Coating chicken thighs with spices and sesame seeds adds a unique flavor to an otherwise ordinary weeknight chicken dinner. This recipe for baked sesame chicken should not be confused with the sesame chicken you find in Chinese restaurants. There is no breading, the chicken is baked not fried and the flavor is very different. Middle Eastern Style Baked Sesame Chicken is made with boneless chicken thighs, with a generous coating of toasted sesame seeds flavored with spices and ingredients traditionally found in Middle Eastern foods, like cumin, coriander and pomegranate molasses.
Middle Eastern food is often seasoned with a mixture of fresh herbs and spices creating one complex and unique flavor out of many ingredients. At first glance of a typical ingredients list one would wonder how will all the spices and herbs taste together? It would seem like there is too much flavoring going on and the ingredients would compete. Yet, Middle Eastern food is the master of mixing all these spices and herbs in just the right way to create one harmonious flavor out of many.
Baked Sesame Chicken
When I started developing this recipe for baked sesame chicken, I loaded it up with a lot of different spices and ingredients that I love in Middle Eastern foods. Yet, after my first batch I decided to keep the flavor profile of baked sesame chicken on the subtle side. What stood out to me is the combination of the toasty notes of sesame seeds and the sweet and tangy flavor of pomegranate molasses and wanted to make sure these flavors stood out. It took a lot of will power to resist my temptation to add saffron to the marinade, but I do believe it would work nicely here.
Chicken benefits from some marinade, especially when the skins and bones are not there to add extra flavor. However, you do need to be careful and not marinade chicken for too long when there is a lot of acid. Chicken, especially boneless breasts, turns mealy if it sits in a marinade for too many hours. In this recipe, the amount of time marinating is kept at a minimum of 30 minutes at room temperature seasoned with Kosher salt, then an hour in the refrigerator coated in the sesame marinade. There is not a lot of acid in the marinade, so the chicken thighs can take a longer marinade if you wish, but not overnight.
Like the yogurt dressing, the roasted vegetables are more like a condiment for the baked sesame chicken as opposed to a vegetable side dish. The concentrated and bright flavors of roasted fennel and grape tomatoes help the nutty and subtle sweetness stand out. The yogurt dressing is optional, but I think the vegetables roasting in the oven with the chicken is an integral flavor for the meal.
To Grill or Not to Grill
This time of year, it is tempting to want to grill these chicken thighs. The days are longer, warmer and bright, and I just want to spend to whole time outside. However, I have good reason to bake sesame chicken and not grill it. Sesame seeds burn easily when seared over the hot coals. Unlike chicken meat, the charred sesame seeds turn very bitter and unpleasant. Therefore, this is not a recipe that effortlessly transitions from roasting to grilling.
Specialty Ingredients for Middle Eastern Style Baked Sesame Chicken
There are a couple of specialty items in the recipe, Aleppo Pepper and Pomegranate Molasses. both ingredients are available at specialties markets. You can find both at Middle Eastern food stores like Sahardis in Brooklyn or online. If you are interested you can make pomegranate molasses using this recipe from Alton Brown. Personally, I have not had a lot of luck making it, so I buy it.
Pomegranate molasses has a unique flavor of tart, sweet and caramelized pomegranate syrup and there is not a good substitute.
If you cannot find Aleppo pepper, you can substitute it with most varieties of chili peppers.
Sesame Seed Love
I love just about anything with the toasty nuttiness of sesame seeds and sprinkle them on bread, in salads, stirred into rice as in Crunchy Jasmine Rice, sprinkled over a stir fry in Sesame Shrimp with Spinach, or as a featured flavor like in Cold Sesame Noodles. Even though they are seeds, I get the same warm nutty flavor I love.
Boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs are staple dinner items in many households, especially mine. They are easy to prepare and do not take a lot of time to cook. We eat them so often, it is nice to have a variety of marinades for chicken to change things up a bit. Baked Sesame Chicken is a great alternative to a breaded cutlet creating a meal with a unique flavor profile. The combination of the nutty sesame seeds and the sweet and bitter components of the pomegranate molasses, orange zest and honey, compliment the roasted chicken and vegetables for a unique tasting chicken dinner.
