How To Make Homemade Coconut Milk (from a fresh coconut!)

Coconut milk is one of my favorite ingredients. I usually buy it in bulk and use it in everything from smoothies and desserts to savory recipes like curry or light broths. Even though I use it, I admit that I'm not really a fan of the funky additives you can find in store-bought coconut milks. I bought an extra coconut the other day to use in a photo shoot, and while wondering what to do with it, I remembered my mom telling me stories about how my grandmother used to make coconut milk from scratch to use in her Puerto Rican dessert recipes.

It's a really easy process and takes mere minutes--especially now that we have access to the beautiful modern convenience that is the food processor. The results are especially lovely, with a strong and natural coconut flavor and aroma that is much different from the canned version.

NOTE: In this post I'll show you how to make the milk starting with a whole coconut, but you can also skip ahead and use a bag of unsweetened dried coconut, then begin from the food processor step!

Here's how you do it:

Start off with a fresh coconut. You want to use the brown "mature" coconuts, not the "young Thai" version. Choose a coconut that feels heavy for its size. You should also be able to hear the liquid sloshing around inside when you shake it. Also be sure to test the "eyes" by pressing on them; they should be hard without any give.

Once home, use a nail or screw to break through the eyes and drain out all the water inside--reserve this as you'll be using it in the recipe. You can then break the coconut open and remove the hard hairy brown outer shell. (Here is a great tutorial on how to open a coconut.)

The meat on the inside should be white with no yellow or moldy spots. Use a vegetable peeler to remove and discard the thin brown skin and cut the peeled meat into small chunks.

Combine the chunks of coconut in a food processor with the reserved coconut water plus two cups of boiling filtered water. (You can also use a strong blender or Vitamix for this step. No "Magic Bullets," please!) It's important that the water be very hot as that will help extract as much fat as possible from the coconut meat.

Puree the coconut and water for about 5 minutes. The coconut meat should be finely ground and frothy once ready.

Pour this into a fine sieve or a colander lined with a cheesecloth set over a large bowl.

Press down hard with a spatula or the back of a spoon to squeeze out all the liquid (I also just use my hands).

Once you have removed all the liquid, set the sieve with the shredded coconut aside (you can use this as-is in baking recipes or dry it to make homemade coconut flour).

The leftover liquid is your homemade coconut milk! You should have about 2 1/2 cups or so, depending on how moist your coconut was.

Use it right away, if desired, or transfer to a jar and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Note that the lack of additives or emulsifiers will also mean that the coconut milk will separate in the fridge with the fat solidifying on top--this is a good thing! It's natural! You can heat it up slightly and stir it back together to use or just pop in a blender to emulsify into a creamy milk again.

And remember: Don't have a fresh coconut? You can also make coconut milk using frozen coconut or shredded dried coconut (the unsweetened kind) and follow the process from the food processor step.

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