Open A Coconut
With a sharp machete, it is easy to whack open a green coconut and eat the soft interior of white meat. In Thailand, only the green coconut meat is used for cooking. In most of the Pacific, it is the firm meat from the brown coconut that is grated for food. Many people think the water from the green coconut is better for drinking than that from the brown. The water from the brown nut is thicker and oiler. But none of it tastes in the least like coconut. In fact, there is little flavor unless the nut is too young and green then the murky liquid tastes bitter.
When a brown coconut falls from a tree, it is ready to eat. To make sure it is not too old and deteriorating on the inside, shake the nut. If you can hear the water inside, you are usually good to go. If the nut is just sprouting a green shoot upwards and a few roots are coming out the bottom, it is usable but the inside will have uto, which is a white fibrous mass often called an “apple”. The uto can be scooped out and thrown away or eaten. It is a bit sweet and rich but does not taste like coconut or like an apple!
Traditionally, South Pacific natives would use a pointed shaft of hardwood set firmly in the ground to pry away the husk of the coconut. Modern technology gives natives nice steel spikes. Going in from a 90 degree angle, the nut is rolled on the spike to pry the husk away, starting on the wide stem end. For a cruiser, with the coconut resting on the ground, the pointy edge of an ax will work to pry away the husk. For us novices using an ax, it is easier to first perforate two lines longitudinally on the coconut about two inches apart. Then go back to the area of the coconut at the largest end, the stem, and begin prying away a small part of the husk. The ax is not used as a chopping tool but a pry tool to remove the husk. No matter what method is used, once a part of the husk is pried away from the nut, the rest of the husk removal becomes easier. Whatever method is used, a native can open a coconut in about 20 seconds. A Pelangi, (white person) will take 4 minutes.
Once the nut is free from the husk, notice there are 3 eyes on one end. One eye will be softer than the others. If you can push you finger into it, the nut is most likely rotten. There should be no strong odor. This happens sometimes when buying a husked nut at a native market and the nut has sat around for a few days. Husked coconuts last only about 3 days before turning. Normally a sharp pointed knife can be used to carve out a hole in the softer eye and drain the liquid for drinking. I simply put a 3/8 inch bit in my drill and save dulling my knives.
Running, equidistant between each eye, is a hard longitudinal line. Take a machete or hammer and give a solid whack to that line in the middle of the nut. Most often the nut will split perfectly in half. If it only cracks, pry the nut open with the tip of the machete.
Traditionally, natives used a serrated clam or other shell to grate out the white meat of the nut. Now, there are galvanized graters attached to long, flat, wood arms. The person doing the work sits on the wood arm and grates out the white meat over a bowl or basket.
It is surprising how much cream can be wrung from grated coconut. The fibrous strands from the husk are extremely strong and are traditionally used to wring the cream from the grated coconut. Now cheese cloth or even an old t-shirt is an easier option for cream squeezing. In the islands, nothing goes to waste. The left over white meat goes to the pigs, chickens and goats. Just split a brown coconut in half and throw it on the ground and all the animals, including the cats and dogs will attack it. Everyone loves coconut. And now, with the fresh cream squeezed from the coconut, you are ready to make a great Pina Colada!