How to Thicken Enchilada Sauce | The Best Way


We all love a big bowl of enchilada sauce, especially when indulging in tacos and other Mexican dishes. For the best tasting experience, your sauce shouldn’t be too thin and runny. What do you do if you bought it thin and want to thicken it up? Keep on reading; I’ve got you covered! 

Here’s how to thicken enchilada sauce:

  1. Allow your enchilada sauce to simmer.
  2. Pour your cornstarch and water into a bowl.
  3. Mix until it turns into a paste.
  4. Add bits of the paste to your sauce and stir.

In this article, I’m going to walk through the quick and easy steps on how to thicken enchilada sauce the best way, with cornstarch. I will also discuss methods to thicken the sauce without cornstarch, mistakes to avoid, and a few frequently asked questions.

You Will Need Cornstarch for the Best Method

It’s quite likely that you already have cornstarch in your kitchen cupboard. It’s an ingredient that adds so much goodness to almost any recipe. If you want your chicken to be crispy – use cornstarch. If you want your cookies to be soft – use cornstarch. And of course, if you want your enchilada sauce to thicken – use cornstarch.

In the event that you’ve run out of cornstarch, or perhaps you’re new to the food world, make sure to add this ingredient to your cooking table before you begin your attempt at thickening your sauce. Or, just skip below and I’ll show you what to do if you don’t have any.

Otherwise, you could dash out to your local store and pick some cornstarch up, or you can buy the Argo 100% Pure Corn Starch from Amazon. Argo is a trusted brand; it comes in a stay-fresh container, is gluten-free, and has a decent amount of cornstarch inside that will last you a good while. 

There are many cornstarch options available in your local store and online. Do your own research when purchasing a product that you want to get the ingredients that suit your dietary requirements.

1. Allow Your Enchilada Sauce to Simmer

Man Stirring Sauce in a Pan
It should thicken a bit just by simmering

Now that you’ve got your cornstarch, you can get the ball rolling. However, before opening it up and getting too excited, you first need to allow your enchilada sauce to simmer. 

Regardless of whether you cooked your enchilada sauce and it came out too thin or whether you bought it too runny, allowing it to simmer is a necessary step to take.

As your enchilada sauce sits to simmer, the water in it will start to evaporate, and your sauce will thicken up. Often, you need to allow your sauce to simmer a little longer than the recipe suggests; however, make sure to keep an eye on it and keep the lid off.

Turn your temperature to low heat so as not to burn your sauce while it simmers. Low heat will also allow the flavors to come out, resulting in a thicker and tastier sauce.

2. Pour Your Cornstarch and Water Into a Bowl

Allowing your sauce to simmer was a necessary step to allow for thickening and increased flavor; however, simmering doesn’t usually thicken the sauce enough to stop the process there. 

Here is where your cornstarch comes into play. Why do we use cornstarch? Because it’s a thickening agent that doesn’t change the taste of the sauce that it’s thickening. It’s also affordable and versatile.

You’ll need to get a bowl to pour your cornstarch into as you cannot add it straight into your sauce. The cornstarch needs to be mixed into a paste to be effective. Mix an equal amount of water into your cornstarch, making sure the water is cold.

3. Mix Until It Turns Into a Paste

To get the thickness results you want, the cornstarch needs to turn into a paste. 

This next step is easy – all you have to do is stir (with vigor). 

Mix the cornstarch and water, stirring until it gets thick and pasty.

4. Add Bits of the Paste to Your Sauce and Stir

Now that you’ve thickened your cornstarch up, it’s time to move over to your simmering sauce.

Drop a little bit of the paste into your simmering enchilada sauce and stir until it dissolves. Allow time for the paste to heat up as you stir, as the heating up helps the thickening process.

Add a bit more paste until you can feel and see that your sauce is starting to thicken. Continue this step until you have the thickness you desire for your enchilada sauce.

Once satisfied, take your sauce off of the heat and allow it to cool slightly.

The Best Method

Adding cornstarch to your enchilada sauce to thicken it is the best method because:

  • Most people already have cornstarch in their homes.
  • Cornstarch is affordable.
  • You need to mix the cornstarch with water, which is typically free and readily available.
  • The method is simple and quick, easy for beginners and people in a hurry.
  • Making the paste doesn’t require any heat.
  • Cornstarch and water don’t change the flavor of the sauce.

Thickening Enchilada Sauce Without Cornstarch

Although thickening your enchilada sauce with cornstarch and water is a very quick, easy, and affordable way, it’s not the only method that you can use. 

1. Make a Roux

Making a Roux in a Pan With Butter Oil Cornstarch or Flour
It’s ready when it just starts to darken.

Enchilada sauce shouldn’t be thin and runny, which means that something was skipped or done wrong when making the sauce in the first place. A few of the ingredients that make up enchilada sauce are flour and oil. 

The mixture of equal weight amounts of flour and oil/fat is called a roux. You can use a roux in most sauces, with enchilada sauce being one of them. The purpose of a roux is to thicken the sauce and make it creamy.

The shorter you cook your roux for, the lighter in color it’ll be and the thicker it’ll make your sauce. It shouldn’t add a distinct flavor to your sauce either. 

The longer you cook your roux for, the thinner and nuttier it’ll be. Although it won’t add much to the thickness of your sauce, it’ll add much more flavor, and you can use it in other types of sauces. However, this isn’t what you want for your enchilada sauce, as your purpose for the roux is to add thickness to your sauce.

