Congratulations to Jess at Hungry For Seconds for winning our last giveaway! Your San Francisco goodie package will be on its way as soon as I hit the post office! Also, read to the end for another giveaway and a sponsor announcement!
Last week, Central Florida had four hard freezes in six days. Normally, the rest of the county will have a frost and we stay slightly above since we’re close to the water. Not last week — mid-20s even where we were, and there was a skim of slushy ice on our canal.
We’re not used to weather like that, but more than our comfort, I was actually worried about my coconut trees. They usually can’t take a hard freeze, and even though it warmed above freezing in the middle of the day, four freezes a week made it a pretty tough week for them.
We’ve been getting a good harvest of coconuts this last month, even before the freeze. I thought I’d take advantage of them to make a red curry sauce. Christey wanted some skewered shrimp cooked on the grill, and they paired up nicely.
There are all sorts of tricks to opening coconuts, and I’ve been messing around with them since I was a kid living in Miami. Back then, there was a different species of coconut in Florida — the long, sweeping graceful kind you see on postcards. There was a blight, alas, and they’ve all died. The types we have now are the blight resistant kind and grow pretty much straight up and down.
The easiest way I’ve found is to use the back of a claw hammer. There are usually three lobes on the husk, and after choking way up on the hammer, I cut a line around each lobe. It’s easy to accidentally split the nut, so near the bottom of the husk, I tap lightly. It doesn’t take much to cut through a ripe husk.
Once the lobes are cut, and the ends of the husk are beat up a bit with the claw, the lobes can usually be peeled off the nut with a little work.
Always draws an audience!
Julian says: “Voila!”
The coconut should be heavier than it seems, with a lot of audible swishing around of liquid inside.
To open the nut itself isn’t too hard, though it takes practice to pull it off in two even pieces. I rap sharply with the claw end until it cracks slightly, rotate the nut 1/4 turn, rap again, 1/4 turn, and so forth until the nut splits in half. Some people save the coconut water, some let it drain away.
What I’m really after is making coconut milk, which is different from the water (though some use the water to make the milk). First, I took the meat from the shell. Sometimes it pops out pretty easily, sometimes the shell needs to be broken up some more. Usually there is still some brown on the meat, like the paper around a roasted peanut. I usually take it off with a peeler, but some people say it makes no difference to leave it on.
I diced the meat, and put it in a food processor, then pulsed it until the coconut was shredded pretty finely.
I added water that had just started to simmer (this is where some use the water that came from the coconut — I just used tap water), maybe the same amount in volume as the meat — that is, it came up to the top of the shredded coconut in the food processor without covering it completely.
I pulsed to shred some more and break loose some of the coconut fat, and let everything sit for about 10 minutes.
When the water had cooled to lukewarm, I put a cloth napkin in a bowl, poured the water/coconut mixture onto the napkin, then squeezed out every bit of liquid that I could.
The leftover meat isn’t good for much, now. Most of the fat and flavor has been extracted.
The liquid is now a mixture of what is called coconut cream and coconut milk. Once it sits, the cream will rise to the top, just like fresh milk. Again, there’s a personal taste thing here with sauces. Some use only the cream, some use only the milk. I like a mixture of about 2/3rds cream, 1/3rd milk.
While the coconut milk sat, I sliced open the backs of the shrimp shells and removed the “vein”, or intestinal tract of the shrimp. Then, I made a marinade with chopped scallions, minced garlic, and grated fresh ginger.
I added olive oil, rice vinegar, the juice of half a lemon, some orange juice, and some coconut cream/milk mixture, and tossed the shrimp.
While the shrimp marinaded, I sliced some ginger, minced some more garlic, and minced some shallots, then sauteed them in a little bit of olive oil.
(pan gets good and sizzling, then add the oil to the hot pan)
I happened to have some shrimp stock made with shrimp shells (I save and freeze them, then make stock when I have enough). This can also easily be made with chicken stock, or with a court bouillon. I added about 1/2 a cup of shrimp stock, then added 1/2 cup total of coconut cream and milk mixed together.
I have some wonderful red curry powder that Jenn from The Leftover Queen gave us when she and her husband visited us. I added about a tablespoon of the powder (more or less to taste), and the juice of the other half of the lemon.
The sauce was brought up to a simmer and reduced by about half.
Then, I fired up the grill and threaded the shrimp on some metal skewers, which I personally prefer to bamboo skewers as I don’t have to mess with soaking them for hours before I use them.
The shrimp went on a hot grill and they don’t take long to cook. Maybe 3-4 minutes per side, depending on size of the shrimp. They should be slightly undercooked in the middle, because there is a lot of carryover heat with shrimp. Let them rest a couple minutes and they’ll finish on the kitchen counter.
I strained the sauce, and plated the skewers over some rice, with the sauce poured over the top.
Deconstruction: Coconut milk is the basis for many traditional curries and seafood dishes throughout the northern Indian Ocean area. In this meal, I used it almost more like the French would use a cream, using a more continental shallot and stock based foundation. The coconut milk, curry, and ginger added some Southeast Asian flavor profiles, and it was a great combination of technique and taste.
The shrimp turned out really nicely — there was a nice smokiness to them from the cooked shells, and head-on shrimp have their own unique flavor, much like meat on the bone.
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