Although they are small in size, pale sesame seeds can provide a powerful punch of nutrition and flavor into any dish once they become golden brown. I’m constantly on the look-out for what I call ‘flavor boosts’, items used in minimal amounts but which give maximum flavor. Sesame seeds are one of my favorite flavor boosts, but be warned that sesame seeds are bland unless you carefully toast them.
While growing up, my mother never used sesame seeds. My only real interaction with them was sadly, at McDonald’s on the Big Mac – two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions, on a sesame seed bun. I never would have guessed how much I would come to love those itty-bitty seeds.
When I first started to use sesame seeds, I didn’t know how to toast them and burnt the first batch. Although many experienced cooks know how to toast sesame seeds, I thought this post might be useful for those new to cooking. We’ve all been there and the more help, the better.
I only started using sesame seeds in the past eight years but find myself sprinkling them on nearly everything at this point. Although you can purchase them pre-toasted, I strongly advise against it. The toasting process exposes the oils in the seed and when toasted seeds sit around, they quickly become rancid. I’ve tried pre-toasted sesame needs but found the flavor to be less than ideal.
You should purchase raw sesame seeds which can be found at nearly every market. I find that I get the best deal at Asian markets where sesame seeds are often used. I purchased a huge bottle the other day for $3.
The toasting process is simple and takes all of 3-4 minutes. It’s important that you carefully watch over the seeds during the full 3-4 minutes as they can burn in a matter of seconds – do not answer the phone, do not look away to mind the dog, do not daydream. This is not the time ponder whether Brad Pitt wears boxers or briefs.
Begin by placing a small pan or skillet over a medium heat burner. I use a small cast iron skillet (I love cast iron). It’s important that your skillet is dry and free of any oil. Add your sesame seeds and shake the pan so that they are evenly spread in a thin layer. As the seeds heat, you will see them begin to glisten with their natural oils. Shake the pan every 20 seconds or so, I often use a wooden spoon to stir them around.
Somewhere around 2 minutes is when my seeds visually begin to take on color. You are shooting for a light to medium caramel color. When you reach this color, turn off the burner and remove the skillet from the heat. I find that the heat in my skillet will continue to cook the seeds so I recommend immediately removing from the skillet as well. Place them into a bowl or on a plate to cool.
I use sesame seeds in everything, from soups and salads to desserts. The nutty flavor livens up noodle dishes especially well. I took a quick look through my online recipes to give you a few ideas.
Where should you sprinkle your sesame seeds?
- Pasta & Noodles: Buckwheat Sesame Noodles
- Baked Goods: Chinese Cocktail Buns
- Sushi: Spicy Tuna Roll
- Cookies & Bars: Big Sur Power Bars
- Main Courses: Sesame Chicken