A few weeks ago I wrote a post on how to chop open your very own coconut. In that post, I explained that the different colours of coconuts are indicative of its age or processing. Most of my readers are familiar with the classic stringy brown coconut (the mature, de-husked form) found in most grocery stores.
“But what about THOSE coconuts Chantelle? What are they used for?” – Eager Beavers.
Well as promised, this post will go through one of the many uses of the mature brown coconut. The brown coconut is widely used, not only in West Indian cuisine but also in Southeast Asian and South Asian cultures as well. One of the most popular ways it is used is as the deliciously famous coconut milk.
Whether you enjoy it in your spicy curry or in your latte at Starbucks, the coconut milk trend is here to stay. But long before it was a fad, our ancestors would ‘milk’ a coconut by hand, and if you are like my West Indian mother, you still enjoy reaping the rewards of doing it today over a canned or packaged good.
“But why go through the work, if you can just BUY it” – Skeptical Beaver
In some cases, getting coconut milk from the canned isle in the grocery store (or from a regular isle in a hipster grocery store) may be the quick fix to your cooking needs. But as my mother walked me through the process, it is SUPER easy and the milk can stay in your freezer for months. Plus it is extra delicious. Below are the steps to make your own.
If you’re lucky enough to have a grocery store that pre-chops and de-shells your coconut (I’ve seen this in the salad isle), skip steps 1-3! Do not use pre-shredded coconut in the baking isle, as this product has already gone through a drying process, stripping the flakes from natural oils and juices.
Step 1: Finding your Brown Coconut (not your husband)
Most mainstream grocery stores will carry the brown coconut in the fruit isle. It will come neatly packaged in plastic. In a nutshell (no pun intended) you’re looking for qualities opposite from what I described in my post about the green, young coconut. You are looking for a coconut that when shaken and placed close to your ear, you can hear the echo of the water splashing inside. This means the coconut has adequately aged and that the walls insides are hardened for shredding.
Step 2: Cracking your Brown Coconut
You will need similar tools from when I cracked open a coconut in my last post (machete or meat cleaver). Because this coconut is much more compact, you can crack it open in your own kitchen by placing a bowl underneath the coconut or cracking it over the sink. In the picture below, my dad is cracking it outside.
Using the dull or blunt edge of the blade, you want to give the center of the coconut a couple of firm knocks, rotating the coconut along the horizontal with each knock. So in practice, you would develop a rhythm of hard knock, rotate, hard knock, rotate, hard knock, rotate – until the coconut cracks open.
Think of the brown coconut as a hard nut – with each hit, you are breaking it open down the horizontal centre. Brown coconuts have a funny way of magically splitting perfectly down the center (unless you hit the coconut too hard, then it shatters).
When you are cracking it open, water will also begin to spill out (which is why I advise you do this over a sink or a bowl). This water is typically not used for drinking and is often thrown out. You can use your hands to pry the coconut open.
Split the two halves up, and proceed to use a few hard knocks to ‘shatter’ the halves into pieces to get coconut fragments.
Still confused? You can also visit this wikiHow page to look at the variety of methods used to open a brown coconut.
Step 3: De-shelling your Brown Coconut
Unlike my last post, the white flesh is too hard to scoop out with a spoon or ice-cream scooper. You’ll need to separate it from the shell using a small knife to carefully ‘pop’ off the flesh from the shell of the coconut.
In the picture above you’ll see a slightly lighter brown surrounded by the dark brown shell. This lighter brown is the skin of the white flesh, which we want for the coconut milk.
In the picture above, my dad is using the same knife (because he is skilled and has years of experience doing this), but ideally you would need a smaller knife to manuver between the grooves . He carefully slips the blade between the flesh and shell layer, while using his other hand to steady the coconut piece. He then pries the knife upwards, and the flesh pops off (seen below).
And voila! You have successfully harvested coconut flesh from its shell. Now time to make coconut milk!
Dad’s tip: You can throw the shells out, or store it in a dry area to use for a ‘fire starter’ when you go camping.
Step 4: Shredding your Coconut
You can shred your coconut shards by placing them in a food processor, on a high to medium pulse. Alternatively, you can shred the shards by hand using a hand grater, although this will be more time consuming. The final product should look like this (medium-fine grate):
Step 5: ‘Washing’/Milking the Coconut
Place your shredded coconut in a bowl, along with 1 cup of warm water (a bit warmer than lukewarm). Then you will begin a process which my mom calls ‘washing’ – where you use your hands to repeatedly squeeze the shreds of coconut in the water to extract the oils and juices.
Squeeze, re-soak, and squeeze, until you’ll see the water turn a deep milky white. Did I mention how exfoliating and moisturizing this is for your hands? My hands felt silky smooth from the rich oils in the coconut shreds.
After about 5 minutes or so of ‘washing,’ place the liquid through a sieve to separate the milk from the grains in a new bowl.
Set aside your newly harvested coconut milk, and place the coconut grains back in bowl you used for washing. Add an additional 1/2 cup of warm water and re-wash the coconut grains. The reason we re-wash is that you may not catch all the essential oils and juices in the first rinse.
Step 6: Post-Coconut Milk Game
Take your bowl of newly harvested coconut milk and seal it in an air-tight container or jar. Place in the fridge for a couple of weeks, or store in the freezer for months. Congrats on your first successful jar of coconut milk!
The shredded coconut grains you used to harvest the milk don’t need to be thrown away but can be repurposed in a variety of ways!
To be quite honest, there are endless possibilities including toasting the coconut for a variety of desserts, making granola for your cereal or yogurt, or as my mom remembers, making yummy West Indian Sugar Cake.
This process may be time consuming for some, but the amount of uses you get out of the process are endless. In my next post, I’ll explore all the potential possibilities and recipes from my fellow WordPress users.