TakeExploring the Essence of Oil Down: A Rich Culinary Tradition
Oil Down stands as a dish firmly rooted in the heart of Caribbean cuisine. Several islands each has their own version. It centers around pieces of breadfruit that’s simmered in a blend of coconut milk, meat, spinach and fresh seasonings, until it is creamy and luxurious.
What is Breadfruit?
Breadfruit (Artocarpus altilis) is a starchy, tropical fruit recognized for its distinctive appearance and versatile culinary uses. This large, green-skinned fruit has a rough, textured exterior and a pale, starchy flesh that becomes soft and tender when cooked. Native to the South Pacific, breadfruit has been a staple food in many tropical regions for centuries.
The fruit can be roasted, boiled, fried, or grilled, yielding a satisfyingly hearty and mildly nutty flavor. With its ability to serve as a main dish, side dish, or ingredient in various recipes, breadfruit holds a significant place in both traditional and contemporary cuisines, making it a valuable and intriguing element in the culinary world.
Why is it called oil down?
According to Wikipedia, the name “oil down’ refers to the fact that the oil from the coconut milk used in cooking is either absorbed by the ingredients or settles to the bottom of the cooking pot.
The Caribbean Debate about oil down
There is a continuing debate on Social Media regarding oil down, many claiming that the Trini version is not ‘oil down’. Trinidadian oil down is very different from Grenadian oil down(their National dish) and in no way should be compared to each other or argued over.
What do you think about this? I say we should embrace each other’s variation and enjoy both!
What protein is used to make oil down?
Historically, this dish was made with salted beef, pigtail, or salted fish, each element contributing to a tapestry of flavors.
Can I make a vegan or vegetarian oil down?
Oil Down is adaptable and can be made vegetarian or vegan, still preserving its distinct taste. This one-pot wonder is a celebration of comfort food, offering both sustenance and satisfaction.
How to eat Oil Down?
Oil Down is a satisfying and filling one-pot dish, however, a noteworthy tradition in our circle involves pairing Oil Down with curried fish. In my recent YouTube video titled “Breadfruit Oil Down and Curried Fish”, where our best friend Alvin made this dish for us, we enjoyed it with curry cascadoo. This marriage takes the dish to new heights, as the robust and flavorful sauces from the curry merge with the creamy breadfruit base.
Sourcing and prepping the pigtails for Oil Down
If you are tempted to try making this recipe, acquiring the essential ingredients including breadfruit and pigtail is paramount. Salted pigtail, a staple of West Indian and Caribbean groceries, finds its place in the recipe(although it is optional). A simple ritual involves rinsing the pigtail under running water to eliminate visible traces of salt. Once this is complete, the pigtail is submerged in a stockpot and covered with water. Boiled until tender, a subsequent round of boiling is recommended if the meat is still salty.
How to select the right breadfruit for Oil Down?
I have always had challenges choosing the right breadfruit, so selecting it requires some skill. Choose breadfruit that have a yellowish-green hue, with a white residue. The green or young breadfruit, while tempting, will not melt or boil properly. Peeling the breadfruit is made simpler if it is first cut into wedges. It is also important to peel off the skin and remove the core of the breadfruit.
What can I substitute for the breadfruit?
When breadfruit is difficult to source, I substitute it with cassava (yucca) which is just as good.
Can I substitute or eliminate the dasheen bush leaves in Oil Down?
For those who like variety, adding chopped dasheen bush (taro leaves) along with the coconut milk is an option. Should sourcing dasheen bush leaves prove challenging, chopped frozen spinach serves as a practical substitute in the United States.
The importance of cleaning and cooking the taro leaves properly
Be careful when cooking with taro leaves/dasheen bush leaves. The tips should be removed and it should be fully cooked before being eaten. It contains oxalic acid that can cause uncomfortable itching and burning symptoms if eaten raw or not fully cooked. I have found that dasheen bush leaves bought in the US do not melt as easily as fresh leaves sourced in Trinidad, therefore, I prefer to use fresh frozen chopped spinach.
How to make coconut milk for Oil Down?
There are several ways to make coconut milk for this recipe. Use any one below:
1. A fresh dried coconut (with the shells removed and cut into small pieces) blended with 6 cups of hot water
2. Boil 1 coconut block with 6 cups hot water in a small saucepan until the block is melted
3. 1 can of coconut milk can be mixed with enough hot water to make 6 cups of coconut milk required for this recipe.
Special thanks to our best friend in Trinidad, Alvin, for making us this delicious dish and sharing his recipe. Click the YouTube link to see the full video on how he made this dish.
Other recipes you will love:
- 1.5 lbs salted pigtail salted beef or salted fish, optional
- 4 tablespoons oil
- 1 small onion chopped
- 8 pimento peppers and/or hot pepper chopped
- 4 tbs minced culantro or green seasoning divided
- 2 tbs minced garlic
- 1 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 1 medium breadfruit peeled and cut into 2 inch pieces (2 lbs)
- 6 dasheen bush leaves taro or frozen chopped spinach, 1/2 lb
- 6 cups coconut milk see note below
- 1 carrot cubed
- 1/2 green bell pepper chopped
- Salt to taste
Rinse salted pigtails with cold running water several times. Place into a large sauce pan and cover with water by a couple of inches. Bring to a boil and cook for 15 minutes. Drain water, refill pot with water, bring to a boil again, then reduce heat to medium and cook until the meat is tender but still firm, about 40 mins. Drain, cut into small pieces when cool and set aside.
Wash breadfruit under cold running water. Cut in half and cut each into wedges about 2 inches wide. With a knife remove the core/seed area. Peel and cut each wedge into 2 inch pieces.
To clean the taro leaves(dasheen bush leaves) it is important to remove the stems and tip and rinse thoroughly. After cleaning cut into small pieces.
In a heavy bottomed pot, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and hot pepper and cook until the edges are golden brown.
Add pigtail, culantro or green seasoning, pimento pepper, garlic, black pepper and cook, stirring constantly for 2 mins.
Stir in carrot and bell pepper and cook for 2 mins.
Add breadfruit and coconut milk, salt and mix to combine.
Top with dasheen bush leaves (or chopped spinach if using) and place the whole hot pepper on top. Cover the pot and bring to a boil. Immediately reduce the heat to low and simmer until the breadfruit is fork tender, about 60-90 minutes, stirring every 10 mins. If not cooked, add additional coconut milk or water and continue to cook until the liquid has been absorbed and it has a creamy, smooth but chunky consistency-do not allow the breadfruit chunks to melt away. Keep in mind that any sauce thickens as it cools.
To finish, stir in fresh chopped pimento peppers and culantro. Taste and add salt if required. Remove hot pepper before serving.
*fresh dry coconut blended with 6 cups of water or 1 coconut block boiled with 6 cups hot water until melted or 1 can coconut milk mixed with enough hot water to make 6 cups.
Calories: 383kcal | Carbohydrates: 5g | Protein: 28g | Fat: 29g | Saturated Fat: 14g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 2g | Monounsaturated Fat: 10g | Trans Fat: 0.03g | Cholesterol: 94mg | Sodium: 178mg | Potassium: 225mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 1g | Vitamin A: 1666IU | Vitamin C: 12mg | Calcium: 45mg | Iron: 5mg