Asian Foods Ep.1


Asian Foods : HONEY SESAME CHICKEN

by Thomas M. Tillman
A Chinese takeout staple, Honey Sesame Chicken is fried crisp with a sticky-sweet sauce, and finished with a shower of toasted sesame seeds. This version of the American-Chinese classic hails from Nine Dragons Restaurant in the China Pavilion at Walt Disney World's Epcot theme park.
A colorful square dish filled with Chinese honey sesame chicken next to a red folding fan.
One of my favorite American-Chinese dishes is honey sesame chicken! Small pieces of boneless chicken are battered, fried, coated in a sweet sticky sauce, and then finished with sesame seeds. The quality of sesame chicken can really vary from restaurant to restaurant. One way to ensure perfection is to make it yourself using good ingredients! This delicious recipe is adapted from Nine Dragons Restaurant at Epcot, and it's easier than it looks. There are a few basic components to make (batter, marinade, sauce), and of course there is the frying but the recipe itself is quite simple and straight-forward. This better than takeout honey sesame chicken is seriously stellar! The thin coating of batter on the chicken is light and crisp, not too thick or heavy. Meanwhile, the sauce lightly coats the chicken pieces like a glossy lacquer. Every time I've made it, the diners have pointed out that it's their favorite version of this dish.

INGREDIENT NOTES

Ingredients for honey sesame chicken on a white marble background.
  • Chicken: You can use skinless boneless chicken breasts, tenders, or even thighs for this recipe. I recommend using breasts or tenders and find that the results are great (not dry at all). Cut them into strips or cubes, whichever you prefer. The original Disney recipe suggests strips, so that is what I do.
  • Sesame Oil: Sesame oil is a workhorse in Chinese cuisine. A small amount provides so much flavor to your cooking! Plain sesame oil is lighter in color than toasted sesame oil, which is dark brown, and much more flavorful. The packaging may not say "toasted" but you can tell the difference by the color. Plan to use toasted sesame oil for this honey sesame chicken recipe.
  • Sesame Seeds: Toasting sesame seeds not only provides a hint of color and crunch, but brings out their natural nutty flavor. To toast sesame seeds add them to a dry frying pan and heat over medium heat, stirring or shaking regularly just until the seeds start to turn light golden brown and fragrant. Remove from the heat the moment they are done otherwise they can easily burn.
  • Frying Oil: The best types of oil for frying are those with a neutral flavor and a high smoke point. This means they can safely heat to a high temperature before they begin to burn. Good options include canola, vegetable, peanut, safflower, or sunflower oil. Avoid using peanut oil if anyone enjoying this honey sesame chicken is allergic to peanuts.

HOW TO MAKE IT

For the batter, mix together flour, cornstarch, and baking powder. Then add an egg white, water, and oil. Stir until smooth, and set aside for 30 minutes to rest.
Thick white batter in a metal mixing bowl.
Meanwhile, make the marinade. Combine water, white wine, toasted sesame oil, salt, pepper, and a pinch of sugar in a medium bowl. Add the chicken pieces and toss gently to coat. Let stand for 10 minutes.
Chicken pieces in a mostly transparent marinade in a metal bowl.
Next, make the honey sauce by mixing sugar, honey, ketchup, rice vinegar, and salt in a bowl and set aside for when the chicken is cooked.
A red sauce in a metal bowl with a small rubber spatula stuck in it.
Pour enough oil into a 2-quart pot, saucepan or deep fryer to come to a depth of 2 inches. Heat over medium-high heat to 350°F. Use a large slotted spoon to remove the chicken pieces from the marinade and transfer into the batter mixture. Turn to coat. In batches, using large tongs or chopsticks, drop battered chicken pieces into the hot oil and fry until golden brown and cooked through, about 5 minutes, as needed, turning over once or twice throughout cooking for even browning. Drain in a single layer on paper towels or on a metal cooling rack.
Small rectangular strips of battered fried chicken piled on a surface.
Heat the honey sauce mixture in a large frying pan over medium-high heat, stirring until the mixture bubbles (don’t overcook or it will become caramel). Remove from the heat. Add the fried chicken pieces into the sauce and toss to coat with the sauce. Sprinkle the toasted sesame seeds over the top and stir once more. Transfer to a serving dish and serve immediately.
Closeup of fried honey sesame chicken in a square serving dish.

