Purchasing and Storing Mature Coconuts
A full-sized coconut weighs about 3.2 lb. Start the selection process by lifting and shaking the coconut to make sure it is heavy with plenty of water inside. If the coconut seems too light and you cannot hear water inside when you shake it, the nut may have a thin crack which could have caused the loss its water or may have begun to mold.
Carefully inspect the outer shell and the eyes to make sure there are no cracks or punctures. A damaged coconut will rot quickly once air reaches the inside of the nut. Examine the three eyes to be sure there is no mold forming there.
A fully mature coconut will be dark brown in color. Those with a lighter brown shell have not yet reached their full ripeness but will still be tasty. Coconut milk pressed from the lighter colored coconuts will not be as thick and creamy as the darker coconuts, but can lend itself to tasty soups and curries.
A mature coconut, unopened, can be stored at room temperature for about three or four months. Once opened, fresh coconut can be stored in the refrigerator in a plastic bag for only a few days. Freeze the coconut for longer storage.
A medium-sized coconut will contain about 1 cup of juice. When grated, the drupe will yield about 3 to 4 cups of nutmeat.
Young coconuts are sold in the husk. You can recognize a young specimen by its pale, almost ivory color and by its conical shape at the top. Look for these in the refrigerated section or produce section of some health food and Asian markets. They are valued for their juice, but the meat inside, which is often sweeter than that of the mature coconut, is completely edible and has a softer, more delicate consistency.The very young coconut meat is almost jelly-like and can be eaten with a spoon.
The liquid inside a young coconut is plentiful, sweet, and nourishing. Use a strong, sharp knife to whack off the top of the coconut, poke a hole in the top, and insert a straw. You’ll be surprised at just how much thirst-quenching, delightfully sweet liquid is inside, though some varieties of coconut palm do not produce a sweet-tasting juice.
Store young coconuts in the refrigerator.
Processed coconut when packaged for retail sale includes some moisture, added sugar and propylene glycol, a mold retardant. Most supermarkets have the sweetened variety only. Look for the unsweetened grated or shredded coconut meat at health food or Asian markets. Dried coconut can keep at room temperature for several months if sealed in plastic bags.
Canned coconut milk is available in most grocery stores; however, the total fat content can vary considerably from 2 grams to 17 grams. The cans with 2 grams of fat will be quite watery and taste diluted. For good flavor, choose a coconut milk with 8 to 9 grams of fat for its excellent consistency and richness in taste.
Those with the highest fat are actually coconut cream from the first pressing that offers a thicker and creamier liquid. Once opened, canned coconut milk must be stored in the refrigerator and will keep only a few days.
You can make coconut milk at home too. Put the meat of a freshly grated coconut into a bowl (if a little of the brown shell clings to the meat don’t worry) and cover with 2 cups of boiling water. Set it aside for 10 to 15 minutes, and then strain off the milk through a mesh strainer or cheese cloth into another bowl, pressing to remove all the liquid. Using your hands, squeeze through the fingers any remaining coconut milk from the grated pieces. You now have a thick, richly flavored cream for making desserts.
A second pressing of the grated pulp with another 2 cups of boiling water will produce a thinner but tasty milk excellent for soups. Some people toss away the pulp after making milk, but the coconut still has nutritional value and can be added to cooked dishes.
Another method of preparing coconut milk involves cutting the coconut into 1-inch pieces and adding an equal amount of hot, but not boiling, water in the blender. Blend at high speed, stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides, until you have an almost smooth puree. Strain if desired.
If you want pure white shreds of coconut, peel off the brown skin. Use a coarse hand grater or the grater blade of a food processor to shred into a bowl. If you want really fine shreds, use a microplane grater.
Put freshly grated, dried grated, or shredded coconut into a dry skillet over medium heat. Standing by to stir frequently, heat and stir the coconut until it reaches an even, golden brown color. Remove from the skillet immediately to prevent burning.