Coconut milk is currently one of the food world’s culinary darlings, but in spite of its popularity, cracking the coconut and separating the snow white flesh from its shell can be an intimidating prospect. And once we’ve won the battle with the shell, there’s also the question of how to separate the meat from the tough brown layer it’s attached to. 

In spite of how intimidating cracking a coconut can be, with a little kitchen know-how and a few simple tools, it’s not as challenging as it first appears. In addition to how flavorful fresh coconut meat can be, there’s also the added bonus of its high nutritional content.

Coconut is high in fiber, potassium, magnesium, calcium and copper. Coconut water is an efficient way to stay hydrated and may be a way to combat diabetes, kidney stones, and certain forms of cancer.

Coconut water is not the same thing as coconut milk. To prepare coconut milk once you’ve separated the flesh from the shell, blitz it in a blender at high speed with enough filtered water to achieve the consistency you desire. The result is a healthful drink that is perfect for smoothies or enjoyed just as it is.

Here’s how to crack that (coco)nut:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Coconut cracking veterans might advise to break open the shell using nothing but a sharp knife and a deft blow, but because of the fruit’s shape and hardness, it’s best to play it safe by using a flathead screwdriver and hammer to get inside. Locate the three “eyes” at the base of the coconut and tap each one with the screwdriver to determine which is the softest.
  3. Once you’ve located it, place the screwdriver firmly at its center, hold the coconut firmly with one hand, and twist the screwdriver until it’s made its way through the flesh of the coconut. Tap the screwdriver with a hammer a few times if the coconut shell proves too firm.
  4. Turn the coconut over into a bowl to collect the residual water, reserving it for a nutritious drink later on. Return the screwdriver to the hole and pry the shell open until it splits in half.
  5. Arrange the shell halves, open-side-up, on a baking sheet and bake for ten minutes. This step will loosen the meat from the shell.
  6. Once the coconut is cool enough to handle, use the screwdriver or a butter knife to separate the meat from the shell and enjoy.

And here are six ways to enjoy your newly liberated coconut:

1. Coconut Baked Onion Rings

Running To The Kitchen

Baking onion rings in coconut instead of frying them in standard breading makes them both healthier and more uniquely flavored than the usual onion ring incarnation. Get the recipe.

2. Spicy Thai Coconut Chicken Soup

Community Table

This soup comes together in a few easy steps that belie the complex flavors of a dish that is all at once comforting and transporting in its texture and umami notes. Get the recipe.

3. Seared Tofu with Green Beans and Asian Coconut Sauce

Even if you’re not a vegetarian, this pleasing dish with its green beans, bell peppers, silky tofu, and sweetened sauce is a welcome way to lay off the meat and indulge in a high-protein alternative.  Get the recipe.

4. Coconut Shrimp with 2-Ingredient Dipping Sauce

Natasha’s Kitchen

The fun twist in this recipe is an apricot-sweet chile sauce that pairs perfectly with velvety shrimp coated in a crunchy-sweet coconut breading. Get the recipe.

5. Coconut Rice

This sweet coconut rice could serve as the foundation for a cozy dessert, an inviting breakfast, or act as an unexpected base to a spicy Thai curry. Get our Coconut Rice recipe.

6. Christmas Coconut Cake


This cake is a festive and sophisticated way to conclude a holiday dinner, celebrate a birthday, or make an ordinary meal feel special. Get our Christmas Coconut Cake recipe.

— Head photo: Pixabay.

Jody Eddy is a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education in Manhattan. She has cooked at Jean Georges, The Fat Duck, and Tabla and is the former editor of Art Culinaire Magazine. Her most recent cookbook was "Cuba! Recipes and Stories From a Cuban Kitchen", published by Ten Speed Press. Her cookbook "North: The New Nordic Cuisine of Iceland" was published by Ten Speed Press in 2014 and won the 2015 IACP Judge's Choice Award. She is the author of the James Beard nominated cookbook "Come In, We're Closed: An Invitation to Staff Meals at the World's Best Restaurants" and her upcoming book for Ten Speed, "The Hygge Life", will be published in November, 2017. She is writing a cookbook for W.W. Norton profiling the cuisine and food traditions of monasteries, temples, mosques and synagogues around the world which will be published in 2019 and a cookbook with the Food Network chef Maneet Chauhan profiling the cuisine of India via an epic train journey throughout the country. She writes for Travel+Leisure, Saveur, Food & Wine, The Wall Street Journal, Plate, and VICE, among others. She is the author of, leads culinary trend tours for food and beverage corporations in Iceland, Peru, Mexico, Ireland and Cuba and is the Vice President of Marketing, Partnerships and Events at Hop Springs, an 85 acre agritourism destination opening in Nashville in May, 2018.
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