What to do with a Whole Coconut

What to do with a Whole Coconut ~ this is for you if you’ve ever wondered!

There’s usually a little stack of them hidden between the pineapples and the papaya at the grocery store. Little hairy heads so tempting, yet so daunting. It’s happened to me a few times. I love coconut, so I grab one. Get it home, can’t figure out what to do with it. End of story.

For me it all started with my Coconut Lime Squares. I had a coconut on the counter. I had the lime squares in my head, and I decided to go for it. In the process I found out a few good tips for getting inside these tough nuts, and I realized that there’s quite a lot you can do with what you find once you get there.

The first thing you do is locate the 3 ‘eyes’ on one end of the coconut. They are easy to pierce with a screwdriver, nail, or other blunt poker type implement. Try not to imagine a cute little face while you’re doing this, trust me. I used a small hammer to tap the end of my screwdriver in. Do this for 2 of the holes, and then drain the coconut over a small bowl. Strain the liquid through a fine sieve or cheesecloth.

Now you’ve got your first reward, a glass of delicious coconut water. Drink it as is, or save it for a smoothie or a cocktail. Now that you have an emptied coconut, you need to crack it. You can crack it by hand with a cleaver or a large mallet, but I don’t have either of those, and there is an easier method anyway. Put the coconut on a baking sheet and bake it in a 375F oven for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes it will have a large crack in it.

Now all you do is insert that same screwdriver and tap it gently. Pull it apart and let it cool.

Getting the coconut ‘meat’ out of the shell is the toughest step in this whole process. I read articles and watched youtube videos, but truly there is no easy way, so just grab a blunt knife and start gouging your way through it. If you have the patience you can try to insert your knife in between the white meat and the hull at the edge and wiggle the knife to try to pry larger pieces free. Just get out what you can,  It gets easier with practice.

Use a vegetable peeler or small knife to remove any bits of brown skin that cling to the meat. Then put the pieces in a small food processor and pulse away until it’s finely ground.

Now you have coconut to use for cakes, frosting, granola, whatever you like. Keep it in an airtight container in the fridge while you are deciding what to do with it. You can use this milk to make your own coconut milk, too.

There is one more thing you can make, and it’s the best of all. You can make your own Coconut Extract which will last a long time and improve the flavor of all your coconut recipes. Most online recipes trace back to one by Alton Brown. I adjusted it a bit. Coconut is a difficult flavor to distill, the longer you let the mixture sit, the better.

It’s simple to do: add several tablespoons of the fresh coconut meat to half a cup of vodka in a small glass container with a tight fitting lid. Set it aside in a cool dark place for 7 to 10 days. Give it a shake every day.

Then strain it through a coffee filter to remove the solids. Pour through a funnel into a small bottle (a recycled vanilla bottle works well) and you will have a lovely natural extract. Note: You will not smell the coconut in this extract like you would with, say, with vanilla, but it will import the taste in baked foods.

There you have it, another grocery store mystery solved. I’m going to use all three of my coconut treasures in a luscious CREAMY COCONUT RICE PUDDING.


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    Leave a Reply

  • Reply
    Louise @ INGREDIENTS
    April 9, 2013 at 6:31 pm

    Hi Sue, this is fantastic, thank you for sharing all these tips. I have always been too intimidated to try buying a coconut but roasting in the oven to open it is a brilliant idea. Coconuts seem to have a million different uses! I just wrote a post comparing a high end deep conditioning hair treatment to coconut oil (post here) and the coconut oil beat out the high end product.

  • Reply
    April 7, 2013 at 2:36 pm

    Mmm I love coconut water – reminds me of winning them from the fair when we were kids. I love the idea of distilling the extract – very clever x

  • Reply
    Magnolia Verandah
    April 7, 2013 at 9:14 am

    Thank you so much for this – every morsel used.

  • Reply
    From Beyond My Kitchen Window
    April 7, 2013 at 11:53 am

    I think this whole process sounds like fun. We use to but coconuts when the kids were little. My husband always did all the cracking. I love the idea of the extract too.

  • Reply
    Debby Foodiewife
    April 7, 2013 at 4:19 am

    Have I told you how much I love you, lately? This is such a helpful post. Thank you! I can’t wait to try this for myself. Too cool!

  • Reply
    Joy Bee
    April 6, 2013 at 9:08 pm

    Great post, and lovely pictures. The coconut extract gave me an idea. Do you think you could make homemade Malibu (coconut rum) by steeping coconut in some light rum? Just a crazy idea that I may try sometime.

  • Reply
    belleau kitchen
    April 6, 2013 at 9:01 pm

    Blimey. A bit of effort but an amazing result at the end. I’m going to store this for use some long Sunday…

  • Reply
    Averie @ Averie Cooks
    April 6, 2013 at 8:19 pm

    What an extremely informative post, Sue! I loved it! I never buy whole coconut b/c as your last line said…this was a lot of work! But gosh, now I want to. I love coconut water and that fresh meat, mmm. And best of all, the extract! I can only imagine how potent and wonderful it is. I make my own vanilla extract and this should be next!

  • Reply
    Christina Conte
    April 6, 2013 at 6:15 pm

    Holy cow! Never ever thought about doing anything else with a fresh coconut other than eating it!! Love the extract idea!

  • Reply
    The Café Sucré Farine
    April 6, 2013 at 5:35 pm

    Thanks Sue, this has definitely been a mystery to me, that YOU have now solved, how fun!!! I will try this for sure!

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