Copycat Panera Asian Sesame Chicken Salad

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If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, then 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.

All-natural, antibiotic-free chicken, romaine lettuce, fresh cilantro, sliced almonds, sesame seeds, crispy wonton strips & our reduced-sugar Asian sesame vinaigrette.

I recently enjoyed one of these masterpieces as part of Panera’s You Pick 2 Combo, natch, 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. :)

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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!

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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 with ground ginger, garlic powder and some other far-east flavahhhs.

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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.

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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!)

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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 – j/k he actually loves organizing,) 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.

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Assemblage:

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

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Copycat Panera Asian Sesame Chicken Salad

Print this recipe!

Serves 4

Dressing from Art + Food + Life

Ingredients:
1 bag pre-washed romaine lettuce
1 bag pre-washed baby spinach
4 medium chicken breasts

For the chicken marinade:
3 Tablespoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons brown sugar (or agave nectar, or honey)
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

Directions:

  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.

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Panera’s version:

and mine!

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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.

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

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

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In other news, all that salad must’ve gone to my brain because Ben just talked me into going for an evening walk in the snow. Wish me luck…

See ya’!

~~~~~

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

Easy. Oreos.

~~~~~

LOCALS:

Care to partake in mini martinis, bite-sized sweets, and an olive bar this weekend? (Twist my arm, right?!)

Living History Farms is hosting an event called Spirits & Sweets this Saturday, February 11, from 3-6pm. Local Iowa artisan distillers, including Templeton Rye, will be on hand mixing mini martinis to sip on while nibbling sweets from local bakeries. Gateway Market will also be onsite with an olive bar. YUM!

Tickets are $18 for LHF members, and $20 for non-members, but they gave me 2 tickets to giveaway for free – whee!

Enter to win 2 tickets by tomorrow at 5pm by telling me what your favorite cocktail is in the comments section below. Ready, set, go!

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Comments

  1. Amanda 02.08.2012

    Ive been to the Living History Farms 11K run back in 2009 & 2010. Its a fun race. I like vanilla vodka with diet pepsi. :)

  2. I am too lazy to go through the 4 pages of comments, and someone may have mentioned this already, but…. Panera now has bottled version of most of their dressing available in stores. I saw them (Asian Sesame included) at Target last week, it’s about $5.50 a bottle (in Mpls).

    http://www.target.com/p/Panera-Sesame-Dressing-12-oz/-/A-13556624#?lnk=sc_qi_detaillink

    The nutritionals aren’t terrible, with just a few un-pronounceable ingredients, and HFCS.

    Alas, a homemade version is almost always cheaper, and better for you!

  3. Emily 02.09.2012

    Question – under the dressing, you have sesame oil listed twice…mistake? I really want to make this and I want it to be just perfect…like yours looks. :)

    • Iowa Girl Eats 02.09.2012

      One of the items is sesame seeds. Is that maybe what you were thinking was a second listing of sesame oil?

      • Emily 02.09.2012

        I was mistaken and caught it 2 seconds after I pressed “submit comment.” So sorry! Thanks for keeping me in line.

  4. Kari 02.14.2012

    I just want to let you know I tried this…and probably 90% of the rest of your recipes…I plan my weeks around your blog! This one blew me and my bf of our feet was and was the PERFECT Valentine dinner! You are great and I look forward to reading your blog every day. Thank you for letting me follow along :)

  5. […] Recipe and image from Iowa Girl Eats […]

  6. […] not lately.  When I saw this Copycat Panera Asian Sesame Chicken Salad I knew I had to have it.  And soon.  I wanted to make it for Big Guy but I couldn’t wait. […]

  7. Vicky 02.23.2012

    Awesome photos of the salad. It looks absolutely divine – I do love this salad at Panera and will definitely have to try your copycat recipe.

  8. I just made this and it was a huge hit our house! I always feel like the at home versions are healthier and in this case you don’t lack any flavor! Thanks for a great recipe, here is my blog post about it.
    http://lexslifeasanewwife.blogspot.com/2012/02/asian-sesame-chicken-salad.html

  9. I made this last night and loved it! It was packed full of flavor. Hubster liked it, but he’s not really a salad for dinner kind of guy. Do you serve anything on the side for Ben? Maybe some sort of carb?
    Thanks!

    • Iowa Girl Eats 05.28.2012

      Not usually, but a piece of broiled garlic bread would be great with this!

