Thursday, July 11, 2013

Homemade Coconut Milk, Coconut Cream and Coconut Butter

This is likely more than you ever wanted to know about working with coconut but it is worth it.  Most of our foods require a breaking in program for the cook before anyone gets it right.  This suggests that coconut is particularly easy to use with some not so obvious tips you would never think up without someone telling you.  Now we know to buy inexpensive bulk shredded coconut and make your own of everything.

We all need to be more adept at working with unfamiliar staples, just to eat better.  Coconut milk became one of my staples simply because Thai curry paste became both cheap and easier to work with for excellent results.

And once you begin displacing dairy with coconut, it is hard to quit.

Homemade Coconut Milk, Coconut Cream and Coconut Butter

Coconut is amazing. You can turn it into flour, milk, oil or butter. You can drink the water. You can simply eat the coconut. You can buy it shredded or in cans. Most of us don’t think about how simple it is to make things ourselves and so we pay $14 for a jar of coconut butter or $2.50 for a can of coconut milk and resign ourselves to shelling out for it because it’s awesome.
My kids have to take milk to school to fulfill some bullshit calcium requirement and since they’re dairy free, we’ve been sending them off with coconut milk. I’ve tried watering down canned coconut milk but it tastes…canned. I had started buying coconut milk “drink” in tetra paks, but at $2 each, it was getting expensive. Plus, one look at the “vitamins” on the side revealed that all the additives were artificial – even in the Trader Joe’s brand. I read a post on The Primal Parent about the damage that those artificial vitamins can do and how to make your own almond milk(which I did, and it was amazing but I can’t send the kids off to school with any type of nut product). So, I set off to make my own coconut milk. I simply used shredded coconut instead of nuts and used the same procedure.

The result was the silkiest, smoothest most delicous coconut milk I’ve ever had. It was fragrant. With a flavor I’d never tasted before. It tasted…fresh. The first batch I made separated in the fridge and had to be brought to room temperature and re-blended in order to drink it so I set about tweaking it. The fat congealed in one big lump and floated to the top. Frequent attempts to shake it back into submission only resulted in the lump getting bigger, much like dairy butter. (In case you’re curious, the fat that separated was pure coconut cream — or more correctly, coconut butter, but we tend to think of coconut butter as something else — I’ll get to that later. We’ll just call it cream for simplicity’s sake.) It was richer and smoother than the coconut cream you buy in the store and didn’t taste like it had come from China, which is how the stuff I’ve found tends to taste. It was solid like a block of butter is when you first remove it from the fridge, but when it warmed up it had the consistency of whipping cream.

Coconut butter is like peanut butter — the flesh of the nut with the absolute shit blended out of it. It’s not technically “butter” any more than almond butter is butter, but it is beyond amazing. It’s also very expensive. Artisana sells a 16-oz jar of Coconut Butter for almost 14 bucks. Sure, it’s raw. And organic. So is the stuff you can make at home. I estimate you can make a 16-oz jar of the stuff yourself for less than three dollars, depending on how much you got your coconut for. I bought a jar before I started experimenting so that I would know what it tasted like. It tasted like an orgasm feels. There is no other way to describe it.

So how do you make these things yourself? Well, here are the recipes.
Coconut Butter
You’re going to feel like a dimwit when I tell you how easy this one is, but don’t. Please. We’ve become programmed to think that only the all-powerful food industry holds the secret to foods like mayonnaise, peanut butter and pickles, but they are incredibly easy — and way cheaper — to make at home.
Things You’ll Need:
·         Blender (a high powered blender like a Vitamix work the best but any old blender will do.)
·         Shredded Coconut (I use Bob’s Red Mill Fine Macaroon Unsweetened Coconut. You can use any brand you want, but make sure it is finely shredded and unsweetened.)

1. Put the shredded coconut in the blender and put on the lid. You’ll want to use at least a couple cups of coconut since it reduces and you’ll definitely want more than a tablespoon of finished product.
2. Turn on the blender and gradually turn it up to high.
With a Vitamix, you’ll have finished coconut butter in about 3 minutes. With a regular blender, it might take as long as 15-20 minutes, but it will eventually turn into butter. Turn off the blender and scrap down the sides if you need to once the butter starts to form. Blend to desired consistency (just taste it to figure out how smooth you want it).
That. Is. It.

