Embrace the Texas Heat with a Fiery Mesquite Grilled Chicken Salad

Cool off this summer by using the power of hot chilies to provide you with your own personal air conditioning.

Spicy Mesquite Grilled Chicken Breast on Fresh Salad

Savory Mesquite Grilled Spicy Chicken on Salad

I learned, some twenty plus years ago, an important tip on staying cool during the hot, muggy Texas summers. I was working on a landscape crew down on the Texas coast and while the temperatures hovered close to the century mark during the summer, it was the 90 plus percent humidity that took its toll on me.

One of our crew members, Javier, almost always had a fresh jalapeno in the lunch his wife packed for him each day. I finally asked, “Javier – Why the jalapenos?” and his reply was something like “jalapenos are air conditioning”. I sat for a moment, taking it in, when he went on to explain that the chilies make you sweat and when the air moves across your wet skin it helps to cool the body. He of course was right and I was given one more reason to love chili peppers, each and every one of them.

In the following years I began to realize that most fiery peppers came from some of the hottest, most humid regions on earth and that the native cuisine from these regions often incorporated the magic from these capsaicin laden chili peppers. It’s no coincidence that some of my favorite dishes from Mexico, Vietnam, Thailand and India are filled with the diverse varieties of chili pepper.

Okay, on to the meal. This is a pretty simple meal to put together and to do so you will need to gather up the following:

  • 2 large boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 large head of romaine lettuce, maybe another 1/2 head if you feel like it
  • 3 green onions sliced thin, include the green portion as well
  • 1/2 red bell pepper diced fine
  • 3 large fresh Roma style tomatoes* diced to 1/2 inch sized pieces
  • 2 to 3 fresh Serrano chilies finely diced
  • fresh cilantro – tear off about a fist full and chop fine, about 4 tbsp more or less
  • Head Country Championship Seasoning**
  • Ken’s Chunky Blue Cheese Dressing (or your favorite)
  • 2 tbsp fresh crumbled blue cheese – I used a pretty strong Danish Blue from Castelo***

Fillet each breast so that you will have four 1/2 inch thick chicken fillets. Pat them dry with a paper towel and then dust them well with some Head Country Championship Seasoning. Cover the chicken and set aside in the fridge until about twenty minutes before they go on the grill. Next, fire up the grill. I am using a barrel smoker with natural mesquite charcoal and chopped up wood that came off the red oak tree last spring. This makes for a really hot flame for searing the meat and adds some delicious smoke flavor.

I find when using this mesquite and oak mix that it is best to have the majority of the coals stacked to one side of the grill so that I can have two temperature zones. I sear the meat over the hot zone and finish cooking over the cooler zone. This gives me a little more control over the cooking process and a little more time to work on the other ingredients to the meal. Do whatever works best for you.

While the grill is heating up you can prep your lettuce, tomatoes, green onions, red bell pepper and Serrano’s. Combine the ingredients in a bowl and put in the refrigerator until needed.

Remove the chicken from the fridge and set out at room temperature about twenty minutes before the coals are ready. Just before placing the meat on the grill I will dust it one more time with the seasoning. Place the chicken breasts over the hot side of the grill to sear both sides. Five to seven minutes per side gave me nice a nice sear with some beautiful grill marks. Move the chicken over to the cooler side of the grill to finish cooking. Make sure that the chicken reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit before removing from the grill. You will want to measure the temperature from the center of the thickest part of the meat.

Okay, bring the chicken in and let it cool on a cutting board for a few minutes. While you are waiting you can chop up your cilantro and make sure to save a bit for garnish. Add the cilantro to the salad bowl and combine with about 2 tablespoons of the blue cheese dressing to lightly coat the salad. Next, if you are like me and love the flavor of blue cheese, add 2 tablespoons or more of the fresh crumbled blue cheese. The chicken is ready, slice against the grain into 1/2 inch strips and lay it across the plated salad.

The Serrano chilies worked real nice with the blue cheese. You still get a blast of heat from the pepper and then the dressing works to cool it back down leaving you ready for another round of heat. I paired this dish with a seasonal beer from Shiner – Oktoberfest – a Marzen style offering that starts out sharp then sweetens slightly as it rolls past the tongue.

All that’s left to do is enjoy it and I hope you do as much as I did. A great thing about meals like this is that with a little creativity you can make multiple versions of this dish. Try a chipotle, lime and cilantro based dressing next time, maybe grill some poblano chilies or a spicy coleslaw made with Serrano, cilantro and lime … whatever you do, have fun and enjoy.


* I used Roma tomatoes because that’s all I had. During the two weeks prior I was enjoying a bounty of farm fresh tomatoes I picked up in East Texas (Florida 91’s if you’re interested). This dish would have been vastly improved with some farm fresh tomatoes.

** Head Country makes a line of BBQ sauces (original, hickory and hot) that are very good on their own and serve as an excellent base for your own BBQ sauce creations. Head Country Championship Seasoning is a dry spice rub that works well on all grilled meats as well as vegetable dishes – think potato salad.

*** I wanted to mention a really nice Blue Cheese made by Castello. It is their traditional and is sold in a 4.4oz wedge – aged over 60 days.