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Coconuts--Not Too Hard to Crack

July 20, 1989|JOAN DRAKE | Times Staff Writer

Opening the inner nut of a coconut is easy with the right tools and a few pointers. To begin with, when choosing a fiber-covered nut in the market, look for one heavy for its size. Shake it to be certain there is liquid sloshing inside and check that the three dots or "eyes" at the top aren't wet or moldy.

To open the coconut, pierce the three dots with a strong ice pick, skewer, awl or screwdriver tapped in with a hammer (Step 1). Drain the coconut liquid through a coffee filter-lined strainer (Step 2) and set aside for use with other ingredients in alcoholic drinks or milk shakes. It is very perishable and must be refrigerated and used within 24 hours or else frozen.

Place the drained coconut on a jellyroll pan and bake at 325 degrees 15 minutes. Time carefully because overheating destroys the flavor of coconut.

Cool the coconut slightly, then wrap in a towel or heavy cloth to prevent shattering when you crack it open. Tap the nut briskly all over with the hammer, until it breaks into pieces (Step 3).

The white flesh may be pried from the shell with a screwdriver (Step 4). The brown peel on the back of the pieces may be pared away with a sharp knife (Step 5) or vegetable peeler, or left on to protect fingers if the coconut is going to be grated by hand. Peeled coconut may be cut into small chunks and chopped or grated in a food processor or chopped one-half cup at a time in a blender.

To make coconut milk, line a bowl with cheesecloth. Add one cup of grated coconut and one cup of boiling water, cover and steep 15 to 20 minutes. Gather the ends of the cheesecloth and twist, squeezing out all the liquid. Discard the coconut. The liquid that remains is coconut milk. Coconut cream is made in the same manner, but hot milk is substituted for the boiling water.

To toast flaked or grated coconut, spread a thin layer on a baking sheet and bake at 325 degrees about 10 minutes, stirring frequently. You may also toss the coconut in an iron skillet over medium heat for three to five minutes until it browns.

Fresh coconut is more flavorful and less sweet than packaged. To substitute it for canned, shredded or flaked types, soak covered with milk six hours in the refrigerator, then drain before using. The fresh pulp may be stored, tightly covered, in the refrigerator or covered with coconut milk and frozen.

Suggestions for column topics may be sent to Back to Basics, Food Section, The Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053.

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