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Chile de Arbol Salsa Recipe

I’ve been working on this chile de arbol salsa (what we call “hot sauce” in the US) for at least five years. My first serious notes about it are dated summer of 2012, but I’d been trying out variations before then.

chile de arbol salsa

Watch the salsa video on YouTube! (scroll down for recipe)

You may not know, when we started this cooking show and website in 2010, I had a full-time job as a dental assistant. There was a woman who’d come by the office about every two weeks right around lunch time carrying a cooler filled with hot tamales, wrapped up by the dozen. God, they were perfect.

I’d get the vegetarian (except for the lard, I’m sure!) tamales de rajas; they had a white cheese and strips of roasted jalapeño inside. Each dozen came with a tiny baggie of a smooth, runny, pure red salsa that was SO hot and SO delicious I could never stop eating it. I’d always run out before I finished my tamales. I asked her once what was in it and she just said chile de arbol and salt. I suspect there was more to it than that, but I do not blame her for keeping it secret.

Here’s my version of chile de arbol salsa. Try it on tamales, fried tacos, breakfast tacos, even pizza. Pretty much rules on everything.

Click here for more info on the Homestyle Mexican Cooking Course with Carlos!

chile de arbol salsa

Chile De Arbol Salsa Recipe

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Chile de Arbol Salsa Recipe

  • Author: Hilah Johnson
  • Yield: 24 ounces 1x
Scale

Ingredients

  • 3 ounces (85 grams) dried chile de arbol
  • 6 (20 g) garlic cloves, peeled
  • 2 teaspoons (12 g) salt
  • 2 cups (500 mL) water
  • 1/4 cup (50 mL) apple cider vinegar

Instructions

  1. Remove stems from chiles and discard.
  2. Cover chiles and peeled garlic cloves with boiling water. Cover and let soak 3 hours or longer.
  3. Drain and add to blender with remaining ingredients.
  4. Blend until smooth. Taste to see if you’d like more salt.
  5. Pour into a jar and cover loosely. Allow to age in a dark cabinet for a week, maybe longer. It might bubble a little so we want to wait for that to finish before pouring into salsa jars.
  6. Transfer to smaller jars and seal. Keeps at room temperature for 6 months.

Chile de Arbol Salsa Video

67 Comments

  1. The Other Randy on November 4, 2016 at 4:09 pm

    Actually, whether or not salsa outsells ketchup depends on how you measure sales. If measured by sales in terms of dollars, salsa wins because it costs more per bottle than ketchup. But if measured by units sold, ketchup is still numero uno. Of course, I read this in a book called “Ketchup” (the history of ketchup is a lot more interesting than you might think).

    Yours truly is not part of the statistics for either product as I make my own ketchups and salsas. Most of the salsa recipes are yours and I’m glad I’ll be adding another. I’ve actually been ready for a couple of weeks with a bottle labeled “Hilah’s Top Secret Hot Sauce”. I’m going to have to switch it to a bigger bottle, though 🙂

  2. Great Stone Face on November 5, 2016 at 6:39 pm

    Any tips on sterilizing the jars and the bottles?

    • Hilah on November 6, 2016 at 7:46 am

      Great question. I just run them through the dishwasher first for this salsa recipe. I’ve never had a batch get contaminated – might be the vinegar but I suspect the high volume of capsaicin retards bacterial growth, too.

  3. Pamela on November 8, 2016 at 10:01 pm

    Hey Hilah! I’m not too experienced in aging or canning, but I’m wondering, what makes this salsa safe to stay outside refrigeration for a week or so? Is it the vinegar?

    • Hilah on November 9, 2016 at 9:57 am

      Hi Pamela,
      Yes, the vinegar and the chiles’ capsaicin itself preserves the salsa

  4. Justin and Toby on November 19, 2016 at 3:57 pm

    Hot damn, Hilah! That Chili De Arbol sauce is hot hot hot hot hot! We just made some and are looking forward to it aging a bit. 🙂

  5. Kendra on December 15, 2016 at 6:44 pm

    Hey Hilah, I was wondering if this will ferment in the fridge? I think Ive seen videos where kimchi is fermented in the fridge. Or does it have to be on the counter?

    Thanks!

