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Coconut milk (Recipe: chicken satay)

Chicken satay, marinated in coconut milk and spices.

Things I know about coconut milk (you'll be glad to know them, too):

Coconut milk.

  1. Coconut milk comes from coconuts, but it's not the liquid found inside the coconut. That's the coconut water.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Store cans in the cupboard for up to a year; once opened, keep coconut milk in the refrigerator for 1-2 days.

Chicken satay, grilled on skewers.

Chicken satay

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
Peanut sauce


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.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]

More coconut milk recipes in The Perfect Pantry:

Thai tofu and winter squash stew
Egg curry
Coconut ice cream
Jamaican run down (fish stew with tomato, peppers and coconut milk)
Shrimp and coconut curry noodle soup

Other recipes that use these pantry ingredients:
Easy chicken curry with coconut milk, from Edible Garden
Chicken in coconut milk with lemongrass, from The Kitchn
Chicken with coconut milk (pollo con leche de coco), form My Colombian Recipes
Miso coconut chicken, from I Am A Food Blog
Thai curry chicken, from Nom Nom Paleo

Chicken satay, served with your favorite peanut sauce.

Disclosure: The Perfect Pantry earns a few pennies on purchases made through the Amazon.com links in this post. Thank you for supporting this site when you start your shopping here.


Coconut milk makes everything delicious. Your satay sounds scrumptious.

i adore coconut milk. it's great in desserts, ice-creams, cakes and savory dishes. i think i always have at least 2 cans of the stuff in reserve in my pantry! love this recipe! hugs!

Satay is real love, and you know Southeast Asian cooking is not the same without coconut milk! :)

Now you've done it. As you know I'm on Weight Watchers and all I want to do is open a can of coconut milk and jump in. :)

I also freeze leftover coconut milk ... works great too!

I recently bought the coconut water to make a light version of pina coladas... will report back soon. The flavor is quite different so I'm not sure if it will make a good substitute.

This sounds great. Now to convert it for ? What veg alternative would be good here?
My first exposure wasn't as exotic as yours, but an anomaly: Around 1968, suburb of Washington DC. We loved it, but it didn't last long. Too early -- would be a wild success now.

I love anything made with coconut milk, especially satay! Thanks for the great information!

Chicken satay is one of my favorite appetizers ever. I had no idea it can be made with coconut milk, no wonder I like it so much!

We always have a few cans of coconut milk around, so versatile!
Love the satays, they are one of my absolute faves, especially in the summer.

I love coconut milk. Really need to cook with it more often. This sounds like a dinner that would make me smile.

Ummm I'm liking this. It's only this year I've started using coconut milk ... it's been amazing!! Always enjoy chicken satay.

This looks great! Do you think this would work in a regular (not grill) cast iron pan? I don't have a grill pan, and don't foresee this working well on my tiny George Foreman. Thanks!

Karina, Anh, Cindy, Susan, Hillary, Natashya, MyKitchen: satay is one of my all-time favorite apps, and this is such a simple recipe. I hope you all enjoy it.

Julia, I've never tried freezing leftover coconut milk. Thanks for the tip about that.

Susan, extra-firm tofu would work with this.

Kalyn, I don't use it often because of the high fat content, but when I do, in curries or dishes like this, it's even more of a treat.

M, rather than a cast iron pan, how about putting it under the broiler? If you don't have a broiler, of course try it in a hot pan on the stovetop. Just make sure that the chicken doesn't boil in the coconut milk.

A good vegetarian skewer item is tempeh. I use reduced fat coconut milk. Seems OK to me.

I always keep coconut milk in my pantry. Anytime I'm near the Asian market, I pick pu about 5 or 6, since it is about 1/3 the price of it at the grocery store!

Coconut milk is very present in our food culture, Lydia - and used a lot in savory dishes, especially fish and seafood, in the Northeast.

This looks so good and different. My husband loves chicken, so I plan to try this after a quick trip to the grocery.

Lucia, thanks for the suggestion. Vegetarians, take note!

Pam, so many things are much less expensive in ethnic markets, especially Asian markets. I try to buy all of my condiments there. Tabasco is at least a third less expensive in the Asian supermarket than in the regular grocery store.

Patricia, I'm looking forward to trying many Brazilian dishes when I'm there in September.

Treehouse, hope your husband enjoyed the satay. Mine loves it.

Yummy and luscious! And I love satay and I didn't realize how much satay changes from country to country. And I love all the info you always give. Fascinating!

Lovely LOvely Lovely! Satay is just awesome! the coconut milk imparts that richness with the subtle sweet that is just unbeatable!

I made this last weekend and everyone loved it. Thank you so much for the recipe!

This looks like a great way to fix chicken. Love the coconut milk. Great idea for summer!

Jamie, this satay is definitely a bit different from others I've had, but it's also easier and very fast to throw together from ingredients in the pantry.

Soma, Kim: the coconut milk really makes this dish!

Melissa, thanks so much for coming back to let us know you made the satay. I'm very glad you enjoyed it!

Lydia, these look fab...a like these as appetizers...small satays. I adore coconut milk.

I love coconut milk - it is good for the hair as well and it is versatile in vegetarian cuisine! but still I prefer those not canned, the smell seemed to change when it is canned.

Should this recipe have peanuts in it to be a satay?

Duh. Ignore that. I just saw the separate recipe lol

Coconut milk is a miracle ingredient - it transforms ordinary ingredients into something special. This looks lovely.

Yay for coconuts!

I find that I can sub in some coconut milk pretty much anywhere regular milk or cream is used. It just adds a bit of coconut flavor to your dish. I have used it in pancakes, oatmeal smoothies, really I haven't been unhappy with it since I started throwing it into everything.

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