There’s no salad recipe more fitting for summer than this Mexican Street Corn Salad with Grilled Chicken! If you’re a fan of Elote, or traditional esquites, you will love this tangy, spicy chicken and corn salad.
Easy Esquites Grilled Chicken Salad
In this house, summertime means corn on the cob time. After all, what says summer better than a buttery, salty, grilled piece of corn? It never gets old.
That said, sometimes we like to switch up how we serve our grilled corn just a little bit. That switch up takes the form of Mexican Street Corn Salad, or Esquites Grilled Chicken Salad. It’s one of the most flavorful, perfectly-textured salads I’ve ever had!
This classic, Mexican-inspired salad all starts with simply seasoned chicken and corn, which are grilled until they’re juicy and slightly charred (for great smoky flavor!). Then the corn kernels are stripped from the cobs, seasoned with lime juice and chili powder, and served atop salad greens alongside the smoky chicken strips. We also like to throw cherry tomatoes in this esquites recipe for a pop of color, along with some cotija cheese!
It’s tangy, it’s a little spicy, and it’s incredible.
What is Mexican Street Corn?
Mexican Street Corn, or Elote, is basically grilled corn cobs that are smothered in a creamy sauce (containing lime juice and ancho chili powder), and topped with cotija cheese. They’re zesty, spicy, and smoky all at once. All in all, they’re a real treat, to say the least.
What we have today, with this esquites grilled chicken salad recipe, is a little different. Esquites is essentially an elote recipe, but off the cob. The corn kernels are traditionally removed from the corn cob and sautéed in butter – alongside onions – and then thrown in with many of the same elote toppings, like lime juice, chili powder, mayonnaise, etc… This recipe takes its inspiration from that idea.
Now that you’ve got the esquites/elote/Mexican street corn rundown, let’s get into the ingredients for this salad! Here’s what you’ll need to round up:
For the Esquites and Chicken
- Corn: Remove the husks before starting.
- Chicken: It’s best to use boneless, skinless chicken thighs. Boneless, skinless chicken breasts will also work.
- Seasoning: Before you grill the chicken and the corn, season them with salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste.
- Lime Juice: Mix the corn kernels with fresh lime juice for tangy flavor.
- Garlic: Mince before beginning.
- Mayonnaise: To add some creaminess to the corn.
- Mexican Cream: Nonfat plain yogurt will also work – this too adds creaminess.
- Chili Powder: Ancho chili powder adds a little spice to your salad!
For the Dressing
- Olive Oil: If you don’t want to use olive oil, canola oil or some other cooking oil could be substituted.
- Fresh Lime Juice: To add a more tangy and zesty flavor.
- Honey: For a touch of sweetness.
- Seasoning: Simply use salt and fresh ground black pepper.
For the Salad
- Lettuce: I like to use mixed salad greens.
- Tomatoes: Throw in some multi-colored cherry tomatoes.
- Cheese: Crumbled cotija cheese is a must!
- Garnish: Finish off your salad with fresh chopped cilantro.
How to Make Esquites with Grilled Chicken
That’s quite the list! I know it seems like a lot, but cooking this salad is actually really simple. So, don’t let the abundance of ingredients scare you. It won’t take you more than 40 minutes to prep and grill this esquites-inspired salad:
- Preheat the Grill: Preheat an outdoor grill to medium-high. You can also use a grill pan. Lightly grease the grill grates with oil.
- Grill the Corn and the Chicken: Season the corn and the chicken thighs with salt and pepper. Transfer the corn and chicken to the grill; cover and cook for 13 to 15 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through and the corn is lightly charred, turning once halfway through cooking. Remove the chicken and corn from the grill and let the chicken rest for at least 5 minutes before cutting it into strips.
- Season the Corn: In the meantime, cut the kernels from the cobs and place them in a bowl. To the kernels, add lime juice, minced garlic, mayonnaise, Mexican cream or yogurt, and ancho chili powder; mix and stir until well combined. Set aside.
- Prepare the Dressing: In a small mixing bowl make the dressing by combining olive oil, lime juice, honey, salt, and pepper; whisk until thoroughly incorporated.
- Make the Salad: Place the mixed salad greens and cherry tomatoes in a large salad bowl and toss with the dressing. Top the salad with the corn mixture, chicken slices, and cotija cheese. Garnish with cilantro.
Tips for Success
This esquites chicken salad is super flexible in that you can serve it for lunch, as a light dinner, or even as a side salad – just leave the chicken out in the last case. Or, not!
Regardless of how you end up serving it, though, here are some tips that will help you get the best possible results:
- Do I Have to Use Fresh Corn? No, you could use frozen/canned corn if you don’t have fresh. Instead of grilling, sauté the kernels in butter with onions, like you would if you were making traditional esquites. Fresh corn is usually best in that case, too, but frozen will definitely work.
- Grease the Grill Grates: This helps with achieving those perfect char marks, and also ensures that your chicken/corn won’t stick to the grates when you try to flip or rotate them.
- Can I Make this Salad Ahead? Sure! Sometimes I like to make the corn and the chicken ahead of time, refrigerate them, and then make the actual salad itself later. Don’t add the dressing until you are ready to serve the salad.
Variation Ideas on Esquites
This esquites/Mexican street corn salad recipe is far from set in stone. Feel free to make it your own! Here are some ideas on how to change things up:
- Add Jalapeños: If you’re all about the spice, add some chopped up jalapeño peppers to your salad.
- Add Avocado: Creamy avocado tastes good in practically any salad! 🥑
- Cotija Cheese Substitution: It’s not always easy to find cotija cheese, so you can use feta in its place if you want.
- Chili Powder Substitution: Smoked paprika can be used in place of chili powder if you like.
- Other Garnishes: Chopped scallions and chopped parsley are also good toppings for this salad.
How to Store Extras
- You can store this esquites chicken salad in the fridge for up to about 3 days.
- Like I mentioned above, leftovers make a great lunch!
Mexican Street Corn Salad with Grilled Chicken
For the Chicken and Corn
For the Dressing
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
- 2 teaspoons honey
- ½ teaspoon salt, or to taste
- ½ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper, or to taste
For the Salad
- 6 to 8 cups mixed salad greens
- 1 to 2 cups multi-colored cherry tomatoes, halved
- ⅓ cup crumbled cotija cheese
- fresh chopped cilantro, for garnish
- Preheat an outdoor grill to medium-high. You can also use a grill pan. Lightly grease the grill grates with oil.
- Season the corn and the chicken thighs with salt and pepper.
- Transfer corn and chicken to the grill; cover and cook for 13 to 15 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through and corn is lightly charred, turning chicken and corn once halfway through cooking.
- Remove cooked chicken and corn from grill and let chicken rest for at least 5 minutes before cutting it into strips.
- In the meantime, cut the kernels from the cobs and place them in a bowl. To the kernels, add 2 tablespoons lime juice, minced garlic, mayonnaise, Mexican cream or yogurt, and ancho chili powder; mix and stir until well combined. Set aside.
- In a small mixing bowl make the dressing by combining olive oil, lime juice, honey, salt, and pepper; whisk until thoroughly incorporated.
- Place the mixed salad greens and cherry tomatoes in a large salad bowl and toss with the dressing.
- Top the salad with the corn mixture, chicken slices, and cotija cheese.
- Garnish with cilantro and serve.
More Salads to Try
Looking for more flavorful, filling salad recipes? I’ve got you covered: