Nature made coconuts tough to open for the same reason it did other seeds -- to protect the embryo. When you open a coconut to extract its prized flesh, or endosperm, you have to go through several layers of protection: the outer skin, the husk, the shell and the seed skin. The shell, essentially the coconut's last line of defense, almost fuses to the flesh, and makes separation difficult. But applying heat loosens the flesh from the coconut shell, and makes this seed not such a tough nut to crack.
Heat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Rinse the coconut shell or a few minutes under cool running water. Rinsing the shell removes any bacteria or debris that can transfer into the coconut when you open it.
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Puncture a hole in an eye of the coconut with a corkscrew or Phillips screwdriver, and drain the water. Crack the coconut shell several times by tapping it along the equator with the back of a heavy knife, wrapping it in a towel and hitting it with a hammer or driving a chisel into it.
Pry the shell halves apart with a flat-head screwdriver or similar tool. Place the shell halves open-side down on a baking sheet, and slide them in the oven.
Heat the coconut in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes and remove. Let the shell halves cool down until you can hold them without burning yourself.
Wedge a flathead screwdriver or butter knife between the brown skin that covers the white coconut flesh and the hard shell. Pry the meat from the shell. Sometimes the flesh separates from the shell in one piece, but more often it separates into 2 or 3 large pieces.
Peel the skin from the coconut using a vegetable peeler or paring knife, almost like peeling a thick-skinned vegetable.
Things You'll Need
Corkscrew or Phillips screwdriver
Heavy knife or hammer
Flat-head screwdriver or butter knife
Vegetable peeler or paring knife
Grate the coconut flesh or slice it into thin ribbons with a vegetable peeler, and toast sliced or grated coconut for 10 to 12 minutes in an oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit, if desired.
Store the coconut in storage container in the refrigerator for 2 or 3 days.
The liquid inside the coconut is endosperm - not coconut milk -- that absorbs into the flesh over time. You can drink it like coconut milk, though.
If you want to make coconut milk, blend unsweetened shredded coconut flesh with twice as much warm water by volume in a food processor. Strain the puree through a cheesecloth-lined sieve, then bring the corners of the cheesecloth together and twist it to wring all the milk out.