The last thing I can remember being reasonably afraid of in terms of food preparation was young Thai coconuts. All the raw food books that I would pore over like bedtime reading material used them. The flavour, texture and functionality appeared to be unmatched. But knifing a coconut seemed like one big YES to blood everywhere in about 3 seconds. The photos used to illustrate how easy they were to breakdown didn’t help to calm my fears either. One of them shows the cook with one hand seemingly tied behind his back with a barely contained grimace taking over his face. GUESS HE WANTED THAT RAW CHOCOLATE PUDDING REAL BAD, HUH?
Over time, I learned that if there is a task in the kitchen that makes you second-guess your abilities, you have to confront it from 3 angles in order to achieve success. Keen preparation, confidence, and control–practiced over and over again until it feels natural.
Confidence is probably the deal-breaker though. There’s an episode of Action Bronson’s show on MUNCHIES where he visits Mario Batali at Eataly in New York (side note: uuuugh best place ever). Aside from basking in each others mutual awesomeness and hella drinking and eating all the good things, the two get up to some pizza making with a (gooooold!) wood-fired oven. They’re stretching the dough, talking about ideal topping-to-everything-else ratios and San Marzano tomatoes. Then it’s Action’s turn to get that pizza on a peel and into the flames. There’s hesitation permeating the atmosphere. Mario Batali says something like “If you think the dog’s going to bark and bite you, it probably will.” The pizza then proceeds to go off without a hitch.
Generally, if I have even the slightest inkling that I’m gonna eff something up, I probably will to some degree. Maybe you can relate since this notion goes well beyond the act of making food. You just have to imagine the scenario going as smoothly as possible–in this case, you can imagine all the tasty coconut milk you’re gonna make into some fiiiine and nourishing desserts. And the most delicious coconut water ever. Imagine that too.
What leads to that confidence though? Getting your shit lined up beforehand and being in complete control of the situation. You’ll need to lay out all the necessary tools and just completely clear your working area of any other stuff. You’re not going to tweet or ‘gram or answer an email right now (oops). It’s you, the knife and the coconut. About that knife: you want to use a chef’s knife, but not a terribly nice one that you’re attached to. I have the knives that I take care of and cherish, and then I have a set of cheap, old beaters that get used for things that I can’t guarantee the outcome on. Also, the blade doesn’t really get used for this particular task. You’re mostly using the heel of the knife in short, controlled movements to puncture the top of the coconut until you can pry the top off with a spoon. Don’t you feel at ease already?
If I’ve made the decision to bust into some coconuts and make a mess, I do a bunch at a time. I can always go through the water faster than you can say “Hydrate or die,” and the meat freezes nicely. Just put it into a ziploc-style baggy and press the air out of it first. If I don’t have set plans for some kind of fancy raw dessert, I usually make fresh coconut milk. It tastes totally different than the canned stuff. It’s not so super-tropical-suntan-lotion right away. It’s more delicate and legit dairy milk-like. The texture/weight of it is less overpowering too. Just a totally different beast.
I used to LOVE strawberry milk with that frighteningly red Quik syrup when I was a kid (omg they still sell it). And if I’m in a scenario where I can get a milkshake, I almost always choose strawberry. I’m not sure if it’s the fun colour or just the memories I have surrounding the treat itself, but strawberry’s been my go-to for so long. A healthier version of that hot pink milk from my childhood seemed fairly easy to execute as long as I started with a delicious base. Enter the coconut milk, babes! I’ve left some pretty detailed instructions in the recipe and my first ever step-by-step collection of photos to help you break it down. You got this! ;)
how to break down fresh coconuts + vegan strawberry milk recipe
print the recipe here!
serves: makes almost 4 cups of “milk”
notes: Most of this recipe is taken up with instructions on how to break down the fresh coconuts. If you want strawberry milk ASAP, you could just skip that part and use 3 cups of unsweetened coconut milk beverage (like the stuff in a carton) or cashew milk. You want something with a bit of fat :)
3 cups fresh coconut milk (from the flesh of 1-2 young Thai coconuts, about 3/4 cup)
heaped 1/2 cup chopped strawberries
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
1/2 tsp vanilla powder
pinch of fine sea salt
HOW TO BREAK DOWN THE COCONUT:
First, gather your supplies for extracting the coconut meat and water: a large cutting board, a fine mesh sieve, a dish for the coconut meat, a medium-sized bowl for the coconut water, a sturdy metal spoon, a plate for husks and other waste, a lightly damp dish towel, and a chef’s knife that you aren’t too sentimental about.
Place the coconut onto the cutting board on its side. Gently cut away the pointed portion of the husk in peels/sections so that the rounded top of the actual coconut is revealed. There shouldn’t be too much resistance. The exposed portion of coconut should be at least 2 inches in diameter when you’re done.
Place the coconut right side up on your cutting board and wrap your damp dish towel around the base to help hold it in place. Take the knife in your hand, placing your thumb and forefinger on either side of its heel, cradling the handle of the knife with the rest of your hand. You don’t need an iron-clad grip here.
Confidently and carefully lift the knife above the coconut (not too high!). Quickly bring the heel of the knife down onto the exposed portion of the coconut. If your aim is just so-so, refrain from using your other hand to steady the coconut–that’s why the towel is there. You might not puncture the coconut on the first try. Keep going until you do. Then, continue to lift and drop the heel of the knife down into the coconut until you’ve cut/punctured about 1/3 of a circle in the top of the coconut.
From here, you should be able to shimmy a spoon (facing upward) into the cut opening that you’ve created. Once you do, put a bit of weight onto the spoon’s handle to aid in prying off the natural circular “lid” that will form. Once you’ve released the lid, pull it off carefully. Empty the coconut water out into your bowl.
Return the coconut to the damp towel circle. Using the spoon, scrape the coconut meat off of the lid that you just removed and place it in a bowl. Discard the lid. To remove the meat from the coconut itself, face your spoon downward while pressing it down into the outer husk. Continue to scrape and remove pieces of meat from the side of the coconut. Once you’ve gotten every piece out, rinse the extracted coconut meat in the fine mesh sieve. Use meat immediately or store in a sealed container in the fridge.
TO MAKE THE STRAWBERRY MILK:
You should have roughly 3/4-1 cup of coconut meat after breaking down one coconut. Place that meat in an upright blender and cover it with 3 cups of filtered water. Blend on high until you have a completely smooth mixture, about 1 1/2 minutes. Strain the milk through a fine mesh sieve into a large bowl. Rinse the blender pitcher. Return the strained milk to the blender along with the chopped strawberries, maple syrup, vanilla powder, and sea salt. Blend the mixture on high until completely smooth, about 1 minute.
Strain the strawberry milk through a fine mesh sieve into a large bowl so that you can catch all the tiny strawberry seeds. Check the milk for sweetness and adjust if necessary. Store the milk in a covered container in the fridge for up to 5 days.