The Best Chinese Sesame Chicken Recipe

Classic Chinese take-out, made in your own kitchen.

A bowl of sesame chicken and broccoli.

Serious Eats / Melissa Hom

Why It Works

  • A balanced sauce has plenty of vinegary kick to balance out the cloying sweetness that most restaurant versions have.
  • Cooking the aromatics for the sauce at a lower temperature lets their flavors develop without having to superheat your wok or skillet.
  • Adding vodka to the chicken coating inhibits gluten formation and leaves you with a crisper crust.
  • Adding some of the marinade to the dry coating mixture makes more surface area which results in extra crunch.

I developed a great technique for perfecting General Tso’s crispy, battered chicken, which is easily transferred to make an amazing orange chicken, or this sesame chicken. Once you start with the General Tso's base, sesame chicken is even easier than orange chicken. The main difference is that sesame chicken tends to be a little sweeter (if you can imagine that) than General Tso's, with no heat, and a good shower of toasted sesame seeds is added to the sauce.

Cooking sauce for sesame chicken in a saucepan.

Serious Eats

I make the sauce almost the exact same way I make my General Tso's sauce: sautéed garlic, ginger, and scallions deglazed with a sweet-tart mixture of soy, wine, vinegar, chicken stock, and sugar. I add a little extra sugar and sesame oil to the mix in this case, but otherwise, it's pretty much identical.

Using chopsticks to pick up a bite of sesame chicken.

Serious Eats

Once the chicken is tossed with the sauce, I pile it up in the authentic manner: with steamed broccoli florets and a shower of toasted sesame seeds.

A plate of finished sesame chicken and broccoli, with chopsticks.

Serious Eats

July 2014

Recipe Facts

4.6

(7)

Prep: 10 mins
Cook: 20 mins
Active: 45 mins
Total: 30 mins
Serves: 4 to 6 servings

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Ingredients

For the Marinade:

  • 1 egg white

  • 2 tablespoons dark soy sauce

  • 2 tablespoons Shaoxing wine (see notes)

  • 2 tablespoons 80-proof vodka

  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda

  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch

  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1/2- to 3/4-inch chunks (see notes)

For the Dry Coating:

  • 1/2 cup flour

  • 1/2 cup cornstarch

  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

For the Sauce:

  • 3 tablespoons dark soy sauce

  • 2 tablespoons Shaoxing wine (see notes)

  • 2 tablespoons Chinese rice vinegar or distilled white vinegar

  • 3 tablespoons homemade or store-bought low-sodium chicken stock

  • 5 tablespoons sugar

  • 2 teaspoons roasted sesame seed oil

  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch

  • 2 teaspoons peanut, vegetable, or canola oil

  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic (about 2 medium cloves)

  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger (about one 1-inch piece)

  • 2 teaspoons minced scallion bottoms (about 1 scallion)

  • 2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds

To Finish:

  • 2 quarts peanut, canola, or vegetable oil for deep frying

  • Steamed white rice and steamed broccoli for serving

Directions

  1. For the Marinade: Beat egg whites in a large bowl until broken down and lightly foamy. Add soy sauce, wine, and vodka and whisk to combine. Set aside half of marinade in a small bowl. Add baking soda and cornstarch to the large bowl and whisk to combine. Add chicken to large bowl and turn with fingers to coat thoroughly. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside.

    A collage: whisking egg white, soy sauce, wine and vodka in a bowl, adding cornstarch to the bowl and adding chicken to marinate.
  2. For the Dry Coat: Combine flour, cornstarch, baking powder, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a large bowl. Whisk until homogenous. Add reserved marinade and whisk until mixture has coarse, mealy clumps. Set aside.

    A collage: combining dry coating ingredients, whisking in reserved marinade and whisking until the mixture becomes lumpy and mealy.
  3. For the Sauce: Combine soy sauce, wine, vinegar, chicken stock, sugar, sesame seed oil, and cornstarch in a small bowl and stir with a fork until cornstarch is dissolved and no lumps remain. Set aside.

    Sauce ingredients for sesame chicken in a white bowl.
  4. Combine oil, garlic, ginger, and minced scallions in a large skillet and place over medium heat. Cook, stirring, until vegetables are aromatic and soft, but not browned, about 3 minutes. Stir sauce mixture and add to skillet, making sure to scrape up any sugar or starch that has sunk to the bottom. Cook, stirring, until sauce boils and thickens, about 1 minute. Add half of sesame seeds. Transfer sauce to a bowl to stop cooking, but don't wipe out skillet.

    A collage: adding the sauce to aromatic sauteing in a skillet and cooking down the sauce, adding sesame seeds at the end.
  5. To Finish: Heat 1 1/2 quarts peanut, vegetable, or canola oil in a large wok or Dutch oven to 350°F (177°C) and adjust flame to maintain temperature.

  6. Working one piece at a time, transfer chicken from marinade to dry coat mixture, tossing in between each addition to coat chicken. When all chicken is added to dry coat, toss with hands, pressing dry mixture onto chicken so it adheres, and making sure that every piece is coated thoroughly.

    Dry-coated chicken pieces in a white bowl.
  7. Lift chicken one piece at a time, shake off excess coating, and carefully lower into hot oil (do not drop it). Once all chicken is added, cook, agitating with long chopsticks or a metal spider, and adjusting flame to maintain a temperature of 325 to 375°F (163-190°C), until chicken is cooked through and very crispy, about 4 minutes. Transfer chicken to a paper towel-lined bowl to drain.

    A collage: lowering chicken to the wok to fry, taking the chicken out with a spider, blotting the chicken on a paper towel-lined baking sheet and close-up of fried chicken pieces.
  8. Add chicken to empty skillet and return sauce to skillet. Toss chicken, folding it with a rubber spatula until all pieces are thoroughly coated. Sprinkle with remaining sesame seeds and serve immediately with white rice and steamed broccoli.

    A collage: adding chicken to the sauce in the skillet and tossing it around to distribute the sauce evenly.

Special Equipment

Wok or Dutch oven for deep frying

Notes

Shaoxing wine can be found in most Asian markets. If unavailable, dry sherry can be used in its place.

If you can't find boneless skinless chicken thighs, you can debone them yourself using this guide.

Read More

Nutrition Facts (per serving)
500 Calories
20g Fat
54g Carbs
24g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 4 to 6
Amount per serving
Calories 500
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 20g 26%
Saturated Fat 3g 16%
Cholesterol 108mg 36%
Sodium 962mg 42%
Total Carbohydrate 54g 20%
Dietary Fiber 1g 4%
Total Sugars 11g
Protein 24g
Vitamin C 0mg 2%
Calcium 78mg 6%
Iron 2mg 11%
Potassium 331mg 7%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)