Coconut milk is the milky liquid extracted from the grated flesh of mature, fresh coconuts, or reconstituted from dessicated coconut (dried, shredded coconut) Note: the clear liquid inside a coconut is coconut water, not coconut milk.
Coconut milk has an unmistakable flavour and richness. It is extracted in two stages:
- The first yeild is the 'thick milk'
- the second 'thin milk'.
Use a mixture of the first and second extracts unless a recipe calls for thick or thin milk.
Coconut cream is the rich layer that rises to the top of the thick milk (or first extract) after it is left to stand for a while.
Place 2 cups of dessicated coconut in a large bowl and pour over 2 1/2 cups hot water. Allow to cool to luke-warm, then knead firmly with your hand for a few mninutes and strain through a fine strainer or a piece of muslin, squeezing out as much liquid as possible. This should produce about 1 1/2 cups of thick coconut milk.
Repeat the process using the same coconut and 2 1/2 cups more hot water. This extract will yield approximately 2 cups of thin coconut milk, because of the moisture retained in the coconut from the first time,
You can save time using an electric blender. Place the 2 cups dessicated coconut and 2 1/2 cups of hot water in the blender, cover and blend for 30 seconds. Srain through a fine sieve or piece of muslin, squeezing out all the moisture. Repat the process, using the same coconut and 2 1/2 cups more of hot water.
Sometimes a richer milk is required. For this, hot milk can replace the water and only the first extract is used. However, the second extract will yield a rich flavour and a reasonably rich grade of coconut milk that can be used in soups, curries or other dishes.
Using fresh coconut
Grating fresh coconut is easy if you have the right equipment for the task. There are several types of coconut graters available. The one I use screws onto the edge of a table or bench, and has a number of curved, serrated blades that meet at a central shaft. By turning the handle with one hand, and holding half a coconut in position with the other, it is possible to grate all the white coconut flesh without skinning your knuckles or the danger of knives slipping.
However, in the absence of this kind of equipment, if you are able to get fresh coconuts, here is what you can do:
- First crack the coconut into two by hitting it with the back of a heavy kitchen cleaver on the middle of the nut.
- Once the crack appears, use the thin edge of the blade to prize it open.
- Save the sweet liquid inside for drinking.
- Place the two halves of the nut into an oven on low heat, for 15 or 20 minutes, and the flesh will start to come away from the shell.
- Lift it out with the point of a knife, and peel away the thin, dark skin that clings toi the white portion.
- Cut into chunks, place into the container of an electric blender with 2 cups of water or milk and blend at high speed, until the coconut is completely pulverised.
- Strain out the liquid and repeat the process a second and evern a third time, using more water and the same coconut.