EXPERT TIPS

Because the chicken pieces for this honey sesame chicken are battered, you should NOT fry them in an air fryer. Not only would it make a mess, but the batter won't set properly. Deep frying or shallow frying is the way to go for these. You may fry in a deep pot, saucepan, or wok on your stovetop using a deep fry thermometer to track the oil's temperature. The downside to this is you may have to fiddle with your stovetop controls to adjust the heat in order to maintain the right temperature if it drops or rises significantly. Instead, I recommend using an electric deep-fryer (I have an old version of this one passed down from my grandmother!). It does a great job of maintaining the oil temperature without any stress. I actually remove the fryer basket because it takes up room and would require me to use even more oil to get the depth I need. Instead I fry directly in my fryer and use a spider skimmer to remove the cooked pieces of chicken. Once the chicken pieces are fried, make sure you keep them in a single layer on a paper towel-lined tray or metal rack because if you crowd or layer them, the crust can get soggy.
Fried pieces of battered chicken in sticky sauce topped with sesame seeds in a square dish.
 

Ingredients

Batter:

  • ¾ cup all-purpose flour
  • ¼ cup cornstarch
  • 1 heaping tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 egg white, beaten
  •  cup water
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • Pinch kosher salt

Marinade:

  • ½ cup water
  • ½ cup white wine
  • 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • Pinch granulated sugar
  • ¾ pound (12 ounces) boneless skinless chicken breasts or tenders, cut into ½-inch-by-2-inch strips or 1-inch cubes

Honey Sauce:

  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 2 tablespoons ketchup
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
  • Pinch kosher salt

To Fry:

  • Vegetable, canola, or peanut oil, as needed

Garnish:

  • 1 tablespoon toasted white sesame seeds

Instructions

  • For the batter, mix together the flour, cornstarch, and baking powder, then add the egg white, water, and oil. Stir until smooth, and set aside for 30 minutes to rest.
  • Meanwhile, stir the marinade ingredients together in a medium bowl, then add the chicken and toss gently to coat. Let stand for 10 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, make the honey sauce by mixing all ingredients in a bowl and set aside for when the chicken is cooked.
  • Pour enough oil into a 2-quart saucepan or deep fryer to come to a depth of 2 inches. Heat over medium-high heat to 350°F.
  • Use a large slotted spoon to remove the chicken pieces from the marinade and transfer into the batter mixture. Turn to coat. In batches, using large tongs or chopsticks, drop battered chicken pieces into the hot oil and fry until golden brown and cooked through, about 5 minutes, as needed, turning over once or twice throughout cooking for even browning (I typically fry this in 3 batches). Drain in a single layer on paper towels or on a metal cooling rack.
  • Heat the honey sauce mixture in a large frying pan over medium-high heat, stirring until the mixture bubbles (don’t overcook or it will become caramel). Remove from the heat.
  • Add the fried chicken pieces into the sauce and toss to coat with the sauce. Sprinkle the toasted sesame seeds over the top and stir once more. Transfer to a serving dish and serve immediately.

Notes

  • Because the chicken pieces for this honey sesame chicken are battered, you should NOT fry them in an air fryer. Not only would it make a mess, but the batter won't set properly. Deep frying or shallow frying is the way to go for these.
  • I recommend using an electric deep-fryer (I have an old version of this one passed down from my grandmother!). It does a great job of maintaining the oil temperature without any stress. I actually remove the fryer basket because it takes up room and would require me to use even more oil to get the depth I need. Instead I fry directly in my fryer and use a spider skimmer to remove the cooked pieces of chicken.