International cooking for the youthful malcontent.

How to Crack a Coconut (Without Hurting Yourself)

So, let’s say you have a coconut. Maybe you bought it, maybe it was a gift. Maybe you smuggled it out of a tropical island on a speedboat. Doesn’t matter – you’ve got this coconut, and it’s hard as hell. You want to get inside it, and get into that creamy coconut heaven but you just. Can’t. Crack. This. Damn.

But wait, let’s take a step back. Before you open your coconut, is it even worth opening? Sometimes store-bought coconuts have already gone bad and most stock people in, for example, Sobeys have no idea when those nuts are off. Here’s a few tips:

  1. Avoid nuts that have mold on the outer shell.
  2. Avoid nuts that have any cracks in the shell, as cracks are where mold can enter.
  3. The shell should not be soft in any place.
  4. Pick up the coconut and compare it to others. Preferably, choose one that feels heavy for its size.
  5. Shake the coconut. Do you hear sloshing? This indicates there is water inside, which is a very good (although not perfect) indicator that the nut has not spoiled.

These are the things you can do prior to buying the coconut. It’s a good idea to increase your odds of selecting a good coconut, because you still have a lot of things to do before you can use it. Don’t waste your time and money betting on low coconut odds.

Once you get your coconut home, take a closer look at it. On one end of the nut, you will see three darker dots in a triangular formation. These are called the eyes.

They kind of look like ghost eyes.

I learned on the internet that there is a secret to these. That is, that one of these eyes is softer than the other two, and can be pierced fairly easily. This is the Achilles heel of the coconut. The first step in cracking this coconut is piercing the soft eye, and draining the water out of the nut. You can do this with any long, tapered piece of metal. I used the piercing end of a meat thermometer. I’m guessing you could use a coated nail or a thin knitting needle (if you don’t care that it gets bent). In any case, attempt to poke your chosen tool into each eye in sequence until you find the soft one. Once you find it, bore a hole into the center of the nut, and wiggle the tool around to widen the hole as much as possible. Remove the tool, and get a cup. Holding the nut over the cup, with the eyes facing down, shake the water out into the cup.

The next step is tasting the water. Take a small sip. If the water tastes OK (coco-nutty, fruity, mildly sweet, etc) you’re good to go. If the water is totally nasty smelling and tastes the same, stop. Your coconut is bad. Let’s assume it’s fine, though.

This is where things get fun. Preheat your oven to 400 F.

Once preheated, put the drained coconut directly onto the middle rack, and bake it for 10-15 minutes until the outer shell definitively cracks. Instead of attempting to whack a coconut open with the blunt side of a cleaver (I don’t even own a cleaver), we use a hands-off approach. Much less stress. The shell cracks under the heat of the oven.

Take the coconut out of the oven, and let it cool for 10 minutes. Ideally, when the shell cracked, it also separated from the interior skin slightly. This isn’t a guarantee, though, so you have a minor amount of work ahead. The next step is the removal of the outer shell. You may be able to pry this apart and finish breaking the shell with your bare hands. If not, get a large standard (flat-head) screwdriver to pry the shell apart. Most of the heavy work is already done, so this should be a relatively easy task. Some of the flesh may have stuck to parts of the broken shell. You can use the same screwdriver to pry the flesh chunks off the shell once you get inside the nut.

Once the shell is gone, you’re left with a handful of coconut pieces.

But, see, it still has the outer skin on, which is rough and undesirable. You’ll need to peel this off. It will come off easily with a vegetable peeler – the coconut meat has the hardness and skin texture of a squash, approximately. Once you get the pieces peeled, you have delicious, fresh, white coconut, ready for… whatever.

There’s so many things one can do with coconut meat. You can grate it, and use it as you would dried coconut – it provides a much better, richer coconut flavour than the dried stuff. You can process the meat with very hot water to extract coconut milk. You can slice it thinly and make roasted coconut chips. Grated or sliced fresh coconut meat is used in a number of curries. I’m going to use my latest coconut to make kerisik, a paste produced from fresh grated coconut that’s been dry-roasted until it’s golden. It’s used to provide a deep, rich and nutty flavour to Malaysian and Indonesian curries. It should provide the incentive to have a go at Laksa.

Or you could just eat it. Either way, left on its own it will only last a few days in the refrigerator, so do something dramatic with it!


17 responses

  1. Great post. I can’t believe I have got to the age I have without knowing this!

    November 24, 2011 at 6:17 am

    • I just found out a couple of weeks ago! After I attempted to whack one open with the blunt edge of a knife, only to discover I did not have any of the proper tools to open coconuts. Haha!

      November 24, 2011 at 2:09 pm

  2. A cork screw works really well for making those holes!

    January 24, 2012 at 5:51 pm

  3. Shubha Satish

    Genius! I’m really surprised by your take on this An Indian, now in US, I just get frozen, grated coconut for my cooking needs. Back home, I have tried breaking coconut and it is sure tough.
    Let me share some more fun facts about coconuts. Coconut trees are very tall, no low branches and hence difficult to climb. Professional coconut gatherers make a tight rope ring around the tree, put their feet in it for support and move up. When they are in reach of the coconut bunches, they use a sickle to chop it off. It falls down with a thud on the ground. Obviously, people below should be far away to avoid accidents. Other accidents such as breaking of nearby things do happen sometimes.
    These coconuts when they first appear to be have a thick green outer shell. It will have plenty of water and thick, soft and white pulp. The top part of the shell can be sliced of with the sickle and you can sip the tender coconut water as it is or (decently!) with a straw. Once you have finished drinking, it can be cut open and the tender coconut pulp can be eaten. Being a Hindu veg, I will call it pulp and not the other term. Tender coconut water is an excellent electrolyte and people of all ages can drink it.
    When the coconuts mature much more, the outer shell becomes brown. When it is cut open at this stage, you can find the nut in it. This will be as shown in your picture. So, depending on its stage again we can use it as fresh coconut or dry coconut.
    As far as my knowledge goes, the coconut tree and the banana plant are the most useful. Every part of it can be used for one or the other purpose. So they are revered in Hindu tradition. If there are any other such wonderful plants on this earth, please add them to this list.

    December 4, 2012 at 5:23 pm

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