Homemade coconut cream has a richness in flavour and velvet-like texture you just don’t get with the tinned variety. You will find more coconut-cream based dishes in central and southern Thailand, due to their proximity to the coastal regions, the natural habitat of the coconut palm.
It isn’t essential to have any fancy equipment to make coconut cream, but when making large batches it certainly helps. At home you can use a food processor to blend grated coconut with water (heated to a temperature of around 80ºC) and then squeeze it out with cheesecloth. Once the liquid has settled, the cream will rise to the top and the more watery milk will be left below. At Som Saa we have a big screw-press that we imported from Thailand specifically for this job.
Tinned coconut cream often contains stabilisers, which alters the texture but also makes it very difficult to split or crack the cream. Cracked coconut cream is a product that comes from simmering down coconut cream until it splits producing a curd and an oil. A lot of Thai curries begin by frying out the curry paste in cracked coconut cream, which allows aromatic ingredients to blossom and bloom. Without being able to crack the cream you can’t fry the curry paste at a high enough temperature.
Use something hard and heavy to crack a fresh coconut. You can use a hammer, a pestle, or the back of a cleaver. Once you’ve cracked it, you can tap the husk gently to loosen the flesh from the shell, and finally use an oyster shuck or stiff butter knife to prise away any remaining flesh.
Fresh coconut cream will last a day or two at the most. We make it fresh every day and crack (split) whatever remains. Once the cream is cracked and the oil seals the top it can be kept for about a week in the fridge, and be used to fry curries. The split coconut cream can also be frozen and used at a later date.
We use coconut cream throughout our menu. Currently, we have a penang curry of salted beef cheeks that uses the cracked cream and fresh cream, and jackfruit poached in coconut cream as a dessert. It can also be used in salad dressings, Thai relishes and even stir-fries. somsaa.com
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