Bottled coconut water cannot compare to fresh coconut water. Of course, bottled is far more convenient and doesn’t require tools, but if you’re at home and you have a few basic tools, you’ll enjoy amazingly fresh coconut water AND coconut milk AND coconut meat for what you would have paid for just the coconut water. You’ll also get to smash the heck outta stuff. Plus, it’s a good work-out. And what if you’re ever stranded on a beach somewhere with only fallen coconuts to eat? Knowing how to crack open coconuts could be considered a survival skill.
The tools you’ll need: a hammer and an allen wrench (or something else metallic and pointy that won’t bend/break when you whang on it with a hammer).
The coconut you’re looking for: if you want meat and milk along with your water, go with a mature coconut sporting a fibrous outer dark-brown husk; if you want to maximize your water, go with a young green coconut that might be green or white (you’ll see the latter when the outer husk has been shaved away and the white under-husk has been shaved into a point). Either way, choose a firm coconut that sloshes easily when shaken. If it’s a mature coconut, make sure the eyes look fresh and don’t show any signs of mold. The “eyes” are the three dark spots arranged in a bowling-ball-fingerholes pattern.
Assorted useful items: An oven, a sturdy counter, a plastic bag, cheesecloth, and a food processor. If you have a high-speed blender like a Vitamix, you’re even luckier.
To get the coconut water: Rinse the coconut well. Have a glass ready. Locate the eyes and carefully tap the pointy end of the allen wrench into each eye, poking through at least two (I do all three). You’ll have to hammer harder than you think, but then all of a sudden the wrench will slip through. If you’re using something without a bend — the bend of the wrench prevents it from falling into the coconut — be especially vigilant when hammering. You might want to wash the implement well before using in case it does fall in. Upend the coconut over the glass and let the water drain out. If any pieces of husk fall in, fish them out with a spoon. Put on ice and enjoy! Note: if you’re dealing with a green coconut that’s been shaved, you’ll have to cut away the top pointed portion and then puncture the exposed inner shell to let the water leak out. Frankly, it’s easier to punch through the eyes.
To get the coconut milk: Bake the drained coconut at 425F for 10 minutes in an attempt to crack it or at least make it easier to hammer apart. Let cool enough to handle, then place cracked/uncracked coconut in a plastic bag. Bang on it with a hammer as hard as you can. You might want to put the bag on top of a towel to spare your counter top excessive pounding. Keep smashing it until it’s in relatively small pieces. Some will probably break free of the outer hairy husk, but for the ones that don’t, wriggle a sharp knife between the inner white flesh and the outer husk until the former pops free. Discard the hairy husks. (Or keep stashing them away until you have enough to make a floor mat — the hairs are great for catching dirt and cleaning the soles of shoes.) The inner light-brown shell is perfectly fine to eat, so there’s no need to cut that away. Note that the reason you want to put the coconut in a bag is so that you don’t have coconut pieces flying around your kitchen and hitting you in the eyeballs. If you don’t have a bag handy, I highly recommend wearing goggles.
Clean the white meat well under running cold water, rubbing away any clinging husk hairs. Place in a food processor/Vitamix and blend with 2/3 cup boiling water until well-blended. (The Vitamix can handle bigger chunks of meat; standard food processors will do better if you chop the meat first.) Let stand until cool enough to handle.
When cool, pour/spoon some of the meat onto a square of cheesecloth. Hold above a large bowl and twist the ends of the cheesecloth together — do not put too much into it! — and squeeze hard to get the milk to come out. Place squeezed-out meat into another bowl. Repeat until you’ve squeezed all the milk out of the meat. You can keep using the same cheesecloth if you scrape off the squeezed-out meat after each batch.
Drink the milk immediately or refrigerate it for up to a week. If the meat is very finely ground, it can be used as a flour in baked goods; if it’s more grated/chopped than ground, use it the way you would store-bought grated coconut. Use within a week or freeze for later use.
To get the coconut meat: It’s also entirely possible to eat the meat straight from the husk — just rinse well and nibble on the large chunks. Or chop and coarsely grind/grate in a food processor. Frozen fresh coconut meat is a particularly tasty treat.
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