Nothing beats the taste of coconut cake, coconut shrimp, or ambrosia made with fresh coconut milk or freshly grated coconut. Why buy mechanically processed coconut water or coconut milk when opening and processing a coconut at home is not that hard? Preparing fresh coconut at home along with fresh coconut water, milk, and oil, doesn’t take that long and after tasting the end results, you will never got back to the canned or bagged versions.
First one must pick out the best fresh coconut to get good coconut water, coconut milk and coconut meat. Outside of the tropics, good fresh coconuts can be hard to come by and some of the best places to look for them are Asian food markets or grocers that cater to Asian communities. Shake the nut and listen for the liquid coconut water inside. What is wanted are nuts that make a good sloshy sound, that have lots of liquid in them. While this still does not guarantee that the coconut is good inside, it does increase the chances. The more coconut water inside the nut, the heavier it will be. Weigh several of the coconuts of the same size and pick the heaviest one as this is the one that has spent less time drying out. It is always a good idea to buy an extra nut as insurance in case of getting a bad one.
Now for the supplies which will be needed for preparing fresh coconut to get at its delicious bounty. Gather these tools and kitchen items: a hammer, large towel, a large nail or screwdriver, 1/2 inch chisel, a kitchen knife, vegetable peeler, a tightly woven piece of cloth, a large bowl, a blender or food processor, and a grater.
First to get the liquid out of the nut, we have to pierce the coconut eyes. Look at the coconut and notice on one end there are three “eyes” ie; dark round indented areas. Take the towel, arrange it in a spiral like a turban on a hard surface like a chopping block. Set the coconut upright in the center of the towel so it won’t fall over, with the three eyes looking upward. Use the hammer to drive the large nail or screwdriver, which should have been cleaned, into each of the eyes. It is best to use a pair of pliers to hold the nail or screwdriver to keep from hitting your hand. It is also possible use a drill and a clean bit to make at least two holes. Hold the coconut over the bowl and allow the coconut water to drain out.
Smell and taste the water to see if the coconut is good. It should taste slightly sweet and not oily. If it smells or taste of mold or is oily, throw the nut away or take it back to the store for a refund. This watery fluid is not the same as coconut milk which comes from processing the coconut meat. Pure coconut water carries with it some of the many health benefits of coconut. It is recommended for kidney problems, for the treatment of intestinal worms, and for various skin problems, such as rashes from measles, chicken pox, and shingles. It should be used right away as it will go sour within a day even if kept in the fridge.
Next, to get to the meat, you can crack the shell and break the fresh coconut into pieces. Wrap the emptied coconut in the towel in a double layer. Take it to a concrete surface such as some steps or a garage floor. Use the hammer to strike the wrapped up coconut several times sharply to break it into several large pieces. Another method is to place the drained coconut in a double or triple layer of plastic bags and swing it against a hard surface such as a tree or brick wall to break it up. If it is necessary to break the coconut in half for some reason, use a hammer and heavy chisel to start a crack on one side. Tap on the coconut all the way around to get the crack to open up and then pry the two halves apart.
Remove and clean the coconut meat. Some of the coconut meat will already be free from the shell and for any that isn’t, take a butter knife and pry it from the shell. Placing the coconut pieces in a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes can make the meat easier to remove from the shell. Be careful when trying to pry it off with a knife, one slip could mean being cut badly. A chisel can be used to pry the meat loose from the shell. There may be some of the dark skin attached to the coconut meat. It is alright to eat but if pure white coconut milk and meat are wanted, cut it off using a vegetable peeler. Cut any overly large pieces of coconut meat into smaller sections. Fresh coconut is high in fiber, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium, and has no cholesterol and low levels of sodium. Unsweetened coconut is good for the teeth and coconut nutrition is what drives nearly a third of the world’s population. The coconut meat can be shredded with the grater and used as is or it can be dried or toasted to concentrate the flavor and give it a crunch. Place the shredded coconut on a baking sheet in a thin layer and bake it for one hour at 200 degrees, watching it carefully to prevent over cooking it. To toast it, cook it in a 350 degree oven for 15 to 20 minutes and again watch it carefully.
To make coconut milk, place the uncooked chunks of coconut meat in a blender or food processor and process till they are finely shredded. Add hot, not boiling water to the blender to just cover the coconut and blend them together well. Prepare the bowl to strain the coconut milk mixture into, by lining it with a piece of cloth that is tightly woven such as a handkerchief or a piece of sheeting. The cloth needs to be large enough to over hang the bowl by several inches. There are straining bags you can buy for draining the liquid through. Pour the blended coconut milk mixture into the cloth lined bowl. Gather the cloth up around the wet mixture and squeeze out the white coconut milk.
Alternately use a grater and grate the pieces to fine shreds then cover them with water. Mix the coconut and water well by hand or use a mixer. Allow the coconut to soak for about an hour then strain it using some cloth as before. The more water used the thinner the coconut milk will be. This first straining will give the strongest thickest coconut milk called coconut cream for use in desserts like cakes and pies. The coconut shreds can be put through a second wash for a thinner milk to use for sauces and for flavoring dishes. While the left over coconut pulp won’t be as tasty as the shredded coconut, it can be dried and used in recipes or ground finely to make coconut flour.
Store the coconut milk in the fridge to keep it from going bad or freeze it for use at a later date. Coconut milk will keep up to a week in the fridge and can be frozen up to a year. After setting for awhile the coconut milk will separate into a hard layer of coconut oil on top and the thinner coconut milk at the bottom. This is normal and makes the oil easy to separate from the milk. Virgin coconut oil is unique among the vegetable oils as it is said to lower cholesterol levels, fight heart disease, and aid poor digestion. It can be used for frying and in the place of other oils in recipes. Once you have tasted fresh coconut milk, enjoyed pure coconut water, and added fresh coconut meat to your diet, you will never want to use processed coconut products again.