Inspired by conversations on the Food52 Hotline, we're sharing tips and tricks that make navigating all of our kitchens easier and more fun.
Today: Get out your hammer -- it's time to crack open some coconuts.
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When it comes to cooking with coconut, it’s difficult to persuade cooks not to use the pre-shredded, flaked, and sweetened kind in the plastic bags. And while I’m by no means saying there isn’t a time and a place for those things, fresh coconut just can’t be beat. Tall coconut layer cake, coconut-crusted shrimp, and coconut chutney are some of the nut’s best showcases -- the fresh-grated meat shining in each, thanks to its rich, perfumed fat.
Many cooks have called for placing whole coconuts in an oven and letting the heat crack the shell open. This process works perfectly fine for getting the shell off, but it warms the meat inside, softening it too much for my liking -- and if I want the coconut raw for a salad, then I’ll end up with a soft, spongey product. Hacking into one of those damned things isn’t the easiest, but with my trick, it can be really fun -- especially if you have lots of aggression pent up.
The only tools you need are a hammer and a flathead screwdriver -- which, if you don’t have these tools already around, you should go buy them so no one will ridicule you in the future -- and an old towel that you don’t mind roughing up.
First things first: Let’s get the water out from inside the coconut. It’s nutritious, refreshing, and a helluva lot cheaper and greener than buying it from a bottle. Fold the towel so it creates a thick nest and sit the coconut on top. Position the coconut so its “eyes,” the three bowling ball-like holes, are facing up. Place the tip of the screw driver into one eye, and use the hammer to tap the screw driver through the eye, swiveling the screw driver as you remove it to make a bigger hole. Repeat this with the other two eyes, then tip the coconut over a bowl and let the water slowly drain out. Strain this through a fine strainer, and drink up, or refrigerate it and use it later for moistening a cake or cooking white rice to serve with a curry.
Next, the fun part: Unfold the towel completely and wrap the coconut in it, grabbing all four corners of the towel in your hand to create a sling for the coconut.
Imitating someone chopping wood with an ax, swing the towel with the coconut around from your back and slam it onto a hard concrete surface (I used my backyard patio, but if you live in the city, a stoop works just as well). If you use a good deal of force, the coconut should be cracked open into at least a few large chunks.
Remove the chunks from the towel, and wedge the screwdriver tip between the shell and coconut meat, and start prying. It should come off fairly easily, in large pieces.
Then using a vegetable peeler, simply strip off the brown skin from the meat.
There you have it, fresh raw coconut that you can toss in your food processor to shred and use immediately, or wrap and refrigerate until you’re ready to use it later. And if you need way more coconut than just one will give you, I recommend inviting several of your closest friends over for a coconut cracking party. Everyone will have a blast slamming coconuts on the sidewalk and you’ll have all that coconut cleaned up in minutes...just act normal when the cops get called on you for practicing a shocking new cult ritual.
How do you use fresh coconut? Let us know in the comments!
Ben Mims is the author of three cookbooks: Air Fry Every Day: 75 Recipes to Fry, Roast, and Bake Using Your Air Fryer (Clarkson Potter, 2018), Coconut (Short Stacks Editions, 2017), and Sweet and Southern: Classic Desserts with a Twist (Rizzoli; 2014).