The large, hairy brown shells of coconuts have been a familiar sight for years but it is probably only recently, with the increased interest in Asian cooking, that their flesh has been used in recipes rather than just as a treat from the fair. Look for coconuts that feel heavy for their size and to test if the nut is fresh, shake it to check that you can hear plenty of liquid. Available all year.
To store: Keep the coconut in the fridge and use within a week of purchase. If you want to use the flesh for cooking shred it using a course grater then store in the fridge for 1-2 days.
To prepare: Pierce the soft eye at one end of the nut with a nail and hammer and drain the clear liquid into a bowl. Then carefully crack the nut open with a hammer and remove the oily white flesh from the shell, peeling away the thin brown inner skin with a potato peeler. Eat the fresh coconut in chunks.
With a thick creamy texture, coconut cream adds a delicious flavour to sweet and savoury dishes that require a rich, fresh coconut taste. Pressed and processed from fresh coconut it is heat treated to preserve it and sold in cartons.
Uses: Coconut cream is popular in many Thai, Indian and Caribbean recipes. It is also delicious as a topping on fresh fruit or desserts.
To store: Keep in a cool dry place for up to 1 year and once opened store in the fridge and use within 24 hours of opening.
To use: Shake the carton well before opening.
Sold in cans, coconut milk is a creamy white liquid produced by pressing the kernels of fresh coconuts after the shell, husk, and water have been removed. The resulting liquid has a subtle, mellow coconut flavour and is especially popular in traditional Indian, Asian and Caribbean dishes. It is sold in cans or vacuum packed cartons. Organic coconut milk and 88% fat free varieties are available.
Uses: Coconut milk can be used in a variety of sweet and savoury dishes, particularly fish and chicken curries.
To store: Coconut milk will keep for up to 2 years. Once opened remove from the tin and store coconut milk in the fridge for up to 4 days.
To prepare: Due to the high fat content of the milk it can become quite grainy, so before use process in a blender or beat well for a few seconds.
To cook: Coconut milk curdles easily when heated, to prevent this stir constantly as it cooks.
A sweet coconut flavoured cloudy white syrup. Waitrose sell Monin Sirop de Coco.
Uses: Coconut syrup is ideal for use in cocktails or desserts.
To store: Keep in a cool, dark place.
To use: Pour 2-3 tbsp into alcoholic or non-alcoholic cocktails or drizzle over ice creams or fresh fruit.
Creamed coconut is a solid white block made from pure coconut and is widely used in Thai, Indian and Caribbean cooking. It adds a distinctive coconut flavour and rich, creamy texture to dishes, chopped into chunks it can be stirred directly into sauces to thicken them. It can also be reconstituted with hot water before use, following packet or recipe instructions. Creamed coconut can be reconstituted and used in recipes instead of coconut milk.
To make up the equivalent of 300ml of coconut milk roughly chop 50g of creamed coconut and stir in 100ml of hot water, stir well to mix and use as required. As a substitute for coconut cream, dissolve 75g creamed coconut in 100ml of hot water and stir until smooth. Creamed coconut can also be grated and used in place of desiccated coconut.
Uses: Creamed coconut is popular in a variety of dishes including curries, soups and fish dishes, it adds richness and flavour and can also temper the heat of curries. It can be used to thicken sauces, casseroles and soups - stir gradually until the desired consistency is required.
To store: Keep in a cool, dark cupboard and once opened store in an airtight container to prevent the block drying out.
To prepare: Reconstitute with hot boiling water or chop and stir into sauces.
The white flesh of the coconut is made into a pulp and then dried and sieved to produce dried desiccated coconut.
Uses: In baking and to sprinkle over curries and fruit salads. Toasted desiccated coconut is delicious sprinkled over puddings and cakes - simply sprinkle the required amount on a piece of foil and toast under a preheated grill until it starts to brown - this will happen quite quickly so make sure it doesn't burn.
To store: Keep in a dark, dry cupboard and store in an airtight container once opened.