Copycat Panera Asian Sesame Chicken Salad


Copycat Panera Asian Sesame Chicken Salad is a healthier version of my favorite salad from Panera!


If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, than you know I have a fondness for making healthier versions of my favorite, not-so-healthy restaurant dishes at home, such as…

P.F. Chang’s Lettuce Wraps (less grease!), Food Court Baked Ziti (less cheese!), Pizza Rolls (less shame!), Chipotle Burrito Bowls (less funky chicken!) rise to the top as some of my top picks.

But some of my favorite dishes to grab on the go, don’t necessarily need a makeover. They’re light and satisfying on their own, without having to go back to the drawing board. One such meal is Panera’s Asian Sesame Chicken Salad.

I recently enjoyed one of these masterpieces as part of Panera’s You Pick 2 Combo and it was perfectly light, crunchy, sweet and savory. The only thing that needed changing was the location of the salad. As in, from Panera’s kitchen, to my own.


Reader Lisa took care of my dilemma by pointing me to Art + Food + Life, who has an awesome copycat version of the dressing recipe on her blog. Sweet!

The recipe for this salad is broken into 3 parts for easy preparation. Don’t let the long(ish) ingredient list scare you – it comes together lickity split.

Part 1: The Chicken

Start by mixing up a savory, sesame-flavored marinade for boneless, skinless chicken breasts, that combines sesame oil and soy sauce or gluten-free tamari (dish will not be GF if using soy sauce) with ground ginger, garlic powder and some other far-east flavahhhs.


Marinate the chicken in the mixture for 15 minutes, or up to an hour, then grill or cook in a non-stick sprayed skillet until done. Let the chicken rest for 5 minutes, then slice, and set aside.


Part 2: The Dressing

This recipe for Panera’s perfectly sweet & tangy Asian Sesame Dressing is SPOT ON, plus it’s a cinch to make. Start by whisking sugar into boiling vinegar until it fully dissolves, about 30 seconds.


Once cooled, combine it with canola oil, sesame oil, salt & pepper.


Next, add in toasted sesame seeds. You don’t HAVE to toast the seeds, but it adds so much, plus it takes like 4 minutes. Just add the seeds to a dry skillet over medium heat, and shake the pan every 30 seconds or so until they’re are golden brown. Presto.

Add ’em in, and shake ‘er up!


Dressing = done!

Part 3: The Toppings

Toppings are what make the world go round, and this salad has no shortage of them. I used chopped cilantro, mandarin oranges packed in water (just rinse and pat dry if they’re packed in syrup.)

DSC_0360  DSC_0353

sliced almonds, and baked wonton strips. You could snag some fried wonton strips from your grocery store’s Chinese buffet ($.50 or so) or do what I did and cut wonton squares into strips, spray with non-stick spray, and bake at 400 degrees for 3-4 minutes. I wouldn’t buy a package of wontons just to make these strips, but dear Ben cleaned out the freezer for us this weekend (cabin fever makes husbands do crazy things,) and found a whole, unopened package of wonton wrappers, which is why I made my own vs buying. This is far longer than I wanted to talk about wonton strips.

DSC_0365  DSC_0351


Pile romaine lettuce and baby spinach onto a plate, then top with the chicken and toppings. Drizzle with zee dressing, and dive in!


Copycat Panera Asian Sesame Chicken Salad

Serves 4


Copycat Panera Asian Sesame Chicken Salad is a healthier version of my favorite salad from Panera!


