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Make-Ahead Ranchero Sauce Recipe

Every January, the urge to get organized hits full force. The holidays are a whirlwind of busy schedules and poor food choices, and I’m ready for some quick and easy healthy options. I love cooking, but even I need a break once in a while.

Ranchero Sauce on Shredded Pork

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When I’m in organization mode, it’s freezer meals to the rescue! I usually spend January weekends cooking big batches of our family favorites. We use a portion for that night’s dinner and pop the rest into the freezer for busy nights. I love watching my freezer stash grow, knowing that when things get hectic again we’ll have some easy, home-cooked options waiting for us.

One of my favorite freezer meals is this Ranchero Sauce (though Butter Chicken is a close second!). It freezes well and can be the base of several different meals.

I love it for quick heuvos rancheros for breakfast or dinner. Just crisp up some corn tortillas and top with refried beans, a fried egg, ranchero sauce, and your favorite toppings like pico de gallo and sour cream. Dinner in a flash!

It can also be the base of an enchilada casserole with cheese and/or chicken, or used to braise a pork roast.

Braising is one of my favorite techniques, because it’s so simple and yet so flavorful. Sear some meat, add whatever flavors or sauces you’re using, pop it in the oven, and forget about it for a few hours. The sauce thickens up in the oven, getting all caramelized around the edges and adding a ton of flavor that you just don’t get with a slow cooker. The only downside is that you actually have to be home to turn the oven on.

Ranchero sauce on pork
Ranchero sauce on pork before it goes into the oven.

Shredded pork slowly braised in ranchero sauce is my favorite way to use this recipe so far. It is rich and tender and has a wonderful flavor that is concentrated during the braising process. I desperately wanted to wrap it up in flour tortillas, but I restrained myself since the holidays were pretty much a carb-fest. Instead, I topped it with some avocado and served it alongside a simple salad.

I’m not the only one struck by the organization bug. Kippi has an easy and delicious pulled pork crockpot recipe that could also be braised, and Lia has been working on closet organization for her baby’s nursery.

Have you been getting organized in January? If so, what form does it take in your household?

Ranchero Sauce

Yield: Approximately 3 quarts of sauce. 

A rich, tomato-based sauce that can be made ahead and frozen. Use it for heuvos rancheros or as an enchilada filling with beef or pork.



Ingredients for the Sauce:

  • 5 Poblano peppers, seeded and diced 2 tbs bacon fat, butter, or other fat
  • 1/2 onion, chopped (optional)
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced (optional)
  • Alternative: 1/8-1/4 tsp asafetida* (optional)
  • 2 tbs mild chile powder or ground pasilla peppers
  • 1-2 tsp ground cumin
  • chipotle or other hot chile powder to taste
  • 1/2-1 tsp oregano
  • 1/4-tsp tarragon
  • 3 cans tomato sauce
  • 2-4 cups chicken broth

Ingredients added to taste/to balance flavor:

  • salt (enhance flavors)
  • sugar (reduce acid)
  • cocoa powder (give depth)
  • tarragon (give depth)
  • ground pasilla peppers (good chile flavor without heat)

Ingredients for Enchilada Filling:

  • 3-4 pound beef or pork roast, chicken breasts, or chicken thighs
  • 1 tbs olive oil
  • salt and pepper

To make the Sauce:

  1. Sauté peppers and onions, if using, in bacon fat until tender.
  2. Add asafetida (optional), chile powder(s), cumin, oregano, and tarragon and sauté for a few minutes.
  3. Add the tomato sauce and chicken broth.
  4. Simmer until flavors meld, and adjust seasonings. Thin with more broth if needed.

To make a Braised Enchilada Filling:

  1. Heat oven to 350 F.
  2. Lightly season the meat with salt and pepper.
  3. Heat about olive oil in a dutch oven, until it begins to shimmer
  4. Sear the meat on all sides, until golden brown.
  5. Pour 1 quart of sauce on top of the meat.
  6. Put the lid on the dutch oven, and place in the oven for 2-3 hours, until the meat is tender and shreds easily.
  7. Remove any excess fat or bones from the meat.  Shred the meat and return to the pot, coating it with sauce.
  8. Use as enchilada or burrito filling, or serve by itself with your favorite toppings (avocado, guacamole, sliced radishes, cilantro, sour cream, etc.).

To make a Slow Cooker Enchilada Filling:
Really short on time? Don’t even worry about defrosting anything. It loses a little depth of flavor that comes from browning the meat, but it’s still absolutely delicious.

  1. Pop a frozen beef or pork roast and the frozen block of sauce in the slow cooker, and cook on low for 8-10 hours.
  2. If you’re home and can do so, flip the roast over and stir things around at the halfway point.
  3. Shred the meat, and add back to the sauce.
  4. Use as enchilada or burrito filling, or serve by itself with your favorite toppings (avocado, guacamole, sliced radishes, cilantro, sour cream, etc.).

Freezer Directions:
This recipe yields approximately 3 quarts of sauce, which freezes well. I use quart bags or freezer-safe jars, and freeze in 1 quart portions.

The flavor should be primarily a rich tomato and chile, without too much heat, and slightly creamy from the fat.

*This recipe was made with asafetida to accommodate a garlic and onion allergy. If you don’t have an issue with onions, go ahead and skip this ingredient.

A Few of my Favorites:

  1. Storage lids for freezing soups and sauces in glass jars. 2. Dried pasilla peppers give a wonderful flavor to this sauce. 3. Le Crueset dutch ovens are perfect for braising!

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