A combination of sesame seeds and panko breadcrumbs makes these sesame chicken fingers incredibly crispy without deep frying! The spicy peanut sauce pairs perfectly with the chicken, and the spice level can be adjusted based on personal preference. Hoisin sauce adds a wonderful flavor to the sauce. Ready in less than 30 minutes!
These sesame chicken fingers might just be my new favorite 30 minute dinner. The first time I tested this recipe, Jeff and I both inhaled the entire plate before 5pm, unable to wait for dinner. They’re that good. If you’ve never experimented with breading and/or pan-frying chicken, this recipe is a perfect opportunity to learn! It’s an easy process (no multiple dredging steps) and I’ve gone into a lot of detail below that will set you up for success.
How to Make Chicken Fingers
1. Prepare the Peanut Sauce
The great thing about this sauce is that it’s easy to adjust the heat level based on your personal preference. I love using sambal (I also used it recently in my General Tso’s Tofu) for its subtle heat and balanced flavor profile, but crushed red pepper works fine.
Avoid using “natural” peanut butter or you may wind up with a grainy sauce. Warm water helps to break down the peanut butter so everything can be whisked together smoothly. If the sauce thickens up too much after the water cools down, you can always add a bit more.
2. Press Chicken Into Sesame Panko Mixture
Before pressing the chicken into the breading mixture, you want to lightly season both sides of the chicken with salt and pepper (see photo above). To make sure I get an even coating, I lift my hand high above the chicken while sprinkling. This keeps the salt and pepper from all dropping in one spot. I typically use a ratio of 2:1 for salt and pepper. For example, 1/2 teaspoon salt + 1/4 teaspoon pepper (if you use that amount, you may not need all of it).
If you want to learn more about seasoning with salt and pepper, read my article on how to season recipes to taste.
I recommend using raw sesame seeds since they’ll essentially toast in the skillet. This will help prevent them from becoming too toasted or even burnt. However, you can probably get away with using toasted sesame seeds if you already have them. Just monitor the heat carefully, and move the pan off the burner if it starts smoking. You always have the option to cook longer at a slightly lower heat; the coating will eventually still become brown and crispy.
3. Cook The Chicken Fingers
Use a nonstick skillet while cooking the chicken. If you use something like stainless steel or cast iron, the sesame seeds might become too toasted or possibly burnt before the chicken has had a chance to fully cook through.
My chicken fingers took around 3 minutes per side with an electric stovetop that I adjusted between medium-high and medium heat to maintain the temperature. You can always adjust the temperature and move the pan on and off the heat as needed if you think things are getting too hot.
Not sure how to tell if your chicken is cooked all the way through? It should be fairly firm with a very slight amount of give if you press on it. The best way to ensure your chicken is cooked through is by using a digital thermometer. Chicken is safely cooked when it reaches 165 degrees F.
- I like pan-frying chicken in grapeseed oil because it has a fairly high smoke point and a neutral, clean flavor. If you don’t have grapeseed oil and are wondering what to use, check out my article on the smoke point of oils and fats. This has many examples of neutral flavored cooking oils with a high smoke point. A few options include canola, peanut, and avocado oil.
- Before adding the chicken to the pan, heat the oil to where it’s just barely starting to smoke. You don’t want it seriously smoky because that makes the oil taste bitter. But the chicken will quickly cool down the oil once added to the pan, so this gets it as hot as possible without going over the smoke point.
- This recipe serves two, but it can easily be scaled up for additional servings.
- Remember my cooking mantra when adding the water and chili peppers to the peanut sauce: “It’s easier to add than subtract.”
What Is Sambal?
Sambal is a paste or sauce typically made from a mixture of chili peppers, with additional ingredients such as garlic, ginger, shrimp paste, fish sauce, scallion, sugar, and lime juice. The ingredients will vary by region.
Can Chicken Tenders Be Reheated?
You can easily reheat the chicken. If you want it to stay crispy, I recommend letting the chicken come to room temperature first for 30-60 minutes, then reheating it in a 375 degree F oven on a sheet pan lined with foil for 10-15 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 120 degrees F.
If you just want your chicken fingers ASAP and don’t care as much about the crispy exterior, use the microwave. Cover the chicken and heat in 45-60 second increments until warmed through.
What Can I Use Instead of Peanut Butter?
If you don’t have a general nut allergy, my favorite peanut butter swap is cashew butter! It’s creamy and rich. Tahini is another option, as well as sunflower seed butter.
More Chicken Recipes
If you love this recipe, be sure to check out my Chicken Marsala, Chicken Tikka Masala, and Buttermilk Chicken. I also love this Chipotle Chicken from Culinary Hill.
Sesame-Crusted Chicken Fingers with Spicy Peanut Sauce
- 1/4 cup creamy peanut butter (see notes)
- 1/4 cup hoisin sauce
- 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil (I recommend Kadoya)
- 4-5 tablespoons warm water
- 1 tablespoon sambal or 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or to taste
- 1 medium garlic clove, minced or grated on microplane zester
- 3 tablespoons fresh cilantro leaves, finely chopped
- 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
- 1/2 cup raw sesame seeds
- 1 1/2 pounds chicken breasts or tenderloins
- Kosher salt and ground black pepper
- 6 tablespoons grapeseed oil, or any neutral-flavored, high-heat oil
- If you have time before cooking, let the chicken come to room temperature for 45-60 minutes (this will help it cook more evenly). If using chicken breasts, trim away excess fat and slice into 1-inch lengthwise strips.
- In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the peanut butter, hoisin, sesame oil and 4 tablespoons warm water. If the sauce is too thick, slowly whisk in an additional tablespoon of water until the desired consistency is reached (you can always add more later if needed). Add the garlic, sambal or pepper flakes, and cilantro in bowl, whisking until smooth.
- Place the breadcrumbs and sesame seeds in a shallow dish, such as a pie pan. Season chicken with a light sprinkling of salt and pepper on both sides (see photos), then lightly press into the breadcrumb/seed mixture so it adheres on both sides.
- Heat 3 tablespoons oil in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until hot, shimmering and just barely starting to smoke (the chicken will quickly cool it down). Cook half of the chicken until golden brown and cooked through, around 3 minutes per side. Transfer to large plate or cutting board lined with paper towels, carefully wipe out skillet, and repeat with remaining oil and chicken.
- Serve with the dipping sauce. Leftovers will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3-4 days.
Please read my full post for additional recipe notes, tips, and serving suggestions!
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Such incredible flavors!
Sesame chicken is my favorite take-out order! I’m so happy I can make this recipe instead. Just as tasty and much healthier!
This was super crispy! Followed the recipe exactly (Except added more red pepper flakes), and it came out perfect!
Hi! My husband and I really enjoyed this (so did the kiddos, but we used a different sauce for them since they don’t like spicy food). I’m assuming next time I can skipped the chili?
Jennifer Farley says
That will be totally fine :)
Dona Patterson says
Do you have any tips as to if or how these might be “fried” in an air fryer? Time & temp? Either way I’ll definitely be trying this recipe. Thanks
Jennifer Farley says
I’m sorry, I’m not very good with the air fryer so I won’t be much help here. I have one, but I’ve barely used it!
Dona Patterson says
Thanks Jennifer. If I try it in my air fryer I’ll let you know how it comes out.
I am going to try this on my airfryer to. Starting to use it more and more and it’s great. Recipe sounds wonderful. Need to get good on sauce. Seems to come up in many recipes now.
Molly Pisula says
Yum! This is one of my favorite ways to cook chicken, but the peanut sauce takes it over the top!
I’m trying to get away from oil as much as possible. How would you cook these in the oven?