Sesame Chicken from Scratch (Gluten-Free)
This streamlined, from-scratch, naturally sweetened sesame chicken will blow… your… MIND! Lightly fried chicken gets tossed in a lightly sweet and deeply savory glaze that kicks take-out out of the park. I’ve put together a video showing the whole process below.
Better than take-out
You know what’s really freaking delicious? Sesame chicken! You know what stinks? Take-out sesame chicken that arrives gummy and saccharine sweet. Yech. Truth be told, until recently I hadn’t eaten sesame chicken in almost a decade. We don’t have any decent Chinese restaurants around here, and when I had to cut gluten out of my diet five years ago, most Chinese foods went with it. A few months ago, however, craving struck, and I went on a sesame chicken recipe-developing spree. After several tries, I hit the nail on the head.
Sing for sesame chicken
Ahhhhhh! (Cue angels singing.)
This version is nostalgic while also being firmly modern. I used easy-to-find pantry staples, cut out the sugar and replaced it with honey (only a quarter cup, compared to the cup or so of sugar in most recipes) and added a touch of heat for balance. The recipe can even be made gluten-free by using a gluten-free flour blend (ahhhhhhh!).
Think of the recipe as three steps. First you make a simple marinade for the chicken. Then you make the sauce. Finally, you toss the chicken in a cornstarch and flour mixture (the addition of baking soda lends a crispier crust), fry it in oil, and toss it with the sauce. It’s a bit of a process (this is usually a weekend meal for me, when I have a bit more time), but it comes together in about an hour, and it only uses ingredients that are easy to find.
Don’t fear the fry
I know a lot of you will see the word “fry” and freak. Let me assure you, this is “foolproof frying 101.” The result is light and tender morsels of goodness, not the heavy, greasy stuff of our fears (although, you could skip the flour and frying steps and sauté the marinated chicken in a large skillet instead—the results won’t be as tender and juicy, but still tasty). When frying, you’ll want use a large heavy pot (such as a Dutch oven). Heat the oil to 350°F, then add your battered chicken. If you don’t have a thermometer, you can test to see if the oil is hot enough by adding a small piece of chicken. It should start bubbling and fizzing immediately. Since the chicken is cut into small pieces, it only takes about three minutes to cook through.
This is the ultimate stay-in or game-day meal. Pile the chicken over rice, grab a few pairs of chopsticks, and let your family and friends go to town. I guarantee there won’t be leftovers.
Get the Recipe!
- 1 ½ pounds boneless, skinless thighs, cut into ¾-inch pieces
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons low-sodium tamari or soy sauce
- 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 3 tablespoons low-sodium tamari or soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
- 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon sriracha
- 1 ½ cups low sodium chicken broth
- ¼ cup honey
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 tablespoon grated ginger
- 2 large garlic cloves, grated
- 2 quarts neutral vegetable oil for frying
- ½ cup cornstarch
- ½ cup all purpose flour (regular or gluten-free)
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- 1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds, for garnish
- 3 scallions, thinly sliced, for garnish
- Cooked rice, for serving
- First, marinate the chicken. Combine the chicken, salt, tamari, sesame oil and cornstarch. Stir to coat. Let sit while you make the sauce.
- In a bowl, whisk together the tamari, rice vinegar, sesame oil, sriracha, chicken broth, honey and cornstarch.
- In a medium saucepan, add the vegetable oil, ginger and garlic. Cook over medium heat, stirring, until fragrant and softened, about 1 minute. Whisk in the sauce mixture and bring to a boil, stirring. Boil, whisking occasionally, until thickened, about 2 minutes. Cover to keep warm and set aside.
- To finish, heat the 2 quarts of vegetable oil in a large Dutch oven or heavy pot over medium-high heat to 350˚F. Line a baking sheet with paper towels
- In a large bowl, whisk together the cornstarch, flour and baking powder. Season with salt. Transfer the chicken to the bowl with the flour mixture and toss well, making sure that all the pieces are evenly coated.
- Using tongs or a spider, shake off excess flour and carefully lower the chicken into the hot oil. Once all the chicken is added, stir gently. Cook until the chicken is golden brown and cooked through, adjusting the heat as needed to maintain the oil temperature, about 3 minutes. Transfer the chicken to the paper towel-lined baking sheet to drain briefly, then transfer it to the pot with the sauce. Toss gently to coat.
- Spoon the chicken over rice and sprinkle with the sesame seeds and scallions. Serve immediately.