Sesame Baked Chicken (Oregon, 1974, adapted)

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Sesame Baked Chicken is a delightfully different take on old school oven-baked chicken.  If you’ve come looking for sweet and sticky Asian style fried chicken you’ve come to the wrong place:  this is more Shake ‘n Bake than Panda Express.   This recipe comes courtesy of No Regrets, a 1974 cookbook compiled by the Portland, Oregon chapter of the Junior League.  Like most Junior League cookbooks, the recipes are subtly upscale while still emphasizing convenience and sensible home economics.  Sesame Baked Chicken shares a chapter section with an East Indian Chicken casserole, Chicken Cordon Bleu, and a baked Chicken and Dumplings recipes that share the same sense of elegance and efficiency, reflecting the contemporary ethic of Good Household Management.

Sesame Baked Chicken and dishes like it are often sold as easier and/or healthier alternatives to fried chicken.  The preparation methods are similar:  chicken pieces are dunked in an egg wash and then dredged in seasoned flour, but the chicken is baked rather than fried.  In truth there’s no comparison:  fried chicken is always better, but baked chicken has a place is delicious in its own way and deserves a place in any kitchen repertoire.  Like fried chicken, it can be eaten hot or cold and pairs well with pretty much anything.   While the sesame seeds add a distinctive nuttiness, Sesame Baked Chicken is very much a blank slate.

I chose this particular recipe because I love sesame.  It’s all over the place in Asian and Mediterranean cuisine, but used differently and less frequently in the West.   Toasting sesame brings out its best qualities, lending a flavor that I’ve already described as nutty but don’t quite have better words for.  But while I can’t describe what exactly I like about sesame, I remember exactly when I fell in love with it.  I mean, I’d enjoyed hummus and sesame-crusted tuna for years, but there’s a local doughnut chain that sells a namesake “sesame donut” that changed my life.  This isn’t some glazed doughnut with a sprinkling of sesame seeds:  it’s rolled and coated in sesame seeds on all sides.  When the doughnuts are fried the sesame seeds brown a little bit:  they cut through the sweetness of the glaze and give it just a little bit of crispy crunch.  There are very few desserts worth the calories to me anymore, but this is near the top of the list.

The doughnut was something of a wake-up call for my palate.  From there I rediscovered jian dui, the Chinese fried sesame balls which presumably inspired the sesame doughnut, and found black sesame ice cream and mochi.  I followed Christopher Kimball’s lead and swirled tahini into a boxed brownie mix.  I started overusing toasted sesame oil in sauces and stir fries, and go heavy on the furikake when serving Japanese food.  So when I encountered Sesame Baked Chicken it was a no-brainer.  Was Sesame Baked Chicken as transformative as the doughnut?  Not hardly, but it’s still distinctive enough to be worth your while.  The sesame seeds add enough of their je ne sais quoi to make baked chicken interesting.  Almost.  It’s still baked chicken and bland out of the box, but the sesame seeds add some sophistication, giving you a canvas on which to build further.

When I served this to my family we leaned in to the Asian vibe, drizzling the chicken with okonomi sauce and sriracha with a side of rice and broccoli.  Teriyaki or soba sauce would work just as well, as would a sweet barbecue sauce.  Or skip the sauce altogether:  add a little bit of garlic salt or citrus and serve with roasted potatoes.  The only thing I’ll change for sure the next time is to cook in a less crowded casserole dish.  Even after an hour in the oven the chicken was swimming in a shallow pool of butter and chicken fat, which does wonders for the flavor but also ensures that the crust on the bottom is on the soggy side.   A little more room means a shallower layer of fat and more opportunity for the attendant liquid to evaporate. Enjoy!

 

 

Sesame Baked Chicken (Oregon, 1974, adapted)

  • Preparation: 20 min
  • Cooking: 1 h
  • Ready in: 1 h 20 min
  • For: 6 hearty portions
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Ingredients

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350º F. Grease a large 13 x 9 inch casserole dish.
  2. Prepare three shallow bowls or Tupperware containers large enough to coat/dredge individual chicken pieces. In the first,whisk together the eggs and milk. In the second, mix together sesame seeds and flour. In the third add the melted butter.
  3. One at a time, immerse the chicken pieces first in the egg wash, then the flour mixture, and then roll in the melted butter. Place close together in the casserole dish. When all of the chicken is coated, sprinkle the top with salt and pepper and a few additional sesame seeds.
  4. Bake uncovered for one hour until the top surface is crispy and the internal temperature of the largest piece of chicken reads 165º F.
  5. Serve immediately.

Notes

If using raw sesame seeds, toast in a dry pan over medium-low heat for 6 to 10 minutes, stirring periodically to ensure even browning on all sides.


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