To make a roux for your enchilada sauce, follow these steps:

  1. Weight the flour and oil/butter. Make sure that they’re of equal weight.
  2. Add the oil/butter to a saucepan and allow it to melt, making sure that it’s at a low temperature. If the temperature is high, your ingredients are going to burn.
  3. Add your flour into the saucepan.
  4. Stir your flour and oil/butter together without stopping. Do not leave the mixture to do something else. It will not have the desired outcome if you stop stirring.
  5. Keep stirring for about 2 to 4 minutes. For an enchilada sauce, you want a light and thick roux. Stop stirring and take your saucepan off the stove if it starts to brown. The darker it is, the thinner your roux will be and the runnier your enchilada sauce will turn out.

2. Add Flour

If you’re not yet satisfied with the thickness of your enchilada sauce, simply add a bit of flour. Keep adding and stirring the flour into the sauce until you reach the thickness of your preference. 

3. Add Another Roux

It may sound strange to add another roux to your enchilada sauce, but if you want to increase the thickness, you may need to.

Perhaps you left your first roux on the heat for too long, and it started to brown and lost its thickness, resulting in a runny enchilada sauce. Not to worry, you can make another one, now that you know where you went wrong the first time.

Make your roux from scratch in a new saucepan, and once it’s white and thick, you can add a bit to your enchilada sauce, stirring it in. Keep adding your roux in until you’re happy with the consistency. 

4. Add Tomato Paste

Although you can implement the previous methods into many other sauces to increase their thickness, it is unique to enchilada sauce.

Most enchilada sauces have a few tablespoons of tomato paste as part of their recipes, so adding a bit more tomato paste won’t change the taste of the sauce drastically, but it will thicken it.

You will need to taste the sauce once you’ve added the extra tomato paste and adjust it accordingly. It may require more salt, garlic powder, chili powder, pepper, or cumin to bring back the flavors and reduce the overwhelming tomato paste taste.

Hands Holding a Plate of Three Enchiladas
Voila. Perfect Enchilada Sauce.

Mistakes to Avoid When Thickening Enchilada Sauce

After reading through the method on how to thicken your enchilada sauce with cornstarch and water, you may think nothing can go wrong. However, as with everything, some mistakes can be made that will ruin your sauce completely.

  1. Adding too much cornstarch. If you pour all of your cornstarch paste into your sauce, your sauce will likely end up too thick and pasty. It’s important to add small amounts of the paste to your enchilada sauce and stir it in before adding more.
  2. Not following the recipe. As fun as it is to do the guesswork for recipes and how to thicken your enchilada sauce, it doesn’t always come out the way you hoped it would. It’s essential to follow the recipe or guidelines when thickening your enchilada sauce; otherwise, you may burn it or end up without any improvements to its thickness, resulting in wasted time and ingredients. 
  3. Picking the first enchilada sauce recipe you find. Although the recipe’s goal may be to make enchilada sauce, not every recipe produces the same outcome regarding taste and thickness. If you want thick enchilada sauce, look for a recipe that talks about thick enchilada sauce. Everyone’s preferences are different, so you’ve got to find the recipe that works for you best.
  4. Leaving the roux on the heat for too long. The type of roux you make will depend on the sauce. When it comes to enchilada sauce, you need the roux to be light in color, neutral in taste, and thick. You’ll achieve this by stirring the fat and oil on low heat for 2 to 4 minutes. Anything longer than that won’t give you the thickness, taste, or appearance that you require for a thick and creamy enchilada sauce.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can You Buy Enchilada Sauce?

You can buy enchilada sauce. You don’t need to spend your time and effort in the kitchen because enchilada sauce is readily available at your local store. You can also buy enchilada sauce online

A well-loved canned Enchilada sauce is the Old El Paso Mild Enchilada Sauce from Amazon. It comes in a pack of 12 cans and is a mild blend.

How Long Does Enchilada Sauce Last?

If your enchilada sauce is in an unopened can, it can last around two years (check the can for the expiration date). However, if it’s homemade or you’ve opened the can, you need to use it within a few days. 

Make sure to store opened or homemade enchilada sauce in a fridge.

Are Salsa and Enchilada Sauce the Same Thing?

Salsa and enchilada sauce are similar, but they’re not the same thing. Salsa is thicker and chunkier than enchilada sauce, is served cold, and is used as a condiment. Enchilada sauce is served hot, smooth, and is an important part of a dish. Enchilada sauce is also typically more spicy than salsa.

Final Bite

Enchilada sauce is a delicious part of tacos and other Mexican meals. You’ll best enjoy it when it’s thick and creamy.

A roux is flour and melted oil/fat mixed together. Oil and flour are ingredients found in enchilada sauce, but if you don’t do the roux properly, the sauce isn’t going to be thick. The roux in an enchilada sauce needs to be white and thick. You can achieve the correct roux by stirring it on low heat for 2 to 4 minutes.

The best method to add thickness to enchilada sauce is to add a cornstarch paste, which is cornstarch mixed with water. Cornstarch is affordable, found in most homes, doesn’t change the sauce’s flavor, and is a thickening agent.

Anne James

Hi, I'm Anne but my grandchildren call me Jelly Grandma. I have over 50 years of experience as a Southern cook and am a retired librarian. I love sharing what I have learned. You can find me on YouTube as well! Just click the link at the bottom of your page.

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