Speech Therapy Chicken

My mother got this awesome sesame chicken recipe from my father’s mother, Kitty. Kitty’s original recipe included MSG (“flavor enhancer”), even though she is, in my mind, the original healthy hip grandmother. (The only other person I’ve known to use MSG at home was a Russian math PhD student who rented a room from me and my friend Julia during our second year at the University of Chicago. We asked him what the jar of white crystals he unloaded among his Russian spice containers was, and he had a hard time answering– Is it salt? ‘No, but it’s sort of like salt.’ What is it? ‘Something very delicious.’ Is it a spice, or an herb? ‘No, but you add it to food like a spice, and it makes it very delicious…’)

This dish bursts with flavor even without the MSG.

This is something you can prepare ahead of time and leave marinating in the fridge for several hours, to be popped in the oven an hour before you want to eat. Thus, it works when your head cook is going to be out before dinner and you want dinner ready when you get home (say, so that your kid doesn’t immediately eat twelve bowls of cereal and then nothing else) as long as there’s someone who can turn on an oven at home. My mother referred to it as Piano Lesson Chicken when I was growing up, because she’d take my sister across town for her piano lesson in the afternoon and my dad or I would get it into the oven. These days, I think of it as Speech Therapy Chicken.

  • 1 Chicken, cut in parts (or, substitute the combination of parts you desire– Thighs are cheap and tasty)
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 3 tbs sesame seeds
  • 2 tbs white wine (I use half apple cider vinegar, half water when I don’t have leftover wine)
  • 1 clove garlic, halved
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 tsp brown sugar
  • 1 tsp red chili
  • 1/4 tsp powdered ginger


Clean and dry the chicken. Blend all the other ingredients together in a blender. Pour the sauce over the chicken (spooning it under any loose skin for an extra FLAVOR BLAST), and marinate (skin side down) for at least half an hour, or in the fridge for several hours (take it out of the fridge a half hour before cooking time, so it’s not too cold when it goes in the oven). Turn chicken pieces skin side up and bake in a single layer, uncovered, at 350 degrees for about 1 hour.


This recipe is easily doubled. Don’t worry about matching the amount of chicken to a doubled recipe– extra sauce just means more to spoon over pillowy white rice. Enjoy!

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