dad red chili sauce
Condiments, Recipes

Dad’s Red Chile Sauce — Reinventing a Mexican Family Tradition


Both of my parents are fabulous cooks, but neither one is very good at documenting their family recipes so that we younger generations can learn how to make and pass down the wonderful dishes that have always played such a major role in our family meals and celebrations.  This recipe is one that my father finally typed up and taught me how to make this Christmas — his rich spicy red chili sauce.

This sauce can be stored in the refrigerator and served in our Tamale Party Posole, over tamales, over enchiladas, or in anything else for which you’d typically buy a can of red enchilada sauce.  The level of spiciness can be controlled by the combination of California and New Mexico chilies you choose to use (see cook’s note below).

Happy Birthday to my wonderful father, the best dad a girl could ever  have!
My favorite picture of Dad and me, at my wedding in 2009.
My great-grandmother, Maria Nieto Robledo
My great-grandmother, Maria Nieto Robledo (1887-1974).

My dad learned how to make red chili sauce from his grandmother — our Nana — who raised him from childhood.  Nana immigrated to the United States from the state of San Luis Potosi, Mexico, in 1915, settling in southern California by 1920.

But as Dad explained to me this year, he regrettably never learned how to make Nana’s actual red chili sauce recipe.  As a boy, he just didn’t spend much time in the kitchen helping his grandmother (although he did learn how to make her tamales), and Nana passed away before my dad ever started making this sauce himself.

Dad spent years testing out variations of this sauce until it tasted how he remembers Nana’s own chili sauce tasting.

Dad's Red Chili Sauce
Remove the stems from the chilies (not the seeds) and place in a sauce pan with 2 quarts of water.
Dad's Red Chili Sauce
Cover and bring to a boil. Simmer for about 15 minutes, then remove from heat and let cool.
Dad's Red Chili Sauce
Place in a blender and liquefy (Nana had to use a molcajete for this part).
Dad's Red Chili Sauce
Pour through a strainer and push through with a rubber spatula.
Dad's Red Chili Sauce
Keep repeating the liquification and straining process until you are left with a rich red liquid.
Dad's Red Chili Sauce
Return chili sauce to the pan, add seasonings and onions, and simmer for half hour until it turns dark red.
Dad's Red Chili Sauce
Serve in posole, over tamales, or over enchiladas.
Dad's Mexican Red Chile Sauce
Weight Watchers Info: 0 PointsPlus per serving
Recipe type: Condiment, Sauce
Cuisine: Mexican
  • 1 Bag dried chili Pasilla (2oz.)
  • ½ Bag dried chili California
  • ½ Bag dried chili New Mexico (dried red chilies, not the roasted green chilies)
  • 2 medium onions diced
  • 6-8 cloves garlic diced
  • 1 Tablespoon cumin powder
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Remove the stems from the chilies (not the seeds) and place in a sauce pan with 2 quarts of water. Cover and bring to a boil. Simmer for about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
  2. Place the chili and water mixture in a blender and liquefy. Pour through a strainer and push through with a rubber spatula. Put the residue back into the blender with one quart of broth (pork or beef-homemade is best). Liquefy and repeat straining again.
  3. Pour the chili into a sauce pan and add onion, garlic and cumin. Simmer over low heat for ½ hour. Chili will become darker. Add salt and pepper to taste.
For a mild sauce, use more California and less New Mexico chilies: For a spicier sauce, use less California and more New Mexico chilies.


  1. When making the red chile, do you sweat the onions before adding them in? I’m so used to seeing oil in a pan, then the onions, then the – in this case – red chili. Thank you. This is my 3rd year in a row making the pasole.
    My wife is Mexican from AZ. Her aunt always made the pasole. But, she died and we moved to FLORIDA 25 years ago. So, now I make it. What a hit!

  2. Can this sauce be used to mix with pork that will go inside the tamales rather than on top?

  3. Andromeda LeTourneau

    Can this sauce be used to cook the pork meat in for the tamales fillings or just as a sauce on top of tamales?

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