Living in the tropical paradise of the Florida Keys means that there is a glorious abundance of coconuts. For this reason, I feel foolish buying dried coconut but I will be honest, I sometimes do it. However, when time allows me and I am running low, I enjoy the pleasure of making my own toasted coconut. Here I will outline some steps that I follow to create my own. I will update this post with more detailed photos as soon as I can.
1. First find a coconut. You can buy them at most grocery stores without a husk, but like I said, I get mine from trees near my house. The coconut husk should be somewhere between brown and green with liquid in the middle (you can hear it when you shake it).
You can look at this site for more tips: http://www.buzzle.com/articles/how-to-select-buy-tender-fresh-coconuts-for-drinking.html
After selecting your coconut (or coconuts), you must get to the center shell covered by layers of soft husk- similar to peeling corn. I have finally discovered (thanks to a friend of the family who weaves palm fronds) the best way to open a coconut. First, you must get two shovels- large ones like you would dig a ditch with. Then you must be really careful, seriously! Wear shoes or be really mindful of your feet! With the coconut on the ground you stab the end of the shovel into the husk. You want the shovel to hit in the middle somewhere, going with the natural longitudinal lines of the coconut. Then, getting someone else to help, stab the other shovel point into the coconut so that both shovels are back to back and deep in as best you can manage. Then each person must push the shovels (or one person using both arms and strong muscles) towards each other. This process is so much easier and surprisingly safer than any other method I have tried. I do not mess with machetes, and I have learned my lesson with hammers. I have earned the bruises and the cuts. This method removes a majority of the husk from one side and it can be repeated on the other sides until the inner coconut is revealed. You can just grab it out and peel the remaining husk strings from the coconut.
2. The next step I like to do is to find the eyes of the coconut on one of the ends (there should be three). Using a small paring knife or pointed utensil poke at the eyes, one or more will have a thin layer that should peel away easily as you poke it. You should then see the white of the coconut meat. I then use a corkscrew bottle opener to burrow into the meat and thus revealing a clear passageway into the coconut. Having a cup nearby, I drain the coconut water and drink it or use it for smoothies!
3. This step could use improving, but right now it works for us. I put the drained coconut into a plastic grocery bag, tie it once and throw the bag down onto a hard surface. Be careful where you do this- I do it outside on my concrete porch. The coconut will probably bounce and it may not break right away. Finding the right amount of force and speed all affects how it breaks and how many times you need to do it. Once the majority of it has broken, I take it inside and rinse the pieces and drain them with a colander.
4. Using a blunt knife (or thin spoon or other utensil) I start the process of separating the coconut meat from the shell. I peel it away as it does so naturally- with a thin layer of dark brown skin on the meat. This is edible and in my opinion does not take away from the flavor or experience of the coconut (although it is interesting that hardly any coconut products out there have any evidence of this). This is a tedious process at times as the meat does not always separate easily from the shell. I wedge the tool in between the two layers until the meat comes away (usually in one piece) from the shell. Take your time to avoid hurting yourself.
5. Once you have the meat, you can grate it with a cheese grater- you pick the level of fineness, or you can throw the pieces into a food processor. My food processor is small and cannot handle the bulky pieces, so I just take the time and grate it fine (which is generally the end product I like better anyway).
6. With your grated coconut, you can then use this raw coconut in any recipe that calls for it, or you can toast it***. I toast mine, because it tends to last longer and be more versatile for me. For this, I heat the oven to 350 degrees. I get a baking sheet and spread the shreds out on it. I then bake it for 10-15 minutes stirring it here and there so it evenly toasts. Then I cool it, and store it in a bag or reusable container. The end product is cheap (for me- free) and wonderful! It is best to use your coconut promptly or store in a freezer to prolong the shelf life.
***The toasted coconut is the better option if you are looking to have coconut flakes around. Unless you have a food dehydrator (or you are planning on using the coconut immediately), lightly toasting the coconut is the only way I have found to preserve all that coconut you worked so hard to get! Also, keep the flakes away from any moisture in a cool, dark place.