How to Crack a Coconut & Make Coconut Milk
Arms embraced the palm tree, and with the ease of a monkey, our guide shimmied up the slim trunk to the palm fronds in the sky, his bare feet climbing effortlessly, bolo knife dangling dangerously at his hip. We were on the slopes of Mayon Volcano, my grandfather’s rice plantation in view below, the cool ocean breeze making its way to my perch on a fallen tree trunk. We had left the noise and grime of Manila to my mother’s favorite summer haunt; I was 9 years old that summer vacation, and she was determined to show me where she and her brothers and sisters had played in the rivers on their vacations, searching for freshwater crabs, and drinking the juice and eating the tender flesh of buko, or young coconut.
The buko landed with thuds all around us, and our guide returned to the ground where he used his bolo to open the young coconuts and fashioned homemade spoons from the buko shell. We drank the sweet juice and used the spoons to eat the delicious coconut meat.
The more mature coconuts were used in cooking and baking. We were in Sorsogon, Bicol, where coconuts were plenty and abundant in the cookery, and I will never forget the dishes that emerged from the open air kitchens. The freshness of the food spoke of the sea, of the land, and of the rich volcano towering above.
How to Crack a Coconut
[dropcap1 color="green"]1[/dropcap1] Select a Coconut
My source for coconuts will never be as fresh as it was at my grandfather’s place in the Philippine countryside. These days, I am lucky if I find coconuts at my local market. If you see some, shake the coconut and listen for the water sloshing about within. That should be a good one!
[dropcap1 color="green"]2[/dropcap1] Find the Face
Turn the coconut about, and you will find it, the adorable little face, smiling at you.
[dropcap1 color="green"]3[/dropcap1] Poke Holes
Using an ice pick or other sharp tool, carefully poke a hole in each of the three spots.
[dropcap1 color="green"]4[/dropcap1] Drain the Coconut Water
Some mistake the water that comes from the coconut as coconut milk, but it is simply coconut juice. When it comes from the young coconut it is especially refreshing.
[dropcap1 color="green"]5[/dropcap1] Crack the Coconut
Use a hammer and firmly tap the coconut several times, rotating with each tap, until it cracks.
How to Make Coconut Milk
There are various ways to make coconut milk, some relying on special tools or modern conveniences, like blenders. The key, no matter the method, is to use hot water to release the rich flavor from the white coconut meat. I really like how Nourished Kitchen utilized a blender to extract as much from the pulp as possible; what has been a traditionally labor intensive process is streamlined. But for today’s post, I wanted to make it the old fashioned way, with a simple grater and a lot of muscle power.
As a child visiting the Philippines, I would watch my grandfather straddle a coconut horse, or kabayo, and deftly grate the coconuts used in my grandmother’s dishes. You can see a coconut horse in action at Burnt Lumpia, and a very similar traditional Nyonya coconut grater at Nyonya Food, Rasa Malasia. I used a simple grater, but how I wish I had a coconut horse!
In the Philippines, the very first squeezing of the grated coconut meat will result in coconut cream, but it requires quite a lot of arm power. When you allow the grated coconut to steep in hot water, you will release some of the cream, which you will see separating from the coconut milk. The grated coconut can be steeped again, each squeezing resulting in a lighter coconut milk.
Fresh coconut milk does not keep for long, even when refrigerated, so be sure to use it right away. Nowadays, between the rarity of coconut and the time involved, it is certainly easier to opt for canned coconut milk and bags of frozen or dessicated coconut. But isn’t it nice to know how it’s done?
If you are looking for some coconut inspired dishes, why not give these a try:
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