Coconut milk and cream are extracted from the grated flesh of coconuts by steeping the flesh in hot water, then pressing to extract coconut cream or thick coconut milk. A second steeping and pressing produces a thinner less creamy milk. Canned coconut milk and cream save a lot of bother, but read the label; most will have a stabiliser, such as guar gum, added to them, and others can contain the whole kit and caboodle of a stabiliser, emulsifier and preservative. Canned coconut cream separates in the can into two distinct components (unless it has a stabiliser added): a rich cream and a watery liquid. Either scoop off the rich cream from the top and use as directed in curries, sauces or desserts, and save the watery liquid to use in soups, curries, baking, or to cook rice, or shake the can to form a smooth liquid (this will be thinner than coconut cream). Unused canned coconut cream or milk should be transferred to a non-metallic container, covered and refrigerated and used within 2-3 days.
Coconut flakes or chips can be eaten as they are, as a snack, or added to a ‘trail mix’ or muesli, and they can also be used in baking or savoury dishes. Toasting brings out a more pronounced nutty flavour. Put the flakes in a dry frying pan set over a gentle heat and toast for a few minutes until lightly golden. You need to watch them – one minute they are pale golden, and the next they’re burnt! Serve as a topping for curries, fish dishes, salads and desserts. Look for flakes or chips made from organically grown coconuts, prepared without additives. The trick is to store them airtight and away from light.