Coconut milk is a fairly common ingredient, especially in the cuisines of Southeast Asian countries like Thailand, Malaysia, and the Philippines. It’s made by blending some water with the grated meat of the coconut – the soft, white flesh within the fruit. Coconut cream, its thicker counterpart, is derived the exact same way; the only difference is how much water is used: less water means a thicker consistency. It’s a versatile ingredient that lends richness to both savory dishes and sweet desserts, so don’t be afraid to experiment.
For beginners, you may want to try a simple curry. Thai yellow chicken curry is a great place to start. Noodle dishes, like laksa from Malaysia, can become more decadent with a mix of coconut milk and seafood broth. You can even create creamy stews using seafood and coconut milk; try it with your favorite shellfish, like mussels or shrimp. Always get the good stuff from a reputable coconut milk and cream supplier for best results.
There are two types of coconut oil you’ll routinely come across, and it’s important to note the difference. Refined coconut oil is made using dried coconut meat, called copra, which is pressed and then bleached and sanitized. Virgin coconut oil, sometimes labeled “pure” or “unrefined”, is made when coconut milk begins to separate and form two distinct layers of oil and milk.
You’ll find that refined coconut oil has a higher smoke point that makes it suitable for deep frying your favorite dishes. You can use it for Japanese pork chops or tonkatsu to get that distinct crunch. Meanwhile, pure or unrefined coconut oil has a low smoke point so take care when using it. It’s best for sautéing vegetables, and it usually gives your food a stronger, purer coconut scent. Because coconut oil solidifies at low temperatures—sometimes even room temperature, if where you live is cool enough—it is also a fantastic alternative to conventional shortening when baking.
Grinding coconut meat and oil together forms a substance that approaches the texture of peanut butter. This is called, you guessed it, coconut butter. This stuff will give an even richer coconut flavor than oil, and you can use it just like any nut butter. Instead of using it to cook, it’s better used to top sweets, breads, or crackers. You can also use it to make pasta dishes if you mix it in with some freshly chopped herbs. Some people even add a dollop of coconut butter directly into their coffee in the morning.
Coconut flour is the result of grinding up dried coconut meat into a fine powder. By all accounts, it is a fine substitute to conventional wheat flour, with a few caveats. Those suffering from celiac disease or are going with a gluten-free diet will want to take note – with coconut flour, you can have access to cakes and other baked goods again. However, when using it for baking, coconut flour should not be substituted 1:1 to wheat or other grain flours, as it is incredibly absorbent – you may only need ¼ or a third of a cup of coconut flour to substitute a whole cup of wheat flour. For coating meats for frying, though, using as much of it as needed for a good dusting is fine.
These are only a few of the coconut products available out in the market for you to incorporate into your daily recipes. What’s your favorite way to cook with coconut?