The recipe that follows is for a basic Red Chili sauce that originated from the ancient cultures of Mexico, Central America, and the American Southwest long before the inquisition. It has a rich smoky flavor, piquant heat, and in earthy rich shades of red that reflects the type of chili used.  With this base sauce you can expand its applications to salsas, soups, stews, adobo, moles, enchiladas, and tamales.

It is somewhat labor intensive, but once you have mastered the process it becomes another addition to your repertoire of kitchen basics, and worth all the effort, making it in a traditional way that unlocks the depth of flavor and richness of its origins.

You can use any dried chili that is available. As I live in Thailand, my chili choices are more limited, but it is all about adapting to what is at hand. 

Makes 1 1/2 cups

Red Chili Sauce

Red Chili Sauce


  • 5-10 dried red chilies, depending on size      Suggested; Pasilla, Guajillo, or New Mexico Red.
  • 2 garlic cloves, skin on, roasted, peeled, and chopped
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt + more to taste
  • pinch of sugar
  • 1 cup bottled spring water

Warning: Chilies release capsicum in handling, so if your hands are sensitive I would suggest you wear gloves, and for those who don’t use gloves, be sure to wash your hands as soon as you are finished working with the chilies to avoid inadvertently burning your eyes or other body parts.

To prepare the chilies, wipe them with a damp cloth to remove any dust. Using kitchen shears, open each chili lengthwise and splay to expose the seeds. Remove all the seeds and pithy veins, and the stem.

Heat a dry skillet (or comal)over medium low heat and place the chilies, splayed  flat, on the surface and press onto the pan surface with a spatula very briefly to toast them without burning. Flip them several times, pressing them against the pan surface each time until you smell a fragrant smoky aroma. Remove them at once and allow to cool.

Once cool enough to handle, tear the chilies into bits and place in a bowl. Pour boiled bottled spring water over the chilies and allow them to soak until the water is cool. The longer they soak the better the flavor!

In the mean time roast the garlic cloves in the dry skillet until the skin is scorched on all sides. Cool, remove the scorched skin, and chop. Dice the onions and set aside.

Heat the oil in a saute pan over medium heat until hot. Add the garlic and onions and sauté until the mixture is softened and translucent. Set aside to cool.

Drain the soaked chilies and place them in a blender jar, adding the onions and garlic, salt, and sugar. Pour the bottled spring water into the jar, cover tightly, and pulse several times to get started and then blend for several minutes until you have a very fine puree.

Strain the puree through a mesh strainer, using a silicone spoon to press the puree through the strainer. Continue straining, pushing all of  the liquid out of the puree until all that is left in the strainer are stray seeds and pulverized chili skin.

The strained sauce will be thick and velvety.

Adjust with salt, but keep in mind that if you are using the sauce in another recipe it is best to keep the salt to a minimum.

Store in an airtight container and refrigerate if not using right away. It also freezes well for future use.

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