  • 1 bag chopped romaine lettuce
  • 1 bag baby spinach
  • 4 medium chicken breasts
  • For the chicken marinade:
    • 3 Tablespoons soy sauce or gluten-free tamarin (dish will not be GF if using soy sauce)
    • 2 teaspoons brown sugar
    • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
    • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
    • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • For the dressing:
    • 1/2 cup rice vinegar
    • 1/4 cup sugar
    • 2 tablespoons canola oil
    • 1-1/2 teaspoons sesame oil, toasted in a dry skillet over medium heat until golden brown
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt
    • pepper
    • 1/2 teaspoon sesame seeds, toasted
  • Salad toppings:
    • Chopped cilantro
    • 11oz can mandarin oranges packed in water or 100% juice (rinse in water if packed in syrup)
    • 1/4 cup sliced almonds
    • Baked or fried wonton strips
    • Sesame seeds


  1. For the chicken: Whisk together chicken marinade ingredients, and marinate chicken for 15 minutes. Grill, or cook in a non-stick sprayed skillet until done, then let the chicken rest for 5 minutes. Cut into slices.
  2. For the dressing: Bring vinegar to a boil in a small saucepan. Turn off the heat, then add in the sugar and stir until dissolved. Let cool. Combine with the rest of the dressing ingredients in a jar, and shake to combine.
  3. Divide lettuce and spinach between four plates. Top with sliced chicken, salad dressing, and toppings.


Dressing from Art + Food + Life

This recipe is courtesy of Iowa Girl Eats,


Panera’s version:

and mine!


The addition of mandarin oranges, which Panera doesn’t use, to this salad was totally clutch. That burst of juicy sweetness is fantastic with the bold cilantro, and sesame-laced dressing.


The textures in this salad were out of this world too. Love it when a recipe remix comes together like this!


Now if only I could find a recipe for Panera’s Cinnamon Crunch Bagel…




If you could make any food instantly healthy, what would it be?

Easy. Oreos.

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  1. Tim 02.07.2012

    A mojito, especially when it’s hot out.

  2. Lindsay Petermeier 02.07.2012

    The classic girlie drink…a COSMO!

  3. Rebecca 02.07.2012

    Bourbon. Straight, no-frills, neat bourbon. No ice to dilute the yummy, either. I prefer Makers, but I won’t turn down Templeton or Woodford Reserve either.

    Consequently, whenever I ask for it out, I get one of two things: 1) “Um, bourbon? Are you sure? (REALLY?!?!)” or 2) “Oh, so bourbon on the rocks with a splash of soda?”.

    Good grief.

  4. Heather Burkart 02.07.2012

    Martini…any Martini with the exception of chocolate :)

  5. Whitney 02.07.2012

    I am in LOVE with the Honeymoon in Vegas martini at Gino’s in West Glen. Captain Morgan, Orange Curacao, sweet & sour and OJ with a cinnamon sugar rim. MY FAVE!! :)

  6. Susietron 02.07.2012

    Lemon drop martini with a small piece of dry ice in it – this makes it smoke and bubble. It is a show stopper and yummy!!

  7. Andrea 02.07.2012

    Amaretto sour=party in my mouth!! :)

  8. Stephanie 02.07.2012

    All of them of course! My current fave is Absolut Pear with light Cranberry juice! Yummm!!

  9. Traci 02.07.2012

    Let’s hope this event isn’t crazy oversold like Indulge was a few weekends ago. That was disastrous I thought!

  10. I love your blog :) And this recipe looks amazing, I love the asian chicken salad at Panera!

  11. Christen 02.07.2012

    Salad looks delicious! I love to toss sections of mandarins on salads-yum

    Bailey’s and coffee for a warm up after all that shoveling!

  12. Dee 02.07.2012

    That salad is beautiful

  13. Megan 02.07.2012

    I love martinis in general – the combinations for yummy ones are limitless! My go-to fave is the Cosmo though :)

  14. How ironic, I was just stopping by your site to look up the recipe for “Chipotle Burrito Bowls”! Thanks!

  15. Natalie 02.07.2012

    A Dirty Shirley! Loved Shirley Temples as a kid and by adding a kick of vodka, makes them “ok” to drink as an adult :)

  16. Katie 02.07.2012

    My go -to drink is usually a captain and diet..or vanilla vodka! Your salad looks great! :-)

  17. Jordan W. 02.07.2012

    My favorite cocktail is a bloody mary! I love girly drinks but ever since I had my first bloody mary I can’t get over all of the awesome flavors it offers! Savory, salty and spicy!