    • Savannah 11.18.2013

      Salads and fruit are nothing but carbs. But there is a difference between the “complex” carbs found in fruit/veggetables and the “simple” carbs found in things like white bread and pasta. Complex are harder for your body to digest and allows your body to use the minerals and vitamins in the food. Simple carbs digest easily and usually transfer into blood sugar and that kind of thing. For more information I would highly suggest reading “The China Study” by T. Collin Campbell.

  10. Sheilda 06.09.2012

    I made this exactly as you made it. It was beautiful and delicious & my husband enjoyed it also. Thanks so much.

  11. Holly Fuller 07.09.2012

    I’ve made this twice and it is wonderful! My mother-in-law even loved it!

  12. stephanie 11.29.2012

    Hi canned mandarin oranges are hard to found here where I live but I happen to have fresh ones, would they work just as well? And in the recipe you use 11 oz, how many pieces is that?

  13. Kristin 12.18.2012

    This recipe was absolutely spot-on and oh so delicious!! I can tell this will be a frequently requested recipe in our home!!

  14. Mary 01.11.2013

    I love this salad and now I can make it at home thanks to you! :D

  15. Lynn 02.16.2013

    I spotted this one Pinterest recently, it looked so good that I had to make it. Everyone loved it.

  16. Min 03.18.2013

    I don’t believe I’ve ever even been to a Panera (not one within hours of where I live), but this salad is fabulous!! I forgot to heat the vinegar, but I shook it a bunch to dissolve the sugar and it was delicious anyway. We grilled our chicken and made the baked wontons…yum. I will definitely be making this again! I’m also wondering if I may post this recipe on my blog and link back to you for credit? I’d love to share it with my readers!

    Please let me know. cowgirlmin07 at gmail dot com

  17. Andrea 03.30.2013

    Just made this tonight for me and my husband. AMAZING! Can’t thank you enough for the great recipe.

  18. Maggie 04.10.2013

    Just discovered your blog and I’m obsessed with it. Made this salad for dinner tonight and it was deliciously perfect. Husband old it too! Can’t wait to try some of your ther recipes.

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  20. BRBorah 05.16.2013

    I just tried the one on the Panera page…you’re totally right! It’s horrible. I had to double the amount of sesame oil and add at least 1/4 cup of brown sugar for it to be edible. I’m glad I found this recipe, excellent job! This is WAY better.

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  23. Jessi 08.14.2013

    I made this for my family and they all loved it (save one picky eater). I did change up the dressing a bit, it was too bitter for my taste! A little soy sauce and brown sugar did the trick! But I will definitely make this again! I wish I had leftovers for tonight but they ate it all!!

  24. Excellent post. I used to be checking constantly this weblog and I am
    impressed! Very helpful information specially the closing part :)
    I care for such information a lot. I used to bbe seeking this certain
    info for a long time. Thank you and good luck.

  25. kat 09.29.2013

    I just happened upon your blog and it’s funny because your two favorite things at Panera are also mine! I also loved the portobello mozzarella sandwich, which I’ve recreated!

    I ended up purchasing the dressing from Target, but I will try your recipe when the bottle runs out. So delicious!

  26. Savannah 11.18.2013

    I’m trying your version of this Panera salad dressing tonight! You’re right, it is the toppings that make the salad! (And by “topping” I really mean dressing.) I have yet to find a dressing that tastes like the asian sesame chicken salad at Panera. It is like my favorite dish. I’d honestly eat nothing but salad if I could find the right dressing so I’m praying this tastes like it! Okay, enough rambling… Thank you so much for the recipe.

  27. […] Copycat Panera’s Asian Chicken Salad! […]

  28. This is what I get every time I go to Panera. I must PIN! Thank you for the recipe. :)

  29. Salad Recipes 03.27.2014

    […] Copycat Panera Asian Sesame Chicken Salad from Iowa Girl Eats […]

  30. Jennifer 05.18.2014

    This recipe is really very good. I marinated the chicken for 3 hours and I do think that helped add a lot of flavor. Followed recipe closely and I think it’s quite a find!
    I have the Panera bottled dressing. I asked my husband and son to take it and the dressing here. The recipe here is really so much better than the bottled.

    I was able to do won tons but if I didn’t have them, I might have just fried up some uncooked ramen noodles. They are incredible in salads.

  31. Adam 05.24.2014

    I just made this, as the Asian Sesame Chicken Salad is a favorite of mine at Panera. I have to say, this recipe is 1000% spot on. Also, I did not use salt or sesame seeds and it is just as good. So thankful I found this page!

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