Roast thinly sliced fennel and grape tomatoes to brighten up the nutty chicken. The yogurt dressing is optional and adds a tangy contrast to the roasted chicken.
Serve with a green salad made with arugula, orange segments and avocado slices with a citrus vinaigrette.
This meal is also delicious made with skin on and bone in chicken thighs. Or, any part of the chicken with or without the skin and bones.
- 1.85 lbs boneless skinless chicken thighs, about 5
- 1 tsp Kosher salt
- ¼ tsp garlic powder
- ½ tsp ground cumin
- ½ tsp ground coriander
- ¾ tsp dried oregano
- A few grounds of white pepper
- 1 tsp honey
- 1 tsp pomegranate molasses
- 1 TB dry white wine or vermouth
- 1 TB extra virgin olive oil
- Zest from half an orange and orange slices
- 3 TB toasted sesame seeds
- Sesame chicken
Marinated sesame chicken thighs
- 1 fennel bulb with fronds about 13 oz (380 g)
- 8 oz 2331 g grape tomatoes
- 1 TB extra virgin olive oil
- 3-4 orange slices
- ¼ cup plain yogurt or crème fraiche
- ½ clove pressed garlic green germ removed
- Pinch of Aleppo pepper flakes or a pinch of ground cayenne pepper
- If it is too thick thin it out with a squeeze of lemon juice or milk. Adding a little at a time until you get the right consistency for easy drizzling.
Make the marinade
Place the chicken thighs on a rimmed baking sheet large enough to hold the chicken thighs and pat them dry on both sides. Sprinkle Kosher salt over both sides of the chicken and let it sit on the counter at room temperature for 30 minutes.
Mix the remaining ingredients in a mixing bowl large enough to hold all the chicken thighs. After the 30 minutes rest, add the seasoned chicken thighs to the marinade and toss around with your hands to get the chicken pieces well coated with the sesame seeds and marinade.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and marinate the chicken for one hour or more.
20 minutes before you want to bake the chicken, turn the oven on to 400°F (200°C / Gas Mark 6) and place the rack in the middle position.
Putting it all together
Cut off the stalk and fronds of the fennel bulb, then cut the bulb in quarters. Slice the bulb quarters into thin pieces less than a quarter of an inch (.5 cm) thick. Add the sliced fennel to a large mixing bowl. Add the grape tomatoes, the extra virgin olive oil, some fennel fronds, a pinch of Kosher salt and a couple grounds of black pepper. Toss to evenly coat the vegetables with olive oil.
Arrange the chicken thighs on a rimmed baking sheet. Add the fennel and grape tomatoes and arrange around the chicken. Slide in the orange slices near the chicken.
Bake in the oven for 40 minutes or until the juices run clear when a thigh is pierced with a fork, about 165°F (74°C).
While the chicken is cooking, mix in a small bowl the yogurt, pressed garlic Aleppo pepper and lemon juice. Add a pinch of Kosher salt and a couple of grounds of fresh black pepper. Taste and correct seasoning. Cover with plastic wrap or lid and let it rest on the counter until ready to serve.
Serve hot drizzled with yogurt sauce and a tossed salad of arugula and fresh herbs, avocado and orange segments.
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
Bob Marley’s song, One Love, is swayin’ in my head. “One Love! One Heart! Let’s get together and feel all right.” Where it came from is anybody’s guess, but I am swayin’ and singing along with Bob Marley as I write. I hear his soothing and rhythmic voice clearly which is a lot nicer than the lawn mowers and cars that can drudge on in the background for the whole day. “One love! One Heart! Let’s get together and feel all right.” If I am to get a song stuck in my head, this mantra is a good one: a reminder to give thanks.
I am working and dancing around different music genres today, looking for inspiration everywhere. Earlier I had Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite waltzing through my mind while I was editing photographs of baby turnips. It is so easy to take ordinary things for granted, but I have found since I started photographing ordinary things like turnips, I look for the extraordinary in the ordinary, and I see it within the shape, color and texture of the objects.