  6. Kendra on December 16, 2016 at 1:12 am

    Oh shoot, I think I used the wrong vinegar. I used filtered apple cider vinegar. Will it not ferment if it’s not the unfiltered kind?

    • Hilah on July 13, 2017 at 6:48 pm

      It should still be fine, Kendra! Apple cider vinegar has a lower acidity than white vinegar which is why I call for it, not necessarily because of the filtered or unfiltered aspect 🙂

  7. Patrick on March 28, 2017 at 10:10 am

    This is very close to a sauce from my all-time favorite Mexican joint. Before I left the area, the couple who owned it sat down with me to pass on some of the recipes for the items I… LOVED! I was a very faithful customer (maybe an addict)… and it was very sweet of them.

    What they used as a table sauce is essentially this recipe with a few differences. It uses white vinegar instead of cider, and the chiles de arbol(no dang substitutions haha) are boiled/simmered for about 20 minutes in the broth water (cover/add a bit H2O extra for steam evap). I seed the chiles to whatever degree of heat I, or the lucky tasters, will want – most can only handle fully seeded. I allow to cool a bit, then in the blender I add 1Tb oregano and 1Tsp cumin, the salt and garlic, blend(seemingly forever) and strain. The straining is important to removing excess bitter bits and unwanted fibrous-ness imho. Add vinegar, then salt to taste.

    Bottle and let stand in fridge for as many days/weeks as you can keep yourself away from it, as it gets better with age over the weeks to come.

    (I’m only sharing b/c you spent 5 years trying to get this right, and you’re so close to the promised land heheh. )

    P

    • Hilah on March 28, 2017 at 1:12 pm

      Thank you, Patrick! 😀

    • Sinjin on November 4, 2018 at 8:53 am

      Where are you from? I’m hoping it’s the same restaurant I enjoy…..

    • Chris on April 29, 2019 at 1:18 pm

      How much water do you use to boil and then blend. This matters since it’s the base of the sauce.

    • Jamie on July 15, 2019 at 2:14 pm

      Hi! So I was really excited to make this, went to the store to get all the ingredients and the store I went to cookies not have the chilie de arbol peppers only in ground form. Can I use the ground in some way and get the same taste?

  8. Alex on September 1, 2017 at 2:24 am

    Just wondering as I have the plant on the balcony, can I do the salsa with fresh chillies or do they need to be dried?

    • Hilah on September 1, 2017 at 12:38 pm

      I don’t know for sure, Alex. I think you could use fresh ones. I’d still pour boiling water on them to sterilize a bit, but you won’t need as much water probably

  9. Kris on December 12, 2017 at 3:51 pm

    Thank you Hilah
    I made the recipe without vinegar as then it tastes exactly like our favorite sauce from Matador restaurant in Taylor Michigan.
    Exactly
    On my second batch
    I refrigerate it use it over 5 days

    • Hilah on December 15, 2017 at 4:03 pm

      Oh that’s fantastic, Kris!!

  10. Shanna on February 11, 2018 at 5:56 pm

    Hilah,
    THANK YOU for this recipe. I usually have to go and fill up my own tupperware just so I can eat this delicious red sauce on EVERYTHING! This is hands down the closest recipe I have found that is close to the red salsa at the local Filibertos here in Arizona. I have tried so many different recipes and none have come close until today. I have not allowed it the time to sit for a week( I could eat it all today!) as I just finished the batch, but I can’t imagine it getting any better. Now I just need to find a recipe for the green salsa they have!

    • Hilah on February 12, 2018 at 8:40 am

      So happy to hear that, Shanna! 😀

  11. ed on February 25, 2018 at 6:49 am

    Hilah: Terrific recipe and I’ll be making my second batch today. I can tolerate heat, but being essentially all peppers this one is a bit much for chips. For dipping, I toast the chilies and puree with some tomatoes and possibly a tomatillo or two. And that’s hot! I use yours as a condiment more than anything. Try it in bean soup sometime. I spiked my BBQ sauce with it yesterday for our country ribs. Best of all the shelf life is a huge plus. It’s always on hand.

