Preparing a Coconut for Pressing Milk
by Kasma Loha-unchit
If you wish to make coconut milk from scratch and would rather use a food processor or blender than a hand-held implement to shred the thick flesh,when cracking the shell, whack the shell when you first crack it just enough to make a small fissure sufficient for draining the liquid, but keep the coconut whole. (The taste and smell of the juice will tell whether the coconut is good or whether it has gone rancid.) Place the coconut in a hot oven (400-450 degrees) for fifteen to twenty minutes. The heat from the oven loosens the flesh inside from the shell. Do not leave the coconut in the oven too long because you do not want to cook the flesh; cooked coconut meat will not yield fresh-tasting coconut milk. Cracking the shell and draining the liquid before placing in the hot oven prevent the heated coconut from exploding, an experience you want to avoid in your kitchen.
After the coconut has been in the hot oven long enough, remove it and allow it to cool until you are able to handle it without burning your hands. Then whack the coconut all around the center line with the back of a cleaver, as described earlier, to crack into two halves. Using a knife or screw driver, pry the meat out from the shell. If it is hard to do, whack the shell into smaller sections.
If you wish, peel off the brown skin attached to the shell side of the white meat. Break the meat into smaller chunks and chop as finely as possible in your blender or food processor. Transfer the chopped meat to a bowl and add two cups of boiling water. Allow it to steep about ten minutes, then strain through a fine-mesh strainer into another bowl. Gather the pulp with your hands and squeeze all the fluid out from it; this fluid will be the creamiest part of the milk. You may wish to wrap the pulp with a dampened muslin cloth to ease the task of pressing.
Add another two cups of boiling water to the pulp, steep, strain and press again. This will be lighter milk. Judging from the consistency from this second pressing, you may decide whether or not to do a third. In Thai cooking, coconut cream from the first pressing is used to make rich coconut desserts (try the coconut custard recipe). It is also reserved for frying pastes in the making of curries, with the lighter milk added later during cooking to constitute the sauce. The lighter milk is also saved for soup stocks and to stew or pre-cook various meats.
You might enjoy learning how to Cook Thai food from Kasma in a Thai cooking class.