The coconut is the fruit or nut of one of the most beautiful and noble of all palms. It is a very important factor in the survival of the Caribbean people. Every part of the tree is used. The trunk and palm frond are used for burning as well as the old nuts which burn for a very long time. It is very common to see roadside fruit stands made of branches, and thatched with coconut fronds. It will not keep the rain out, but it is a great shelter from the hot sun. The leaves are used for making hats and other weaved goods. The clear liquid inside the nut is the coconut water. It is always fresh, pure and sweet in its perfect container. The riper the coconut, the sweeter the water. Not only is the water used to quench that Caribbean thirst, but also in cocktails (adding rum and ice is a favorite), and as medication for liver disease, and just overall toning of the body. It is also a great diuretic. The milk is used in many medications: from anti-parasite to flu medicine.
The meat of the young coconut is very tender almost jelly-like and can be eaten right out of the shell with a spoon. The more mature meat is harder to get out of the shell and is used mainly for cooking
COCONUT MILK AND CREAM
Coconut milk and cream are used in many recipes. Ripe coconuts are available in most supermarkets. If fresh coconut is not available, try to find packaged coconut cream. If this is not possible, then use dry coconut, available in most supermarkets and health-food stores. Most supermarkets also carry canned coconut milk (used for the ever popular piña colada).
To make your own: Pierce 2 of the 3 eyes of a coconut and drain out the water. Strain and set aside. Put the coconut on a very hard surface and whack at it with a hammer. It will crack into enough small pieces to make it easy to remove the meat with a grapefruit spoon. Do not bother to remove the brown skin from the pieces to make the milk or cream. However, if grated coconut is to be used in a recipe, it is necessary to peel this off.
Grate the coconut as fine as possible, or place in a blender or food processor with the reserved coconut water. For a very rich coconut milk, squeeze the grated coconut through a damp cloth, twisting the cloth to extract as much liquid as possible. For ordinary use, however, pour one cup of boiling water over the grated coconut and let it stand for one hour. Squeeze through a cloth. This process may be repeated with a second cup of boiling water if abundant, not very rich coconut milk is needed.
For Coconut Cream, allow the coconut milk to stand until the cream rises to the top. This is very thick and rich and is wonderful with desserts.
As packaged shredded coconut, and canned moist grated coconut may not be as rich as fresh coconut, hot milk or light cream may be used instead of water to make coconut milk or cream.
Packaged coconut cream should be mixed to the desired consistency with hot water.The average coconut weighs about 1 1/2 pounds, and yields between 3 and 4 cups of grated meat. If mixed with the coconut water and hot water, this should yield about 3 cups of coconut milk. The amount will vary with the freshness and quality of the coconut.
COCONUT ICE CREAM
1 cup coconut milk
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Beat the eggs lightly with the sugar. Scald the milk and stir the eggs. Cook the egg mixture in the top of a double boiler over hot water, stirring constantly, until the mixture coats the spoon. Cool. Add the vanilla. Mix coconut and cream. Mix into custard. Turn into a freezing tray and freeze to a mush. Remove from freezer, beat well and return to freezer. When frozen, serve. Makes 6 -8 servings.
PESCADO CON COCO – FISH WITH COCONUT
4 1/2-lb snappers or red grouper
2 peppers cut into strips
1 teaspoons of crushed garlic
1 teaspoon of powdered bija (annatto, achiote)
4 cups of freshly extracted coconut milk
2 tablespoons of cilantro finely chopped
4 tablespoons of oil
1 onion cut into strips
Clean Fish. Score diagonal cuts on the fish about 1.5 inches from each other.
Mix the garlic, bija and salt. Fill the cuts on the fish with the mixture, smear the remaining mixture all over the fish.
Heat oil in a shallow pan (big enough to hold all 4 fish). Sautee fish on one side until it starts to acquire a darker color, rotate and cook other side equally. Add the pepper strips and onion and sauté for a couple of minutes. Add coconut milk and coriander. Simmer over medium heat until the liquid reduces to half. Rotate the fish regularly. When the liquid has reduced adjust salt to taste and remove from the heat. Serve hot. Feeds 4.