Every so often I will buy a coconut (or two) from the produce store. These aren't your typical grocery store coconuts These coconuts haven't been smoothed, they still have their rough, hairy shells; there are no grooves inscribed around their middles; and they are definitely not plastic wrapped. It's taken me awhile to figure out my technique for choosing and cracking coconuts, but lately I've been pretty pleased with my results.
Choosing a coconut:
Ordinarily I recommend smelling produce before you buy it. (If it doesn't smell like a peach, it probably isn't going to taste like a peach.) In the case of coconut, however, that doesn't work as well. Here's my method:
- Pick it up and inspect it. Check the shell for any dark areas. You don't want those.
- Look at the "eyes". Make sure they are not damaged, are dry and definitely free of mold.
- Feel how heavy the coconut is. I'm looking for a coconut that feels heavy compared to the others.
- Shake it. Listen for the coconut milk inside to slosh around. I like coconuts that have a fair amount of milk in them.
- Ignore the curious stares and juvenile smirks of fellow shoppers and proceed to the cashier with your head held high, confident that you obviously possess superior skills in selecting fresh coconuts.
Choosing a fabulous coconut is of little use if you can't get it out of its shell. I'm sure if you search the internet you can find dozens of methods for cracking coconut. My method works best for me, but a different method may work better for you.
You'll need some supplies for this. I recommend a dish towel or newspaper to put under your work area. The husks are messy and the coconut milk sometimes makes escape attempts. You will also need a skewer, ice pick or other similar (food safe) sharp device as well as a cup or bowl for catching the coconut milk. Finally, you will need a meat cleaver or large, heavy chef's knife and a small, sturdy paring knife.
Begin by scraping at the eyes of the coconut until you find the one that's softer than the other two. Scrape away as much as possible of the dark "skin" over the soft eye. Pierce the soft area with the skewer or ice pick. (Of note: in my experience, if the coconut has a gaseous emission when you pierce it, it's probably not going to be good when you open it.) Jiggle the skewer around a little to open the hole up a bit. Remove the skewer and invert the coconut over the cup or bowl. Give it several gentle shakes to coax out the milk. If you can manage to get a second eye pierced, the milk will flow much easier.
Once the milk is drained from the coconut, hold it in the palm of your hand with the ends to your left and right. Using the spine (back) of the cleaver or knife - NOT the sharp edge - begin whacking the coconut around the circumference. Rotate the coconut with each whack. Pay special attention to the "ribs" that run end to end and be sure to give them a good whack. You'll hear when the coconut starts to crack - it will begin to sound more hollow. Keep turning and whacking and eventually the shell will crack all the way around and you can pull the two ends apart.
Okay, so now it's cracked. How do you get the coconut meat away from the shell? Although I've not tried it, I've read a method of placing the coconut in the oven that helps to separate the meat from the shell. I probably won't try that as it seems to me it would dry out the coconut. I prefer to take a sturdy paring knife and run it from the cut edge of the coconut down to the middle. I do this all the way around and then slide the tip of the knife under one of the sections and jiggle it until the section pops out. If you're bothered by the brown skin on the coconut flesh, you can peel it off with the paring knife or a vegetable peeler.
This coconut I cracked recently surprised me: the shell split and left me with a perfectly intact, shelled coconut!
And because my coworkers were so fond of the fresh coconut, I took one to my office and did a demo. I've been told future demos must include piping the rosettes, like on the red velvet cake, and cutting a pineapple. I love where I work!