If you enjoyed my Paleo Orange Chicken, I have a feeling you’ll love this Paleo Sesame Chicken. It’s just as good, if not better, than some of my favourite take out spots in Toronto and much, much healthier.
It’s free of gluten, grains and refined sugar, but you’d never know it. The chicken gets nice and crispy before being tossed in a slightly sweet and sticky sesame sauce. It’s super easy to make, absolutely addictive, and requires only a handful of readily available ingredients.
What You Need for Paleo Sesame Chicken
Personally, I’m a dark meat kinda guy. It’s juicier and more flavourful than white meat and is much harder to overcook. For stir-fries like this, I buy boneless, skinless chicken thighs to make my life easier. You can also substitute boneless, skinless chicken breast if that’s what you have or prefer. Either way, the measurements, ingredients and technique will work the same and your Paleo Sesame Chicken will come out delicious.
For flavour, colour and texture, I add diced green and red bell peppers in my Paleo Sesame Chicken. I like the sweetness, flavour and aroma they add to the dish. If you don’t have bell peppers and want to substitute a different vegetable, you can try thinly sliced carrots, celery or even bok choy. Any kind of low-moisture vegetable will work here.
This naturally grain-free alternative flour is a great replacement for the cornstarch that is more commonly used in many Asian-inspired recipes. Here, the arrowroot plays double duty. It’s first used to dredge the chicken, helping it develop a crispy crust. Once the fried chicken pieces are added to the sauce, the arrowroot starch will actually help to thicken it.
Many recipes will call for making an arrowroot starch slurry to thicken the sauce. To do this, you can combine 1 teaspoon arrowroot starch with one teaspoon cold water and stir until dissolved. Adding the slurry to the sauce will thicken it like a cornstarch slurry.
However, if you’re not careful or add too much starch, the sauce can get gummy and clumpy. In this recipe, I recommend taking the time to reduce the sauce on the stovetop and avoid using a slurry altogether here. Once you return the fried chicken pieces back to the sauce, you’ll notice that there’s enough residual starch to thicken it enough that it becomes syrupy.
If you don’t have arrowroot starch, you can use tapioca starch. However, be sure to only dredge the chicken IMMEDIATELY before frying. Otherwise, the tapioca will turn gummy once it comes into contact with the moisture on the chicken.
Coconut aminos are naturally soy-free and a great soy sauce replacement. You can use it 1:1 anywhere soy sauce is called for. Keep in mind, it’s a bit sweet and not nearly as salty as soy sauce so you may need to adjust the salt after tasting the finished dish for seasoning. As the coconut aminos reduce, they’ll intensify in flavour, which is a good thing here.
Rice Wine Vinegar
Using an acid like rice wine vinegar adds tang and balances the sweetness from the coconut aminos and honey. A little goes a long way so try not to overdo it or your Paleo Sesame Chicken will be a bit too sour. If you do accidentally add too much vinegar, you can try to balance it out with a touch more honey.
Toasted Sesame Oil
Toasted sesame oil packs a serious punch of flavour and you can easily overpower a dish if you add too much. On the other hand, cooking it for too long will mellow its flavour. So, what I like to do is add the sesame oil at the very end. This way, I don’t have to use too much to get a pop of toasted sesame flavour and I don’t run the risk of subduing it.
Onion, garlic and ginger add aromas, textures and depths of flavour that make this dish really stand out.
Honey sweetens the dish, balances the other flavours and also helps the sauce to reduce down to a syrupy consistency that helps it to stick to the chicken.
For a Whole30 version of this Paleo Sesame Chicken, omit the honey and increase the coconut aminos by an extra ½ of the called for amount. In other words, if the recipe calls for 1/3 cup coconut aminos, add around 2 extra tablespoons. Then take the extra bit of time to reduce the sauce so it thickens naturally.
Using a neutral flavoured, high-smoking point oil is ideal here. It will allow you to fry the chicken without the risk of burning the oil and will let you make the sauce without overpowering any of the other flavours.
Garnishing with some sesame seeds looks pretty, adds a bit of crunch and rounds out the whole Sesame Chicken story.
Do You Need a Wok?
It’s a question I’m often asked when it comes to making any kind of stir-fry or Asian dish.
Woks are great and I love them. Especially carbon-steel ones, like this beauty from Made In. Carbon-steel is a terrific conductor of heat, can handle very high temperatures, is naturally non-stick when well-seasoned and much lighter than cast-iron. But there’s a caveat to woks in general.
In my experience, stir-frying in a wok only really works well if you’re cooking on a gas range, where the flames of the burner can rise up along the sides of the wok and evenly distribute heat. For those of us who are limited to electric, induction or coil stove tops, woks are not nearly as effective. In fact, they will actually work against you because of their smaller bottoms and sloped walls, which decrease the part of the pan that comes into contact with the heating element.
So, unless you’re cooking on a gas range, I recommend using a large carbon-steel, cast-iron or stainless-steel fry pan or sauté pan. The increased surface area will allow you to cook the ingredients more evenly and at a higher heat. Plus, unlike non-stick pans, these materials can withstand higher temperatures and, in the case of carbon-steel and cast-iron, if they’re well-seasoned, they are virtually non-stick.
Cooking with Stainless-Steel
If using a stainless-steel pan, preheat the dry pan over medium heat for 5 minutes. Then raise the heat to medium-high and add the oil. Heat the oil until shimmering before cooking. This will help prevent food from sticking.
Paleo Sesame Chicken (Gluten-Free & Grain-Free)
- ¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon, avocado oil
- 1.5 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs or breast – cubed
- Kosher salt
- ¼ cup arrowroot starch
- 1/2 medium yellow onion – diced
- ½ medium red bell pepper – diced
- ½ medium green bell pepper - diced
- 2 cloves garlic – finely chopped
- 1 thumbnail-sized piece fresh ginger – peeled and thinly sliced into matchsticks
- 1/3 cup coconut aminos
- 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 3 tablespoons sesame oil
- ¼ teaspoon freshly-cracked black pepper
- 1 teaspoon sesame seeds – for garnish
- Preheat ¼ cup avocado oil in a cast-iron or non-stick skillet over medium-high heat until oil registers 375F on an instant read thermometer.
- Lightly season both sides of the chicken pieces with salt and add to a large bowl along with the arrowroot starch. Toss until completely coated. Working in batches so as not to overcrowd the pan, shake off excess starch and carefully add the chicken pieces to the hot oil. Fry until golden brown, around 3 minutes, then flip and fry until the second side is golden brown and the chicken is cooked through, another 3 minutes. Transfer chicken to a plate and set aside while you fry the remaining pieces.
- Preheat a separate pan over medium-high heat. Add the avocado oil and heat until shimmering. Add the onion, red pepper, green pepper, garlic and ginger and cook, stirring, until onions are slightly translucent. Add the coconut aminos, rice wine vinegar and honey. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has reduced in volume by half. Add the sesame oil, black pepper and cooked chicken pieces. Carefully toss everything to coat.
- Transfer the chicken to a serving platter, season with sesame seeds and serve immediately.