    • Hilah on February 25, 2018 at 9:58 am

      Thanks, Ed! You’re right, this hot sauce is a little intense for chips but I love your suggestion for BBQ sauce! Sounds great 🙂

      • ed on March 20, 2018 at 7:36 am

        Hilah: Made batch #2. Did a portion of it as Patrick suggested with the oregano and cumin. Very good. Only here’s the thing. It’s not hot!!!! (Just after I told you too hot for chips). Made it exactly as you wrote it. It has a little kick, and is still very good, but I can eat it straight by the spoonful. My first batch gave me hiccups if I tried even a little straight. Ever run into this? Gotta be the peppers. What do you think? is the really hot one or this later batch I’ve described the norm?

        Thanks

        • Hilah on March 21, 2018 at 5:08 pm

          That is definitely not the norm! I wonder if your chiles were mis-labeled?

  12. Don Roberto on April 20, 2018 at 6:36 am

    Definitely going to try this recipe. I got some advice at a Mexican restaurant to lightly brown the dry chiles before adding water. Adds a bit of smokiness to the flavor. Thanks for the recipe.

    • Hilah on April 20, 2018 at 8:41 am

      That’s a great suggestion, Don!

  13. Jessie Hobbs on May 23, 2018 at 12:42 pm

    I’m 5 days into fermentation, hot sauce has become very thick, any ideas? Thanks.

    • Hilah on May 28, 2018 at 7:27 am

      Is it thick even after you stir or shake it? Sometimes it gets a thicker bit at the top, like the first inch will get a little dry but once it’s mixed again, it’s a good consistency.

  14. MADMusic on May 31, 2018 at 2:36 pm

    Could this salsa be made with Chile de Arbol powder instead of dried chile de arbols? If so, would I just use 3 oz of the powder or would I need more or less powder by some factor? I may just give it a try and see how it turns out although it would be nice to hear any suggestions on any weight conversion that should take place based on others experience substituting powdered chiles for dried chiles.

    • Hilah on May 31, 2018 at 4:14 pm

      I haven’t used ground chile de arbol but see no reason why it wouldn’t work fine. The weight would remain the same, but your sauce might want a little more water in the beginning.

  15. Jessie Hobbs on June 12, 2018 at 4:11 pm

    All of it was very thick, I had to add quite a bit of water and re-mix, turned out fine.

  16. Karen Densie Van Houten on June 28, 2018 at 12:56 pm

    How many dried chiles is in 3 ounces?

    • Hilah on June 28, 2018 at 2:08 pm

      Too many to count … they often are sold in a 3 ounce bag. But I would guess it’s about a cup by volume

  17. Robert E Lanford on August 27, 2018 at 11:29 am

    Hi Hilah! I enjoy your site and am getting ready to make this recipe exactly as written. For the 2nd batch, I intend to pan roast the dried chiles a bit to add a touch of smokiness. That was per a suggestion from a local taqueria. Thanks again.
    Don Roberto

    • Hilah on August 31, 2018 at 9:20 am

      Sounds great!

  18. Tanner on August 27, 2018 at 5:38 pm

    So, what can I do to make it maybe less spicy?? Not much of a cook here.. but it looks fabulous!

    • Hilah on August 31, 2018 at 9:20 am

      Hey Tanner,
      You could use some milder dried chiles like guajillo and ancho instead of the chile de arbol. You would end up with a milder heat, but much smokier flavor

    • Jim on May 2, 2019 at 8:29 am

      Do you think a bit of sugar could be added? Might make it a bit like Siratcha. By the way, love your videos, you are funny and cute and your recipes are great.

      • Lauren on May 30, 2019 at 10:58 am

        I added honey to mine, & it’s very good!

  19. Marissa on September 16, 2018 at 11:02 am

    Hi Hilah! So do you add the 2 cups of water with the drained chiles/ garic, vinegar, and salt into the blender?

    • Hilah on September 16, 2018 at 1:50 pm

      Yes! The boiling water is an unmeasured amount- just enough to cover everything. Then drain and add 2 cups new water

  20. Tammy on September 24, 2018 at 12:14 pm

    Hi Hilah,

    Approximately how many chiles are in 3 oz? Also, you use dried chile de arbol right?

