A Coconut Chronicle
Have you ever wondered how to open a coconut?
Especially during the season where I was focusing on eating a high amount of raw foods, it seemed coconut was a popular ingredient choice for raw foodists (and thus included in some raw food recipes).
That was all fine and dandy that a cookbook author could essentially say “get some coconut” for this or that raw food recipe. However, it’s one thing to look at the words “coconut” on the ingredient list in a cookbook recipe. It’s another matter entirely to open one.
Several years back, I wanted to make myself some homemade coconut kefir. My memory tells me the coconut-opening process lasted for a few hours. At least that is what it felt like. I seem to recall an ice pick and hammer being part of the process. And you can surmise that I didn’t attempt that endeavor for a long while afterward. I mean, who wants to be hammering and poking at an incredibly resistant ball for an undetermined length of time? Not me.
It was rather discouraging. I wanted the treasures within the coconut, but was doubtful about future effort required to get at the yummy water and slippery white pulp inside. So, for a long time, I stopped trying to open any more coconuts.
But this post is not about how not to open a coconut. It’s about how to open one!
Because I finally learned how!
During my recent attendance at Denise Souza’s cooking class, she opened a coconut before our eyes in probably just around a MINUTE!
1 hour…or 2: my experience.
1 minute: Denise’s demo.
It was slightly vexing that I’d lacked such knowledge for however many years…hindered from the enjoyment of home-cut coconuts just because I didn’t know how to open them!
Dear friends, you are now going to get what I have waited YEARS to understand. You are going to get a step-by-step demo on how to open a coconut.
So, let’s get started with this easier-than-I-once-thought process!
Crack Your Coconut!
Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to open your own coconut:
(1) Buy a young thai coconut (versus a round brown ball-shaped one). The young thai coconuts are white on the outside and have a flat bottom which will allow you to sit it on the counter while cutting into it (without having to deal with a ball rolling off your cutting board).
The best price that I know about for young thai coconuts in the Raleigh / Durham Triangle area is the Grand Asia Market in Cary. (Thank you Denise for that tip!)
Here’s a price comparison on coconuts (as seen in the pictures below):
Whole Foods price: $3.99 each
Grand Asia Market price: $2.29 each
That’s a difference of $1.70 per coconut.
Or, if we look at it in percentage terms, the Grand Asia market price is 43% less than Whole Foods. That’s significant in my opinion.
(2) Get yourself a large knife.
You have a few options here:
*You can pick up a chef’s knife, in the size of 8″ or more. Make sure it’s wide from top to bottom, as opposed to being too skinny. TJ Maxx or Target might have one if you go this route. Swinging at the hard coconut could dull your knife fast, so I’d recommend getting a cheap knife if you get a regular knife. Don’t waste money on something high end given the work you have intended for it (coconut-opening). I have a very nice chef’s knife from Williams Sonoma but I do not use it for opening coconuts – I don’t want to ruin it!
*In lieu of a knife, get yourself a cleaver. That’s what I did (I think I read about that in a raw food book some years back). Yes, a meat cleaver is what I bought. Now that is one way to get some leverage for a challenging kitchen task! It is heavy – and I’d say heavy duty. I shopped around for one and asked advice along the way. In the process, I learned about United Restaurant Equipment Company in Raleigh so decided to give it a visit. And guess what? They have some really great stuff for cheaper…yes, I even saw something I’ve been wanting at Williams Sonoma for LESS MONEY. Go there before you go to Williams Sonoma next time you need something. I’m telling you. Save yourself the money. They might have exactly the same thing for SIGNIFICANTLY LESS. I’m glad to know about that store now!
(3) Cut the coconut.
Once at home, set your coconut on a cutting board (flat bottom down so to stabilize the whole thing).
Then get your large knife (or cleaver) and hold the handle with one or both hands. DO NOT HOLD THE COCONUT WITH YOUR HAND WHILE YOU ARE ATTEMPTING TO CUT IT!
This post is about opening coconuts not losing digits, and I really want everyone’s fingers to stay 100% intact.
With the coconut flat-bottom-down on the cutting board, you’re ready to cut without needing to hold it.
Now, holding the knife handle with both your hands, forcibly hit the coconut on the side of the point at the top of the young coconut.
Do it again on all other sides of the point. You will be making a square of “slits” around the peak of the coconut.
Keep in mind, though, you have to hit that thing HARD with the knife. You’re going to have to go through the outer white covering and then crack into the hard “ball” that is underneath – which holds the goodness within.
If you are using a knife, you’ll probably need to use the point of the knife to dig into the slits after you make them. That’s what Denise demonstrated. Digging into the slit can help get the coconut more fully “cracked.”
When I used my cleaver, if the first hit didn’t go deep enough, I tried to hit the slit again multiple times in an effort to make a deeper cut. I have also tried just gently placing the cleaver into the slit then getting some extra pressure by holding the cleaver handle with one hand and putting the other on top of the (dull side of the) blade to press on it. Thus positioned, I can put my weight on it from above, and kind of wiggle the cleaver back and forth to make a deeper cut.
There’s more than one way to cut a coconut, but once you have the right coconut, right tool, and right methodology (square around the top peak) I feel confident you can get this done!
(4) Open the coconut.
Once you have “cracked” the coconut with your hacking and leveraging and cutting such that the square piece you have just created around the peak is now malleable, use your fingers to pop the top off the coconut.
Then once the top is popped off, pour the coconut water (full of natural electrolytes) into a glass. This is super delicious if your coconut has already been chilled because then the water you pour out is chilled. Oh, I cannot even explain how tasty this is. The coconut water boxed drink you can buy in stores (like Whole Foods) pales in comparison.
Fresh coconut water is truly a delicious experience. If you have never tried it I highly recommend you consider doing so!
(5) Extract the meat.
Now that you’ve poured out the coconut water, you’ll want to extract the coconut meat (the slippery white pulp housed inside the coconut – you’ll observe it adhered to the edge of the inside of the ball).
I prefer to hack my coconut open more fully (with the same aforementioned hacking tool of your choice) so to get at the white essence more easily.
Hack until it cracks. Or something like that.
Just hit it hard again – say, alongside the top area where you’ve already opened it but want to get a crack started down the side. Once you get a crack going enough (you may have to make a crack on one side and the opposite one), just try to pry the 2 opposing sides away from one another to open the coconut into 2 parts.
If you can scrape the inside without having to cut the coconut into 2 parts, have at it. I just have trouble reaching the inside well enough to do that and find it seems I can access more of the pulp if I’m working with 2 distinct halves than trying to reach a spoon into the square hole I’ve created.
Now, just take a spoon and scrape the inner wall of the coconut to get the white meat off.
Eat this pulp raw, as is, on crackers, blend into smoothies, or use in recipes. It’s a healthy fat that tastes super great. Yes, it’s even tasty completely plain!
So, that’s my story on how to open a coconut. If you have any other tips that I don’t yet know about, by all means, please leave them here in the comments section!
Happy coconut cracking!