We would recommend having the following before attempting this recipe:
– A small army to feed (or the common sense to scale down the recipe)
– An enormous cooking pot (or the common sense to scale down the recipe)
– Access to a wide range of ingredients
Now that we have that settled…
Oil down is the national dish of the Caribbean island of Grenada (not to be confused with the Spanish city Granada), so named because of the oils released from the coconut milk as it simmers. It is a big stew, packed full of a long list of ingredients, some we’d eaten before and some we hadn’t. We got our recipe for oil down from Becca at Meat Loves Salt, and would suggest reading her post about it for a lot more insight than we can provide and more Caribbean ingredient recommendations (we had to make a few substitutions). What we can offer, however, is the experiences of total novices. Our recipe below, therefore, is based on Becca’s, but also anecdotal.
1 kg chicken thighs
1 sprig of basil
1 sprig of thyme
2 sprigs of celery leaves
3 small peppers
6 garlic cloves
1 large yam (not sweet potato)
8 green bananas
250g skinless and boneless saltfish
800ml coconut milk
1 tbsp turmeric
2 cups flour
A few good handfuls of spinach
1. Enjoy feeling primal by hacking your chicken into pieces with a large cleaver (we had quite large thighs and cut them into three). Layer them over the bottom of the largest pot you own.
2. Leave your saltfish soaking in a bowl of water, to get rid of the excess salt/preservatives.
3. Prepare your seasonings and herbs: peel the garlic, slice the onion, and chop the peppers, celery leaves, thyme and basil. Throw everything into the pot on top of the chicken.
4. (This part had already been done at the market before we bought the breadfruit so we didn’t need to do it.) Chop the breadfruit in half and let it rest for 15 minutes. It will dispel some sticky liquid that you can then rinse off.
5. Quarter the breadfruit, slice out the core, marvel at the spongy texture of the fruit underneath the core, peel, and cut into large chunks. Layer over the seasonings.
6. Set about peeling the green bananas and realise that this is a hateful task. Try peeling like a normal banana; fail miserably. Try peeling with a knife; realise that you’re losing too much fruit along with the peel. Eventually settle for a potato peeler, but learn that you have to peel each section about four times to get rid of all the thick peel. Put the bananas into a bowl of water as you go, partly because they’re sticky and part because they’ll turn a horrible grey-black colour if you don’t. Some time later, when you’ve finally finished, layer the bananas over the breadfruit.
7. Peel and chop the carrot into quite large chunks, enjoying the familiarity of the task, and layer over the bananas.
8. Peel the yam, rejoice that it’s so much easier to do than the bananas were, learn that raw yam is really slimy, and slide it over the carrots. Notice that the pot is nearly full by now.
9. Remove the saltfish from the water and rinse well. Layer on top of the yam. Really start to question how on earth you are going to fit the rest of the ingredients into the pot.
10. In a large bowl, mix together the coconut milk and water. Consider adding the turmeric as per the recipe, realise that you are going to have to make dumplings with that liquid, opt against staining your hands yellow forevermore and sprinkle the turmeric directly over the other ingredients in the cooking pot.
11. Reserve 3/4 cup of the coconut milk mixture and pour the rest into the pot. (At this point, because that amount of liquid didn’t even nearly cover the ingredients, we added more water – don’t know whether this was the right decision, but it worked in the end.)
12. Place the pot on the stove and start simmering over a medium-low heat, covered, using a diffuser if you have one.
13. Cut the cabbage into sixths, leaving the core in place and decide to only use 2/3 of it because it’s TOO BIG. Add the segments to the pot, eliminating any hope you ever had of getting the lid to fit.
14. As the pot continues to simmer, make dumplings by stirring the flour into the reserved coconut milk. Roll the dumplings into long logs, appreciate how tasty they are raw (because they won’t be as good once cooked, sadly) and place over the cabbage. Realise that any attempt to put a lid on the pot is going to result in a very sticky lid. Fashion a tinfoil lid as an alternative, sealing it as tightly as possible.
15. Consider adding the spinach as per the recipe and give up trying. Leave it to do its thing for a while (which also involves letting it boil over) and return a while later. Decide that there is no chance of the cabbage cooking like this and remove it to cook in a separate pan.
16. Now add the spinach, and (with the cabbage gone) squash the lid on the pot. It’ll still boil over a bit, but at least it’ll be cooking properly.
17. If you want to eat the proper Grenadian way, let it keep cooking until all the liquid has been absorbed, but because you’ve added more liquid than the recipe said, this will probably never happen, so once you feel like everything is cooked (an hour or so), decide it’s time to eat.
18. Carefully plate up, making sure there is a bit of everything on each plate and trying to avoid dripping too much turmeric juice all over your kitchen.
This really was an adventure! There’s a Caribbean food stall at our local market but we’ve never experimented with its ingredients, so it was fun to try new things, even if the preparation was a bit tedious at times. And for those wondering: green bananas aren’t like yellow ones, and are probably best compared to potato, and breadfruit (which is apparently a ‘wonder food’ – who knew?) is really unusual and really delicious! It’s quite sweet, but there is a subtle bready flavour, which is of course where its name comes from.
Overall, this dish wasn’t dissimilar to a Thai curry, with its subtle coconut base and simple-yet-complex balance of flavours: the sweet from the breadfruit, the salty from the fish, the sharp from the herbs. Coconut-hater Ash actually liked it and even went back for seconds. The meat is definitely secondary to the starchy vegetables, but there are so many ingredients that every mouthful is different and it’s hard to keep track of how much of everything you’ve eaten! All in all, we’re happy to report that we enjoyed eating this a whole lot more than we expected to (which is good because we’re going to be eating it for a while – there are a lot of leftovers!).