    • Hilah on September 25, 2018 at 1:24 am

      Yes, dried. I really don’t know the count. Maybe 100? I buy them in 3-ounce bags

  21. Tracy on October 19, 2018 at 7:20 pm

    I can not believe our stories are so similar in our quest for Chile de Arbol Salsa! I used to eat at this drive-thru taco place by where I worked. It was “okay” but I basically was just going there for their teeny-tiny little 1 oz. container of bright red watery salsa that came with my food. It was soooo spicy and I just loved it! I got ballsy and went inside and said I wanted to buy a bigger container. They charged me $8.00 for a 12 oz. cup! I tried to dissect that cup of salsa but could never pin anything definite. I finally couldn’t handle their mediocre food any more and asked the owner what was in that salsa. He said “Water and Chile de Arbol” and that was that. I’ve tried countless recipes for years and I still haven’t found my Holy Grail version. I haven’t even made your recipe yet and I already know it is going to be soooo close Ü Just the color and simple pure flavor of the de Arbol is going to be “it”, I just know it! I’ll definitely come back to your site and bow down before you ♥ Thanks in advance (while my chiles are soaking as I type Ü)

    • Hilah on October 21, 2018 at 8:18 am

      Oh my gosh! I hope this gets your closer to your dream salsa, Tracy! 🙂

    • Kristin on November 25, 2018 at 10:36 pm

      Was it the same??!!♥️

    • Joshua B. on February 27, 2019 at 9:08 am

      I used to love those little cups… they came with my california burritos! I spent 2 years on San Diego and the food was glorious… wanting to replicate this flavor is what brought me here.

  22. Jen Mann-Hunter on January 14, 2019 at 5:22 pm

    ok my lovely. Its time for me to finally get those chilis you brought overseas to me to work. i am sick (and tired) of not finding a decent taco sauce, so thats it. time to make this recipe! how do you think it will work using the California chilis? basically, it will work with any dried chili? thanks Trix.

    • Hilah on January 15, 2019 at 11:33 am

      Hello dear! It should work with any dried chili, I think. Maybe a mix of arbor and guajillo or ancho would be nice – a little less spicy but full flavored, I’m sure.

  23. Damar on January 20, 2019 at 2:32 pm

    Hi Ya Hilah! ??
    I just made this sauce and am waiting for it to bubble and stop. So far no activity. Should I continue to wait or nah?
    The temp around is very low btw. It’s cold weather outside.

    • Hilah on January 21, 2019 at 6:00 pm

      It’s okay if it doesn’t bubble. You’re right, it might be too cool to ferment. It’s still good!

  24. Joshua B. on February 27, 2019 at 9:05 am

    Good afternoon,

    I am not sure if it was asked yet, this conversation has been going on for YEARS! LOL.. which is awesome.

    Anyway, I just made this (kinda).. I did two handfuls of arbols (looks like the same amount you have here or close), 4 guajillos and 4 cloves of garlic. I boiled/simmered the peppers and garlic in about 6 cups of water. Set aside to cool for about 30 minutes… and then poured it all in the blender. It looked beautiful. Then I moved that to a covered glass bowl and let sit in a dark corner for 48 hours before straining it into a sauce pan, reducing it by half, and then jarred it…

    it is now sitting in a dark corner… again. I feel bad, like it’s in timeout or something. If this ends up being TOO hot, I may go down to one handful (exact measurements.. I know…) with 4 guajillos, and 4 cloves of garlic.

    Questions I have…

    Can I now age this in the fridge or should it sit at room temp?
    Did you strain out the peppers flesh parts before bottling? or are all the debris still in there?

    Thank you in advance.

    • Hilah on February 27, 2019 at 9:29 am

      Hey Joshua! Your salsa variation sounds great! You could refrigerate it now if you like. Otherwise it’ll be fine at least a month at room temperature in a jar. It lasts much longer, but I find that the flavor is best the first month. I don’t bother straining my salsa, rather preferring to blend it until it’s almost smooth. But you can strain it if you like!

      • Joshua B on February 27, 2019 at 10:43 am

        Thank you for getting back so quickly. I searched high and low (mostly just sideways actually… linearly across the internet) to find out what peppers were even used so many years ago in San Diego… and all signs pointed to arbol. Then I found a local mexican hole in the wall convenience mart that had arbols and guajillo peppers by the huge back full (1lb of peppers is a big bag)… and then I found probably 5 solid arbol hot sauce recipes… but two were very close (yours and one other, the only difference being simmering for 30 minutes, or adding boiled water and letting them sit for hours)… but the comments raved about the flavor… but the one comment that let me know i was in the right place was your reader above telling her story of small little cups of salsa from the mom and pop taco shops of california.

