Healthy way with fiery chicken, cooling salsa

It’s barbecue season, and chicken is the ideal candidate to get you grilling.

Chicken is light, it easily picks up the marinade of your choice and it cooks quickly. But this is not your everyday grilled chicken. This is spicy Jamaican-style jerk chicken.

“Jerk” refers both to a unique blend of seasonings and to a method of slow cooking.

It is said to have been invented by Jamaica’s Maroons, slaves who escaped from Spanish-owned plantations when the British took over and established free communities in Jamaica’s mountainous interior.

The Maroons hunted wild boars, then preserved the meat with a spice mix that contained a hefty amount of salt. When it was time to eat, the meat was cooked in a pit or grilled very slowly over a fire. Eventually, Jamaicans began to cook all kinds of meats jerk-style.

Jerk seasoning consists of a base blend of scallions, thyme, allspice (known as pimento in Jamaica), Scotch bonnet chilies, salt and, not infrequently, cinnamon or nutmeg.

This looks like a lot of ingredients to slice and dice, but just toss them into a blender and pulverize everything to a paste. Do be careful when you’re messing with those Scotch bonnets.

I advise wearing gloves. These are serious chilies.If you can’t find Scotch bonnets, use a habanero, a jalapeno or serrano.

I left the skin on the chicken to prevent it from drying out, so when you marinate the chicken put the spice paste under and on top of the skin. To cut calories, discard the skin after grilling.

The watermelon salsa balances the heat of the chilies. And they’re healthy, too. They’re full of water, making them an excellent hot weather thirst-quencher, and they’re a great source of lycopene, vitamin C and beta-carotene. Look for a melon with a large yellow spot on the bottom, which is the spot where it was resting on the ground. If that “ground spot” is white or green, the watermelon is unlikely to be fully ripe.

Don’t store it in the fridge, at least not until it’s sliced.

Sara Moulton was executive chef at Gourmet magazine for nearly 25 years, and spent a decade hosting several Food Network shows. She stars in public television’s “Sara’s Weeknight Meals” and has written three cookbooks, including “Sara Moulton’s Everyday Family Dinners.”

Grilled Jerk Chicken Breast With Watermelon Salsa

Serves 8. Recipe is by Sara Moulton.

For the marinade:

4 tbls. vegetable oil

8 scallions, white and green parts, coarsely chopped

1 to 2 (to taste) Scotch bonnet chilies, coarsely chopped

3 tbls. soy sauce

3 tbls. lime juice

11/2 tbls. ground allspice

11/2 tbls. Colman’s Mustard (English-style mustard)

2 bay leaves

2 large cloves garlic, crushed

1 tsp. kosher salt

2 tsps. sugar

2 tsps. dried thyme

4 chicken breast halves (4 pounds total) on the bone with skin, each chicken breast half cut in half

For the salsa:

2 cups diced seedless watermelon

1 cup diced seedless cucumber

2 tbls. finely chopped shallot

1/4 cup finely shredded fresh mint

3 tbls. lime juice

2 tsps. packed brown sugar

Salt

1. In a blender, combine oil, scallions, chilies, soy sauce, lime juice, allspice, mustard, bay leaves, garlic, salt, sugar and thyme. Blend until a fine paste is formed. Transfer mixture to a resealable plastic bag. Add the chicken and turn it to coat well on all sides. Refrigerate for at least 24 hours and up to 2 days.

2. When ready to cook, heat grill to medium.

3. To make the salsa, in a medium bowl, combine watermelon, cucumber, shallot, mint, lime juice and sugar. Season with salt, then set aside.

4. Remove chicken from marinade, discarding the marinade. Using an oil-soaked paper towel held with tongs, oil the grill grates. Add chicken, skin side down, and grill for 10-15 minutes. Turn chicken, then grill for another 10-15 minutes, or just cooked through. Transfer chicken to a plate, cover with foil and let rest 5 minutes. Serve each portion topped with some of the salsa.

Nutrition information per serving: 380 calories (180 calories from fat = 47 percent of total calories); 20 grams fat (5 grams saturated; 0 grams trans fats); 115 milligrams cholesterol; 9 grams carbohydrate (1 gram fiber; 6 grams sugar); 39 grams protein; 650 milligrams sodium.