combine the oil and flour; in other words, you make a roux. Next, we’ll provide the steps for making a roux; if done properly, your roux should thicken your enchilada sauce perfectly.
How to Make a Roux
As we said above, a roux is a combination of oil (or another fat, such as butter) and flour, which is cooked together to create a flavorful cooking agent.
There is a bit of skill involved in making a roux, however, and it can be a bit intimidating at first. We’re going to break down the steps here, but if you’re having trouble, look into it in more detail.
- Melt the butter or heat the oil over medium-low heat. Be careful not to burn the heat or heat unevenly.
- Add the flour by sprinkling it over the oil (don’t dump it all in one spot).
- Stir the fat and flour constantly using a wooden spoon. Seriously, we mean constantly; don’t stop stirring!
- Finish the roux: your recipe may call for a light or darker roux. A lighter roux should be done in about five minutes. It will bubble nicely and puff a little bit.
If you need a dark roux, which has more flavor, keep cooking and stirring for a few more minutes. A word of caution, though: the longer you cook your roux, the less thick it will make your sauce.
How to Thicken Enchilada Sauce, Method 1: Use a Light Roux
On that note, one of the first things that you can do to thicken your enchilada sauce in the first place is to make a lighter roux.
As we discussed above, the longer you cook your roux, the less it will thicken the sauce. Therefore, if your enchilada sauce consistently comes out thin, try taking your roux off the heat as soon as it starts to brown.
How to Thicken Enchilada Sauce, Method 2: Simmer Longer
It might be that you haven’t let your enchilada sauce cook for long enough. As it cooks, it will lose moisture (water) and thicken over time.
Even if your sauce has sat on the heat for the amount of time that your recipe directs, give it a few more minutes and make sure that it is uncovered. In addition, don’t turn up the heat; low heat allows the flavors to marinate better and prevents burning while still allowing that water to evaporate.
How to Thicken Enchilada Sauce, Method 3: Add Cornstarch
If you’ve tried the simmering method and your sauce is still too thin, you can try adding cornstarch. Cornstarch is a natural thickening agent that is relatively flavorless, so it is great for these kinds of cooking conundrums.
Cornstarch cannot be added by itself, though. Before it is added to the enchilada sauce, you have to make a paste from the cornstarch.
Mix the cornstarch with an equal amount of cold water. Stir vigorously until a paste forms.
Next, add a little bit of the paste to the enchilada sauce at a time, combining thoroughly. You also want to give the cornstarch a minute or two to heat up and fully integrate into the sauce, allowing it to thicken.
Continue to add as needed, until your sauce reaches your desired consistency. Once again, be careful not to add cornstarch too quickly or too much at a time, or it will cause your entire batch of sauce to become pasty.
How to Thicken Enchilada Sauce, Method 4: Add More Flour or Make Another Roux
Instead of adding cornstarch, you can use more flour. This is especially a good method because you almost surely have flour on hand.
Alternatively, make another roux, especially if you’re good at it by now. Make it in another pan and then add it slowly to the sauce. Be careful not to add too much and dilute the flavor.
How to Thicken Enchilada Sauce, Method 5: Add Tomato Paste
Whether your recipe called for this ingredient or not, you can add it to red enchilada sauce to make it thicker. The great thing is that the tomato flavor will augment the tomato already in the sauce.
That said, you might have to add a little bit more salt, garlic salt, or chili powder to even the flavoring out after adding tomato paste.
Tips for Thicker Enchilada Sauce
Let’s review a few basic tips for thick, creamy enchilada sauce:
- Follow your recipe’s instructions exactly: even minor changes, especially in cooking temperature or method, can alter the consistency of your dish.
- Pick a recipe for thick enchilada sauce: if you like it especially thick, find a recipe that specifies these results.
- Make a light roux: take your roux off the heat as soon as the mixture starts to bubble and brown even a little bit. This will yield a thicker sauce.
- Have cornstarch or another thickening agent on hand just in case!
Ideas for Thin Enchilada Sauce
If you are unable to thicken your sauce or if you decide to start your recipe over, don’t throw your enchilada sauce away! There are still ways that you can use it. Let’s look at a few of those now:
- Pour it over tacos: use the thin enchilada sauce as a taco sauce. Sure, it will be a little runny and messy, but that’s part of the fun of tacos!
- Use it as a marinade: pour the thin enchilada sauce over chicken breasts or pork and let them sit overnight in the refrigerator. Grill or bake them the next day.
- Make enchilada soup: a runny, thin consistency is perfect for soup, and there are some great recipes for enchilada soup available.
If All Else Fails…
If you try a few or even all of these methods to no avail, you can always try working with another recipe. This is an especially good idea if you’re struggling with the roux.
Or another option is to buy the enchilada sauce from a store or a restaurant. Enchilada sauce comes fresh or in a can, and you can always heat it on the stove and add spices of your own.
Whichever method you use, as always, the most important thing is to enjoy your enchilada sauce and whatever dish it will accompany!
Sarah is the founder of Baking Kneads, LLC, a blog sharing guides, tips, and recipes for those learning how to bake. Growing up as the daughter of a baker, she spent much of her childhood learning the basics in a local bakery.