Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Coconut - Cracking and Grating

Growing up in the Rocky Mountains, we really didn't know much about coconuts. Occasionally mom would bring one home from the grocery store and it always generated a certain amount of excitement in our home. It was exotic and even a little mysterious. Opening the coconut was as much fun as munching on the juicy white meat. At this time we didn't have YouTube or Google and frankly had no idea how to open a coconut.

First, Dad would bring out the electrical extension cord and the drill to make holes in the top of the coconut and pour out the water. Next it was time to open the nut. We tried using a hammer but usually picked up a saw to very laboriously cut the coconut open. I can tell you now that is not the easiest way to open a coconut.

As I mentioned before, buying coconuts can sometimes be hit or miss. In choosing a coconut, it is important to shake it and listen for liquid sloshing around inside. No liquid, no good. If there is no coconut water you'll know that the coconut is probably old and could be rancid.

You'll know if a coconut is older if the three 'eyes' of the coconut are not dark brown. The coconut water inside is not coconut milk. Getting milk from the coconut is a totally different process that I will talk about in another posting. Here we're just going to talk about grating a coconut.

Now in choosing a coconut from the grocery store, once you've looked at the eyes, shaken it to feel and hear the water inside, well from there it's somewhat open to chance. Coconuts are typically not expensive and since there's no set season in which coconuts are considered ripe or fresh, they are usually available year round.

Growing up we never used coconut in cooking nor did we make coconut milk or coconut oil, we just ate the meat. Now I use coconut for cooking and if you've read the Chicken Keleguen Recipe posting, you know that fresh grated coconut gives Keleguen that special flavor.

When buying a coconut from the grocery store you must first remove the loose fiber. This will reduce the amount of crumbs and loose fibers that fall into the bowl when you grate the coconut.

OPENING A COCONUT: Once you've cleaned the outside of the coconut, removing loose fibers, take the coconut in one hand and using a large kitchen knife, strike the coconut at the center, rotating it frequently in your hand and continuing to strike it around its middle.


Your coconut should split evenly in the middle. With practice you can split the coconut without loosing the juice from the inside. It is important to taste this juice. The coconut water should be slightly sweet and savory. The meat should be thick and white. Eat a small piece. You know it's good if it's not rancid or oily. This coconut was a miss.

When picking this coconut off the shelf it had plenty of liquid inside but it was so old the flesh had separated from the shell and grew mold. Good thing I had picked up more than one.
Now for grating the coconut we use a Kumyu (pronounced: come-zoo). A kumyu is simply nothing more than a serrated scraper typically mounted to a small stool.
I have mine mounted to a board that I sit on to hold it secure while I grate my coconut.
Here are three types of kumyu. I picked up the one on the left from the local Asian store but not every neighborhood has an Asian store and not all Asian stores have kumyu. The middle one is a hand made kumyu, probably from one of the pre-WWII blacksmiths on Guam and the one on the right is a modern tool.
So, what do you do if you don't have one of these tools. Well as you know, my being a "make do with what you have" kind of person I have a solution. Now a kumyu is a simple yet effective tool for grating coconut and can be made using simple tools and what you probably have around the house. I took an old bamboo (hardwood will work too) cooking spoon and using my pocket knife and a file, made an effective kumyu.

I trimmed the wooden spoon and as you can see, because the material was a little thick, beveled the edge. Next, using a file/rasp cut serrations long the edge of the spoon.

Finally, I mounted the wooden kumyu onto a small board, as I mentioned to sit on as a means to secure the tool I was able to make a workable kumyu in about thirty minutes.

Now, when you grate your coconut, place a large bowl underneath the kumyu to catch the grated meat and beginning along the edge of the coconut, begin scraping the inside of the coconut against the kumyu. It takes practice but it is one of the best ways to grate coconut. Work the coconut over the kumyu evenly until you've taken all the meat out careful not to scrape too deep.


Now you're grating coconut like a real Chamorro and have what you need for a variety of Chamorro dishes including coconut candy. Yum! I think I know what I can do for my next posting.
I took some of this coconut and added it to Chicken Keleguen but the rest will be used for coconut candy, another Chamorro delicacy. 

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