  18. Taycey Martin 02.07.2012

    My favorite cocktail is a vodka/sugarfree redbull :)

  19. Laura 02.07.2012

    I love a good mojito! (especially from the continental!!!)

  20. Christina Schave 02.07.2012

    Lemon drop martini – a little sweet, a little tart and perfect all year round!

  21. Karen 02.07.2012

    I love a cosmo!

  22. Sarah 02.07.2012


  23. Holly 02.07.2012

    A Mojito, of course! Especially on a hot summer’s evening!

  24. Shelley 02.07.2012


  25. Jeri 02.07.2012

    My favorite is a mojito, especially when the mint came from right outside my front door!

  26. Natasha K 02.07.2012

    I love a good Margarita and also Amaretto Stone Sours… yum

  27. Mackenzie 02.07.2012

    Love a mojito in the summer!

  28. Kasi 02.07.2012

    I love whiskey so my new favorite cocktail is the Cabin and Ginger. Cabin Fever whiskey and ginger ale. Yum!

  29. Tracy 02.07.2012

    I love some flavored martini’s! I especially love a good chocolate martini.

  30. Amy 02.07.2012

    Made my own drink of amaretto, vodka, cranberry juice, and fresca! A mango martini is also yummy!

  31. jinae 02.07.2012

    I love “sex in the city” from this fun little bar in arizona where are you originally from!

  32. Manon 02.07.2012

    Belvedere slightly dirty martini w/ bleu cheese olives!

  33. Jenna W 02.07.2012

    Mango Margarita…YUM!

  34. MigraineMe 02.07.2012

    Your salad looks way better than the Panera salad!!! :)

  35. Mike M 02.07.2012

    I *prefer* scotch on just ice but I do occasionally enjoy a well made screwdriver (especially for medicinal purposes!)

  36. Cute Bulldog Puppy Owner 02.07.2012

    Templeton Rye on the rocks!

  37. Kari 02.07.2012

    dt coke & captin

  38. Patty 02.07.2012

    My husband makes the best chocolate martinis!

  39. @splush 02.07.2012

    malibu+sprite makes me feel like i’m on a beach which I’d really like to be right now…might need to have one this weekend! :)

  40. Nicole 02.07.2012


  41. Erin 02.07.2012

    My favorite cocktail has to be a gin and tonic. But not just any gin will do. I’m obsessed with Hendricks gin. If you haven’t tried it, DO!

  42. Emily 02.07.2012

    Almost any martini from “The Lift” in Des Moines!!!!!!

  43. Ashley 02.07.2012

    Margarita! Whether it’s a Skinnygirl margarita, homemade margarita, Monterrey margarita… doesn’t matter – I love them. Either lime on the rocks with salt or frozen mango :)

  44. Holly 02.07.2012

    I love a vodka and grapefruit juice (white, not the pink kind)!

  45. SUE 02.07.2012

    Salad looks yumm-o. Is it difficult for you and your hubby to enjoy so many salads in the winter weather? I know tend to crave a hot meal or nice healthy soup when it’s cold and especially when it’s snowing!

    • Iowa Girl Eats 02.08.2012

      Actually not really! We both love salads, and are both kind of in Spring mode (despite the snow) since the temps have been so warm the past couple of weeks!

  46. LuAnn Reinders 02.07.2012

    SKILIFT: Hot chocolate and butterscotch schnaaps.

  47. Sara Reeder 02.07.2012

    I love me a good Black Russian (heavy on the Russian)! :)

  48. […] I’m going to have to give some of those concoctions a try sometime! That said, the winner of 2 tickets to Living History Farms’ Spirits & Sweets event this Saturday […]

  49. Favorite cocktail is a Citron and Tonic – so refreshing!

    I love that salad from Panera, but yours looks even better. :)

  50. Lisa 02.07.2012

    Thanks for the shout out! I am so glad I could share a recipe and help spread the Asian Sesame Chicken Salad love. Nothing better than recreating a favorite restaurant recipe and finding it is even better at home.

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