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Sylvia's Enchilada Kitchen shares recipe for classic Tex-Mex chili gravy

In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, Chef Sylvia Casares reveals her secret for adding a southern kick to her famous gravy.

HOUSTON — As we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, we're featuring dishes and recipes from some of Houston's favorite restaurants.

This recipe for Classic Tex-Mex chili gravy is from Chef Sylvia Casares, owner of Sylvia's Enchilada Kitchen. Houston's own "Enchilada Queen" says the secret is in the sauce.

Sylvia's Enchilada Kitchen

"Chili gravy is the sauce for which my restaurants are known, the one we do better than most other Mexican restaurants. This is everybody’s favorite—and the basic—Tex-Mex-style sauce for beef and yellow cheese enchiladas. 

It is called “chili” gravy, spelled with two i’s, because it has beef and chili powder in it, à la Texas’ chili con carne. 

In this version, the beef cooks down so much that it is hardly visible or palpable, but its presence on the palate is indisputable.

When working on this recipe, I kept in mind what veteran restaurateurs told me: 'To be successful, every restaurant has to do one thing better than everyone else.' For Sylvia’s Enchilada Kitchen, our best is chili gravy."

Credit: Chef Sylvia Casares
Chef Sylvia Casares, owner of Sylvia’s Enchilada Kitchen

Tex-Mex chili gravy recipe 

Makes about 5 cups or enough for 10 to 12 enchiladas

Ingredients

  • 1-1/2 cups white onions, chopped
  • 5 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 1/4 cup ground beef, crumbled
  • 2⁄3 cup vegetable oil
  • 2⁄3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups beef broth
  • 3 Tablespoons chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons Tex-Mex Holy Trinity 
  • 1⁄8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1. In a blender jar, combine the onions, garlic and 1/2 cup water.  Process on high speed for 1 minute, or until smooth.

2. In a small saucepan over low heat, combine the crumbled beef, 2 cups water and the processed onion and garlic. Simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Using a large spoon, skim the frothy substance that rises to the surface; discard. Repeat 2 or 3 times during the cooking time. Also use the spoon to break up clumps of meat for a smooth consistency. Set aside off the heat.

3. In a large skillet over medium heat, heat the oil until it shimmers. Lower the heat. Stirring continuously, add the flour and cook until the flour turns a light golden color. Set aside off the heat.

4. In a medium saucepan over low heat, heat the broth and 1 cup water until steaming hot, almost boiling. Meanwhile, in a small bowl or container with a lid, combine the chili powder, salt, Holy Trinity and cayenne pepper, whisking or shaking to blend. Stir the combined spices into the hot broth mixture, blending until smooth.

5. Gradually add the cooked beef and chili powder–broth mixture to the cooked flour, stirring constantly to remove lumps. Stir and cook over low heat for 5 minutes, or until the mixture is almost as thick as ketchup. Set aside off the heat for at least 10 minutes before serving.

Credit: Chef Sylvia Casares

The sauce may be refrigerated for up to 1 week or frozen for up to 3 months.

At the restaurants, this sauce is used in a variety of enchiladas and tamales. 

WATCH: Chef Sylvia Casaras on Great Day Houston