This easy homemade ranchero sauce is a must-have condiment to elevate your favorite Mexican recipes. Just saute fire-roasted tomatoes with fresh aromatics, spices, and peppers for a smokey taste with a kick of heat.
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One way to instantly boost Mexican food’s flavor is to top it with a bold and spicy ranchero sauce. It’s a warm tomato-based condiment, very similar to my enchilada sauce. However, it’s thicker in consistency and contains a variety of hot chilies. Using a combination of canned and fresh ingredients makes this sauce simple to prepare.
Fire-roasted tomatoes and dried chipotle peppers add a smokey taste with lingering heat. Sauteing the ingredients heightens the dried spices’ experience while concentrating the sweet and savory notes. The mixture is blended to infuse the flavors together and create a pourable consistency. This sauce is perfect for topping on huevos rancheros, chile rellenos, or serving on the side with fajitas, tacos, or burritos.
What is ranchero sauce?
A warm, smokey, and spicy tomato-based sauce used in Mexican and Tex Mex cuisine. Diced tomatoes saute with onions, garlic, fresh and dried chili peppers for heat. Chicken stock or broth helps to thin the sauce without diluting its flavor.
It can be left more chunky or blended for a smooth consistency. It’s most famously added on top of huevos rancheros for breakfast but is versatile to be used as a condiment to add spiciness to a dish.
Use canned tomatoes
To instantly add dimension to the sauce, use diced fire-roasted tomatoes. The light charring adds a subtle smokiness, while the additional cooking process enhances the tomato’s natural sweetness and reduces acidity. I add the juices because it’s full of flavor and seasoning.
Substituting with fresh tomatoes
You can use other types of fresh tomatoes for a lighter taste. I recommend vine-ripened tomatoes or Italian Roma tomatoes that have a balance of sweetness and acidity. You’ll need about 2 cups, as it will release moisture and cook down.
Use a variety of chili peppers
There are three types of spicy peppers in the ranchero sauce. Minced jalapeno adds fresh upfront heat. Canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce add a robust smoky taste and intense heat. Chipotles are ripe jalapenos that have been smoke-dried. The adobo sauce is a mixture of tomato paste, vinegar, cornstarch, and spices that coat the softened peppers.
A small amount of cayenne pepper, which has a higher capsaicin level, lets the heat linger longer on the palate. You can easily adjust the spiciness level, up or down. Add any of your favorite peppers to customize the heat experience.
Caramelize the onions
To add a hint of sweetness to the sauce, saute the onions in olive oil. The dry heat drives off the moisture in the plant’s cell walls, concentrating the natural sugars like glucose, fructose, and sucrose. The surface gets slightly sweeter.
Bloom the spices to intensify flavor
Add dried spices like cumin, oregano, and cayenne pepper to the caramelized onions and oil. The hot liquid helps dissolve the fat-soluble flavors trapped in the ingredients and releases them into the fat for a more pungent taste. You’ll immediately smell the aromatic herbs and spices. The chopped chipotles are also sauteed, which releases more capsaicin for a stronger spice taste.
Saute the tomatoes
Saute the diced tomatoes in the hot pan to evaporate some of the moisture. This step helps to concentrate the tomato flavor and intensify the sweetness. The cooking process also helps to soften and break down the flesh, making it easier to puree later.
Add unsalted chicken stock to the thickened tomato mixture. This technique helps to loosen the particles, making them easier to blend while adding more savory notes. Add some freshly squeezed lime juice and chopped parsley to make the sauce more vibrant with a hint of tanginess.
Puree the sauce
Pureeing the warm sauce marries the ingredients together, making for a harmonious taste. I find it easiest to use a blender to break down the food quickly. Keep the sauce as chunky as you like, or process to a smoother consistency. I prefer the latter. It makes it easier to pour on top of food but still cling.
For a thinner texture, add more broth. A hand immersion blender also works to puree the sauce right in the pan. Just be careful about splatter since it’s hot!
Serve this with
Chipotle chilies are smoke-dried jalapenos with brown wrinkly skin. The canned product is soaked in a tangy tomato sauce that further enhances its taste. If you’re looking for a substitute, try dried chipotle powder. Start with ¼ teaspoon, then increase to the desired heat level. Use smoked paprika to elevate the smokiness, or if you want a milder sauce.
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- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 cup diced white onion, ¼-inch dice
- 2 tablespoons minced jalapeno, seeds removed
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper powder
- 2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, canned, roughly chopped
- 14.5 ounces diced fire-roasted tomatoes, canned, not drained
- ¼ cup chicken broth, unsalted, up to 1 cup
- ½ cup cilantro leaves, chopped
- 1 tablespoon lime juice
- Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add the olive oil. Once hot, add the diced onion. Saute until translucent and lightly browned, about 4 minutes. Add the jalapeno peppers, garlic, oregano, cumin, salt, and cayenne pepper, stir until fragrant, 30 seconds. Add the chopped chipotle peppers, cook for 30 seconds.
- Add the tomatoes, add its juice, stir and cook until they have softened and the mixture thickens, about 5 to 6 minutes.
- Add the chicken broth, stir and cook for 2 minutes. Turn off the heat and stir in the cilantro and lime juice.
- Transfer mixture to a blender. Blend on medium speed in 10-second intervals until you reach the desired consistency. About 30 seconds for chunky or 60 seconds for more smooth. For a thinner sauce, add a ¼ cup chicken broth after the first blend step. Blend for 10 to 15 seconds. Add more as needed. Alternatively, use an immersion blender to puree the tomato mixture in the pan. Season with more salt to taste.
- Recipe Yield: 1 cup
- Serving Size: 1 tablespoon
- Less spicy sauce: Use only 1 chipotle pepper or omit.
- Substituting canned chipotles: Use ¼ teaspoon chipotle powder, then increase to desired spice level. Add smoked paprika to enhance the sauce’s smokiness. Start with ¼ teaspoon and increase from there.
- Using fresh tomatoes: Use 2 cups of vine-ripened or Roma tomatoes, cut into ½-inch dice. Cook for a few minutes during the saute step to tenderize the flesh.
- Make it Vegetarian/Vegan: Use vegetable stock instead of chicken broth.
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