Coconut Milk

Preparation info

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By James Peterson

Published 1991

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This is almost essential for making Southeast Asian curries and curries from Southern India, where it is used in much the same way Western cooks would use cream.

Many cooks who think that coconut milk is the liquid trapped inside a fresh coconut are surprised to discover that coconut milk is made by soaking ground or grated pulp in hot water and then squeezing out the liquid (method follows). Coconut cream is the rich, congealed coconut fat that floats to the top of both homemade and good canned coconut milk. The cream should be added along with the milk. Fortunately, excellent coconut milk is available inexpensively in cans (Thai brands are best). Avoid coconut milk containing stabilizers (even the best brands, however, contain sodium benzoate as a preservative), and “cream of coconut” containing sugar, which is designed for making piña coladas.

To make about 2 cups (500 milliliters) fresh coconut milk, shake the coconut to hear whether there’s liquid sloshing around inside. If there’s no liquid, the coconut may have been punctured and could be rancid inside; do not use it. Use a hammer and a screwdriver to puncture holes in two of the coconut “eyes” (the dark oval spots near the top). Drain out the liquid, which is perfectly drinkable but too thin to use in a sauce. Bake the coconut in a 375°F (190°C) oven for 20 minutes to get the pulp to separate from the shell. Wrap the coconut in a towel and hit it with a hammer to crack it open. Pull out the pulp. Peel the thin, dark peel off the sections of pulp with a vegetable peeler. Grind the pulp in a food processor for about 1 minute or grate it with a hand grater.

Put the grated pulp in a mixing bowl and add 1 cup (250 milliliters) boiling water. Let the mixture sit for 10 minutes, then drain through a medium-mesh strainer into another bowl, reserving the liquid. Wrap the drained pulp in a kitchen towel and wring out any remaining liquid over the bowl. Put the wrung-out pulp back in the original mixing bowl and add another cup (250 milliliters) boiling water. Repeat the draining and wringing process.

Fresh coconut milk and opened canned coconut milk can be kept in the refrigerator for 1 week or frozen for several months.