: Don’t add any type of sweetener to your coconut butter. I know it looks like icing, but it isn’t. I tried to make “icing” by adding some agave nectar and strangely enough, it dried the coconut butter out. No amount of re-blending gave it back the wonderful consistency it had before I added the agave. It should be fine if you’re using the coconut butter in a recipe that also calls for sweetener.

Coconut Milk and Cream
You can use this exact same recipe to make cashew milk, almond milk or any-type-of-nut milk, including a wonderful blend of all your favorites. Just make sure you drain and rinse the nuts and use fresh water in your recipe. With coconut milk, you use the same water that you soak the coconut in. This is the only difference.
Things You’ll Need:
·         Shredded Coconut
·         Blender
·         Filtered Water
·         Tea towel (I use Flour Sack Towels. Love, love, love them.)
·         Clean glass bottle
·         Funnel if your bottle has a narrow mouth
·         Guar Gum (if you want the cream to stay emulsified in the coconut milk)
·         Sugar/Honey (optional)
·         Vanilla (optional)
You’ll have to experiment with coconut to water ratios to get the consistency that you like but here are some basics that I like:
·         Coconut milk to drink: 1 cup coconut, 4 cups water
·         Coconut milk to cook with: 2 cups coconut, 4 cups water

1. Soak coconut in filtered water for several hours or overnight. I just do this step right in my blender. Less mess, fewer dishes. Work smarter, not harder. Flip the switch a couple times during the day to mix it all up, if you feel the need.

2. When you’re ready, turn the blender on high for 2-3 minutes in a Vitamix, a little longer (say 5 minutes) in a regular blender.
3. Set up your glass bottle, funnel and tea towel.

4. Strain the coconut milk by pouring it slowly into the funnel and squeezing the excess liquid into the bottle. You can discard the leftover pulp or use it for recipes. (It’s rather tasteless at this point) Repeat until all the milk is strained.

5. When you’ve finished straining your coconut milk, you have several options. If you want it unflavored and unsweetened, or you want coconut cream you can go ahead and drink it now or put it in the fridge. Otherwise, you’re going to need to return it to the blender. This is what I do.
6. I add 1 tsp of vanilla, 1 tablespoon of regular sugar and 1/4 tsp of guar gum while the blender is on. That way the guar gum doesn’t clump. I usually mix the guar gum with the sugar and add them together. It seems to work quite well.
7. When the coconut milk is flavored/sweetened to your taste, pour it back into your glass bottle.
A note on using Guar Gum: The following pictures are of freshly made coconut milk using guar gum. Notice the separation on the left. Even though you’ve used guar gum, the coconut milk will separate several times. Just give it a little shake to remix it. The guar gum keeps the fat from clumping when you refrigerate it and will eventually keep it emulsified once the temperature has dropped. If you don’t use any, you will end up with a clump of coconut cream that will not mix back into the milk unless you bring it to room temperature and reblend it. Using Xanthan Gum makes a product thicker and is not what you want in this case, unless you want to thicken the coconut milk up. I caution against this, though. If you want thicker coconut milk, use more coconut and less water. Xanthan gum gives your finished milk a slimy feel, especially if you use too much. Be careful with the amount of Guar Gum, too. The same thing can happen. A scant 1/4 tsp in 4 cups of water is enough.

8. Your fresh coconut milk will keep in the fridge for 3-4 days. You can also freeze it, but be prepared for some separation when it thaws.
Let me know how it turns out for you! Try making some other nut milks. My favorite is cashew milk. Just make sure you soak the nuts for about 12 hours and dump the water out and rinse before beginning. Nuts contain phytic acid and other anti-nutrients you don’t necessarily want to drink.

Save yourself some time:

Once you’ve made your nut butter, leave some in the blender and add water. Blend for a minute or so and then strain. Instant nut milk! Plus you’ve used up the last bits in the blender and made cleanup easi