While I was photographing turnips, I started to admire the grace, shape and color of young turnips, and they reminded of the dancing fairies in Disney’s movie Fantasia. Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite started playing in my head along with images of dancing turnip ballerinas. Photographing baby turnips inspired fun visual imagines: my next task was to discover what delicious characteristics the humble turnip has to offer.
There is nothing sexy about turnips. Even the name is off-putting and harsh. No one is going to lean in and whisper in a sultry voice, “Would you like to taste my turnips?” Who do you think could pull that off? Before you find your way to the exit door, stop and consider giving the humble turnip a try for your next dinner idea.
Sheet Pan Dinner with Chicken, Carrots, Turnips and Tarragon
Young turnips bulbs have a smooth and pearly white flesh with fresh green leaves that have a peppery smell. If you can get turnips with their greens intact use them in your meal. Other than soup, turnips can be braised or roasted, and pair well with carrots and other root vegetables. I particularly like turnips braised in butter with leeks, carrots, and fresh tarragon.
Combining turnips with carrots and chicken makes a simple and delicious family meal, that everyone in your family will enjoy and want to come together for a weeknight dinner. The dinner preparation becomes easier when you roast all the ingredients together in one pan. Oven roasted carrots add body and extra sweetness to the baby turnips, and oomph to the chicken. This sheet pan dinner recipe will make a delicious meal and satisfy the demands of fussy eaters. There will be no disagreements at your family table when you offer everyone’s favorite pieces of chicken along with sweet roasted vegetables.
Common does not mean plain and boring. Find inspiration in all things and gather together for a delicious family dinner. One pan! One meal! Let’s eat together and feel all right.
Mediterranean Style Roast Chicken with Carrots, Turnips and Tarragon
- 1 4-5 lb 2k chicken, or already cut up (bone in, skin on) chicken pieces (See Note)
- 1 Tb minced garlic approximately 2-3 large cloves of garlic
- 1 1/2 tea Herbs de Provence
- 1 tea Kosher salt
- 1 Tb olive oil
- Fresh ground pepper (4-5 turns with the mill)
- 1 lb about 450 g baby turnips
- 1 lb about 450 g small carrots
- 8 oz about 250 g mushrooms
- 1/2 tea Kosher salt
- 4 sprigs fresh tarragon divided
- 1 Tb olive oil
- Juices from roasting chicken
- 1/2 cup 125 ml dry white wine
- 1/4 - 1/2 cup 62 - 125 ml chicken or vegetable broth (low sodium if not homemade)
For the Chicken
If you have a whole chicken, cut the chicken up into 8 pieces .
You can follow the instructions on the link or just use already cut up chicken. Once the chicken is cut up spread the pieces across the cutting board.
Sprinkle the Kosher salt evenly over the chicken pieces on both sides of the chicken.
In a large bowl, big enough to hold all the pieces of chicken, add the minced garlic, olive oil, and Herbs de Provence, and ground pepper. Stir to combine. Add the chicken pieces to the bowl with the herbs and mix the chicken with the herb mixture until the herbs are evenly coated each piece of chicken.
Cover the bowl with the herbed chicken with plastic wrap and refrigerate for a couple of hours up to 24 hours.
Take the chicken out of the refrigerator 1 hour before you want to begin the cooking process. This will bring the chicken up to room temperature.
Preheat oven to 375˚ F
If you have organic turnips and carrots, examine them for bruises and dirt and determine if they need to be peeled. Peel vegetables with a vegetable peeler if needed. Cut the turnips into wedges. Cut the carrots into sections similar in length with the turnips. Cut each carrot section in half lengthwise, then cut each half into wedges similar in size to the turnips.
Clean then cut each mushroom into quarters.
Place all the vegetables in to a medium size bowl and mix them together.
Strip the leaves off each tarragon sprig. Reserve the stems and divide the tarragon leaves into two piles. Take one of the piles and bunch the tarragon leaves together into a tight pile then mince with a sharp chef knife.