        Thank you again. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

        I believe I’m going to let it sit in my dark corner until Friday night. Pop in the fridge before I go to bed and then enjoy over some farm fresh scrambled eggs on Saturday morning. I’ll come back here to tell you my thoughts.

  25. Angela on March 30, 2019 at 1:09 pm

    Hello Hilah,
    Will this ferment in the fridge??
    BTW I made this and just had a taste with some crackers and whoa nelly!!
    I am a native San Diegan and we have some of the best (if not the best) taco shops!! I’ve tried many times to
    replicate the house made salsa/sauce but to no avail. That is, until now.

    Thank you for posting this recipe.

    • Hilah on March 31, 2019 at 7:49 am

      Hi Angela,
      It will not ferment int he fridge,e but it will mellow out. Meaning, it will still be quite hot, but the flavors coalesce.
      Super glad you have found this salsa, too!

  26. Frank Stevens on May 4, 2019 at 2:15 pm

    Hilah, so glad I found you…we have much in common about how to make salsa. Doing the arbol now, getting a molcajete asap.

    I do my tomatillo salsa just the way you do. Your guest with the molcajete red salsa showed adding Worcester sauce…will try soon…and I always wondered about the oil as I could detect it in local salsas.

  27. Sarai on May 15, 2019 at 4:26 pm

    I just made this salsa and I am so exxited to try it!! The only thing is that I thought I had the vinegar and I don’t ?
    Can I still leave it in the cabinet for a few days or will it go bad without it?

    • Hilah on May 15, 2019 at 5:47 pm

      I don’t know if it will go bad – the capsaicin in the chiles might protect enough from bacteria – but it is not going to taste the same at all. I recommend getting vinegar at the store tomorrow and adding it then

  28. The Zen Master on June 28, 2019 at 3:29 pm

    This is a great hot-sauce recipe – one of the best I’ve ever had. On my second batch I de-seed and added fresh lime juice and some organic sugar and it was simply phenomenal. Everyone loves this, even a few folks that are slightly heat-averse!

    • Hilah on June 28, 2019 at 4:27 pm

      So glad you liked this recipe! Thanks for sharing your recipe tweaks 🙂

  29. The Zen Master on July 5, 2019 at 12:27 pm

    I have to add an update! I made another batch since the first batch is gone 😉 This time I toasted the Chile de Arbols in a pan (make sure to turn the exhaust fan on!) and then steeped for 3-hours per your recipe, and I used a little honey instead of sugar and WOW — I might just give up growing hot peppers because I can buy the Chile de Arbol in the store and this is so easy to make and so delicious I’ve been putting it on everything I eat! This has to be the best ‘hot sauce’ I’ve ever had! Thank you so much!!!

    • Hilah on July 5, 2019 at 5:48 pm

      Thanks for sharing your tips! I’m going to make some more soon! 🙂

  30. Joanna on July 24, 2019 at 11:04 am

    I live out of the country now and miss my Texmex driving me to make my own. There’s one restaurant with a super red and spicy salsa that looks just like this. I was trying to identify a pepper and it mentioned how the arbol chile keeps its red color even when cooked. That got me on a recipe search thinking this must be the pepper that that restaurant uses. I’m looking forward to giving your recipe a try soon! 🙂

  31. Nick on August 15, 2019 at 1:19 pm

    Looking forward to trying this recipe, but I’m confused on the sealing the jars after fermenting. Do you mean seal in in a hot water canner, or just seal them with a lid tightly? If I have to seal them in a canning bath do i need to refrigerate after breaking the seal? Hope you respond!

    • Hilah on August 19, 2019 at 10:03 am

      Just seal with a lid. I don’t hot water can this. You don’t need to refrigerate in my experience, but the salsa will continue to ferment a little if you don’t.

  32. Shannieranny on November 2, 2019 at 8:13 am

    I make this with out the vinegar and pour over diced up pork bake at 375 for an hour roll up in tortillas Mmmmmmm!
    Side of black beans and rice. Mmmmm!

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