Don’t be afraid of coconuts

What is hairy, unattractive, and available in almost every major grocery store’s produce section?

No, it’s not an unshaven produce manager with “bed head.” They are coconuts.

Most consumers tend to buy coconuts dried or canned instead of fresh. After all, who wouldn’t be somewhat afraid of this intimidating, seemingly indestructible produce with an appearance that mimics a monster’s disembodied head?

Even I must admit, more times than not, I was more interested is using them to tease my children than I was in purchasing them.

Although using whole coconuts requires a small amount of work, experimenting with this imported harvest can be very enjoyable and rewarding.

First, choose ones that seem heavy for their size, as this will be an indicator of a thicker flesh content on the inside and water volume.

Also, it is important to select ones that seem to have the most liquid—by shaking them in your hand and listening for the sound of the natural coconut water.

This naturally-occurring coconut liquid, however, is not the same product that is available in cans or listed as “coconut milk” as an ingredient in most recipes.

Rather, natural coconut water is mildly sweet, naturally fat-free, and tends to be more prevalent in recently-harvested coconuts as it will absorb into the inner flesh as they mature.

The first—and easiest—thing to do is to drain the coconut water. Each coconut has three “eyes” and one of them always is softer than the others.

Take a metal skewer and find the softest one by piercing. Once you have determined which eye is softer, press the skewer through and rotate while grinding the remainder of the eye to make a bigger hole.

Then shake this open eye over a glass or container until all the coconut water has been removed.

This liquid should be stored in the refrigerator and consumed or frozen within a 24-hour period. If the drained liquid tastes sour, then the coconut has spoiled and it should be discarded.

Once the coconut has been drained, place it in the freezer for at least 12 hours. Once frozen, wrap it in a towel and proceed to hit it with a hammer a few times until the outer shell has cracked.

Chunks of hard shell will break away from the flesh, with the towel helping to contain the chunks of shell and flesh.

To prevent any possible damage to the kitchen counter, one may want to do this hammering on a very solid surface, like a cement floor.

The flesh now will be separate from the hard shell, and any remaining pieces that are not can be carefully removed with a knife. As well, any thin brown skin left on the extracted white flesh can be removed with a potato peeler.

The task is a bit tedious but very rewarding if you enjoy working with raw materials in the kitchen.

The meat now can be grated, frozen, or cooked down to make the coconut milk called for in many recipes (the Internet makes a great resource for uses of this raw flesh).

To make your own fresh coconut milk, add one cup of boiling water to one cup of packed grated fresh coconut.

Let it steep for about 30-45 minutes, then squeeze this mixture in a clean kitchen cloth (or strain through a fine strainer) over a bowl to capture the milk.

Alternatively, it also can be processed in a food processor and then squeezed to get even more milk from the flesh.

This milk should be refrigerated, and a thick cream will rise to the surface.

Send your food/cooking questions to dez@chefdez.com or P.O. Box 2674, Abbotsford, BC V2T 6R4.
Chef Dez is a chef, writer, and host. Visit him at www.chefdez.com

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