Sticky, nutty Sesame Chicken coming in for din! A healthy spin on the Chinese-American takeout favorite, this is a 30-minute dinner that’s here for you tonight. You’ll love any surviving leftovers tomorrow too!
Stir fry recipes have been a key to meal sanity around here since Ben and I were married more than a decade ago (!).
From Teriyaki Chicken Stir Fry to Sweet and Sour Chicken, the fact that stir fries are fast and that the leftovers give us something fast and filling to reheat the next day for lunch means it’s easier to eat healthy more often.
Of the different varieties of stir fries I cook (of which there are many), the one “genre” that never fails to hit the spot is anything involving juicy pieces of chicken coated in a thick, sticky, sweet-and-savory sauce.
Sesame chicken is most similar to General Tso chicken but with a few key differences:
- General Tso’s is sweet and spicy, whereas sesame chicken is sweet with deeply nutty umami notes from the sesame oil.
- General Tso chicken can use breasts, thighs, or a mix, whereas sesame chicken typically calls for chicken thighs.
- Both chicken stir fries feature green onions for bite and sesame seeds for crunch.
How to Make Sesame Chicken
Traditionally, sesame chicken sauce contains soy sauce, brown sugar, and its signature ingredient, sesame oil.
To make this a healthy stir fry recipe, I’ve cut down on the sugar, replacing it with a modest amount of honey.
Most authentic sesame chicken recipes don’t include other vegetables, but you can certainly add any you like. We mixed ours with Roasted Broccoli.
- Chicken. Mild in flavor and protein-packed, chicken works famously in stir fry recipes. It makes the dish filling, keeps it nutritious, and becomes tender and flavorful in the sauce.
- Sesame Oil. An essential ingredient, it adds delicious nuttiness and savoriness.
- Scallions. For onion flavor, color, and bite.
- Ginger + Garlic. The classic flavor building blocks of a stir fry dish. Using fresh is worth it here.
- Red Pepper Flakes. While this dish isn’t spicy, red pepper flakes give it a little heat.
- Sesame Seeds. For nuttiness and texture.
- Fresh Basil. Fresh herbs are a scrumptious way to finish this dish. Cilantro would also work well here.
- Sesame Chicken Sauce. Soy sauce adds umami, honey adds sweetness, rice wine vinegar brings acidity, and cornstarch helps make it thick.
- Stir the chicken, salt, and pepper together in a bowl. Add the cornstarch.
- Stir the sesame chicken sauce ingredients together.
- Stir fry the green onions and aromatics.
- Stir in more sesame oil and the chicken. Pour the sauce into the skillet. Let simmer.
- Stir in the sesame seeds and herbs. ENJOY!
- To Store. Refrigerate leftover chicken fries in an airtight container for up to 4 days.
- To Reheat. Rewarm leftovers in a skillet on the stovetop over medium-low heat or in the microwave.
- To Freeze. Freeze chicken stir fry in an airtight freezer-safe storage container for up to 3 months. Let thaw overnight in the refrigerator before reheating.
Meal Prep Tip
Up to 1 day in advance, cut the chicken, scallions, ginger, and garlic. Refrigerate each ingredient in a separate airtight storage container until you’re ready to finish the recipe.
Recommended Tools to Make this Recipe
- 12-Inch Skillet. Both a cast iron and non-stick skillet would work well here.
- Liquid Measuring Cup. The perfect place to measure and mix the sauce.
- Extra Large Cutting Board. This one has plenty of space to get all the stir fry ingredients prepped.
What are the meals that your family comes back to again and again?
I hope this sesame chicken recipe joins that illustrious list!
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes, you can make this recipe soy-free by swapping the soy sauce for coconut aminos. Coconut aminos are usually less salty, so add more to taste. This swap will also make the recipe gluten free.
If you enjoy making stir fry recipes at home, I highly recommend grabbing a bottle of rice wine vinegar. I haven’t tried a swap for it myself, but I think apple cider vinegar would work best. However, there will be a slight flavor difference between the two. Also, apple cider vinegar is stronger, so use less.
FOR THE CHICKEN:
- 1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs or breasts cut into bite-sized pieces (thighs will be more tender)
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 3 tablespoons cornstarch
FOR THE STIR FRY:
- 2 tablespoons sesame oil divided
- 1 tablespoon canola oil or grapeseed oil or another neutral cooking oil
- 1 bunch scallions about 5 or 6, cut diagonally into 2-inch pieces
- 2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
- 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 2 tablespoons minced garlic about 6 cloves
- 2 tablespoons sesame seeds
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil or cilantro
- Cooked Instant Pot Brown Rice quinoa, or Cauliflower Fried Rice, for serving
FOR THE SAUCE:
- 1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce
- 3 tablespoons water
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- Place the chicken in a bowl and sprinkle with the salt and pepper. With a large spoon, stir to coat. Sprinkle the cornstarch over the top, then stir once more, ensuring the pieces are evenly coated.
- Stir together the sauce: in a liquid measuring cup with a spout, stir together the soy sauce, honey, water, vinegar, and cornstarch. Keep near the stove. Make sure your ginger and garlic are minced and ready to go and that you have all of the ingredients and measuring spoons you will need close to the stove (stir fries move fast).
- Heat a heavy-duty 12-inch skillet (well-seasoned cast iron or nonstick both work well) or a wok over high heat, until it is very hot, 2 to 4 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon of the sesame oil and the canola oil and swirl to coat the pan. Let the oil heat for about 15 seconds, then add the green onions, ginger, and red pepper flakes. Cook, stirring constantly for 1 minute. Stir in the garlic and cook 30 seconds.
- Add the remaining tablespoon of sesame oil and the chicken, and cook, stirring periodically, 4 to 5 minutes. Give the sauce a quick stir, then pour into the skillet. Simmer until the sauce thickens and the chicken cooks through, 2 to 4 minutes.
- Remove from the heat and stir in the sesame seeds and basil or cilantro. Taste and adjust for seasoning as desired. Serve warm with rice.
- TO STORE: Refrigerate chicken in an airtight storage container for up to 4 days.
- TO REHEAT: Rewarm leftovers in a skillet on the stovetop over medium-low heat or in the microwave.
- TO FREEZE: Freeze chicken in an airtight freezer-safe storage container for up to 3 months. Let thaw overnight in the refrigerator before reheating.
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