Coconut milk (Recipe: chicken satay)
- Coconut milk comes from coconuts, but it's not the liquid found inside the coconut. That's the coconut water.
- On the tree, young coconuts are green, often the size and shape of bowling balls. At this stage, the liquid inside is sweet, and the flesh (meat) is gelatinous, the consistency of pudding. When the coconut matures to the "hairy brown rock-hard stage," the meat inside also solidifies, and the coconut water turns bitter. Coconut milk is made by grating the solidified coconut meat, then squeezing it to extract the liquid.
- In the can, the solids separate; the thick cream floats to the top, and can be scooped off for recipes that call for coconut cream. (Actual coconut cream is made by steeping coconut meat in milk. Honestly, could this be more confusing?) The thinner milk remains at the bottom. Shaking the can redistributes the creamy bits.
- It's easy to make your own coconut milk: crack open and peel a ripe (hairy brown) coconut; grate the white flesh; place in a heat-proof bowl and cover with hot simmered (not boiling) water; allow it to soak for 30 minutes or until cooled. Line a colander with cheesecloth, and pour the soaked coconut into it. Lift and twist the cheesecloth to squeeze out the coconut milk. Refrigerate until ready to use.
- Most of the time, you'll find coconut milk in 14-ounce cans, but Chaokoh brand Thai coconut milk comes in 5.6-ounce mini cans, the perfect amount for a curry for two.
- While it contains no cholesterol, it contains 552 calories per cup, of which a whopping 88% is saturated fat. But the fat contains a high percentage of lauric acid, which is found in breast milk, and may promote brain development and bone health.
- Store cans in the cupboard for up to a year; once opened, keep coconut milk in the refrigerator for 1-2 days.
- You'll need coconut milk in your pantry, to make coconut split pea soup, basil chicken in coconut curry sauce, Goan coconut-milk pilaf, coconut macaroon pancakes, dum aloo -- and chocolate coconut milk ice cream with coconut milk cupcakes for dessert.
One of my most vivid memories of traveling through Malaysia was dinner at a roadside satay restaurant, where skewers of chicken were cooked on an outdoor brazier and the aroma surrounding the restaurant seemed to reach out to passers-by and draw them in. It was all-you-can-eat, and when we finished, the owner counted the (large!) number of empty skewers on our table and calculated the (quite inexpensive) bill. This simple marinade is adapted from The Asian Grill, by Corinne Trang. Make your favorite peanut sauce for dipping. Cooked on a gas or charcoal grill, or a stovetop grill pan, this recipe serves 6-8 (can be halved or doubled).
1 cup coconut milk
1 Tbsp granulated sugar
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp kosher salt
A pinch of fresh ground black pepper
2-3 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut against the grain into 1/8-inch-thick slices
12 long bamboo skewers, or other skewers of your choice
In a small bowl, whisk together everything except the chicken, until the ingredients are incorporated and the sugar is dissolved. Stir in the chicken, and transfer all to a ziploc bag. Squeeze out the air, and seal the bag. Massage the chicken until it's coated all around, and refrigerate for 2 hours.
Soak skewers in water for at least 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat your grill to high heat, or prepare a stovetop grill pan. Thread 4-6 pieces of chicken on each skewer, keeping the chicken bunched toward the bottom end of the skewer. Grill the chicken, turning frequently, until crisp, 2 minutes per side. Serve with peanut sauce for dipping.