Add the minced tarragon, olive oil, Kosher salt and black pepper to the bowl with the vegetables. Mix together with your clean hands until the vegetables are evenly covered with the herbs and olive oil.
Save the other pile of tarragon leaves to add when the vegetables are done. Do not mince them until just before you add them to the vegetables.
Putting it all together.
Put the chicken pieces on a large rimmed sheet pan, my pan is 12 1/2" x 17 1/2" (32 cm x 44 cm), then arrange the prepared vegetables around the chicken pieces. Add the tarragon stems with the vegetables.
Put the chicken and vegetables into the pre-heated oven and bake for 40 minutes.
If the vegetables are done before the chicken, remove the vegetables from the pan with a slotted spoon and put in a heat proof dish. Remove and discard the tarragon stems. The vegetables are done when they feel tender, but not mushy, when pierced with a fork. Mince the remaining fresh tarragon and add to the roasted vegetables.
Cook the chicken until the juices from the chicken run clear after the chicken has been pierced with a fork. (Internal temperature of the chicken should be around 165 - 170 degrees F) When the chicken is done, take the pan with the chicken out of the oven, turn on the broiler and move the rack to the upper third portion of the oven. If you have not done so already remove the vegetables from the pan before you broil the chicken. Put the pan back in the oven to broil and crisp up the chicken skin, about 5 minutes.
When the chicken is done and skin crispy, put the baking sheet across two stove burners.
Remove the chicken from the pan and place the chicken on serving plate. Add the roasted vegetables to the platter with the chicken and cover with foil to keep warm.
Turn on the two stove burners to medium and pour 1/2 cup of dry white wine into the pan with the juices. Deglaze the pan by scraping with a wooden spoon, the brown, caramelized goodness off the sides and bottom of the pan. The liquid and the motion of the wooden spoon against the sides will get the golden color and flavor off the sides of the pan and into the juices. Bring the liquid to a gentle boil and slightly reduce. Add the chicken stock and continue you stir the juices until they come to a slight boil. Taste your pan juices and add, more stock, or wine, or seasoning to suit your taste. Be careful not to over salt the pan juices.
Pour the pan juices over the roasted chicken and vegetables and serve. A simple leafy green salad is a great accompaniment.
If you have never cut up a whole chicken before and are not comfortable starting it, feel free to buy chicken already cut up. It is good to have a good sharp chef knife and kitchen scissors when you cut through bone. If you do not own them buy whatever chicken parts you and your family prefer. The cooking time in this recipe is based on chicken with the bone in and skin on the meat. Sometimes already cut up chicken breasts are particularly large. If you cut chicken breasts in half across the middle they might finish cooking before the thighs and drumsticks. The video by NY Times Cooking is very instructive about how to cut up a whole chicken. I have been cutting up chickens for years and I learned new information from it.
Feeling ambitious? Make a delicious fruit gallette for dessert. You can substitute plums for nectarines, or any seasonal fruit.
© 2016 – 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
Comfort food comes in many forms for me, and Roast Chicken is one of them. It is a comfort because of the time, smells and memories that are present while the chicken is roasting and the warm, caramelized flavors that linger while eating. A reassuring and healing meal, one I often prepare for friends in need.
Roast chicken needs to be planned ahead, there is no rushing around here. Work and errands are done and activities are completed. Life slows down and in my case it means everyone is home. When my kids were younger I often prepared roast chicken when the weather was bad, and we were comfortably housebound. Once the chicken was roasting in the oven, we could relax together. The smell of the herbs and roasting chicken fills the house and is like being swaddled in a warm blanket on a cold blowy, winter evening.
The very first main course entrée I made, completely on my own, was roast chicken. I was 16 years old. My dad, two brothers and I had to fend for ourselves while mom was away. Naturally, I volunteered to cook dinner, and without blinking, I decided on roast chicken. It is amazing how ignorance is bliss. You don’t know what you don’t know, and it never occurred to me that I could not do it.
© 2016 – 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.