Oil down. Nope, it’s not an instruction for aspiring body builders. Nor is it something you should be asking your mechanic. Oil down is, in fact, the national dish of a tiny a trio of islands in the West Indies: Grenada.
A one-pot meal that’s nutritionally ideal and super tasty, this is a stew of breadfruit, salted meat, chicken, dumplings, callaloo (an indigenous leafy vegetable), and other veggies. The whole is stewed in coconut milk, herbs and oodles of spices.
While there’s no set recipe for the dish, and the term can even be expanded to include a general sort of neighbourhood party rather than a single meal, the one thing all oil downs have in common is the manner of preparation…
Unlike most stews, a pot of oil down is packed with ingredients: usually the breadfruit and meat goes on the bottom, the majority of the vegetables in the middle, and the callaloo leaves and dumplings on top. The whole thing is then cooked for an hour or so – during which time the coconut milk is completely absorbed – hence the name. In essence, the ‘oil’ has simmered ‘down’.
While the dish is also popular in nearby Trinidad and Tobago, in Guyana (where it’s known as mettagee), and in Jamaica (whose residents refer to it as ‘run down’), oil down is definitely a Grenadian invention. Historically, limited fresh water, seasonal rainfall and the odd natural disaster have often led to a scarcity of ingredients – so a one-pot meal made completely from local produce was the traditional answer.
First populated by peoples from South America, later visited by Columbus, and eventually colonised by Europeans, Grenada has a long and interesting past – mostly because of the demand for its spices. Today, of course, it’s tourism which drives much of the economy, though nutmeg is still a major export, and even appears on the nation’s flag.
There’s also a lucrative tuna industry, more than a few banana plantations, and a fair bit of cocoa production – a popular breakfast drink is cocoa tea, made from local cocoa and spices.