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Cracking the Cream with Homogenized Coconut Milk in Cans


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#1 Chris Amirault

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Posted 20 March 2011 - 07:58 PM

The title says it all: how do you crack the cream -- that is, get the solids and oil to separate -- using the homogenized coconut milk in cans? Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, and sometimes I'm splattered with white napalm before it cracks and I give up. Your techniques?
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#2 Jenni

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Posted 21 March 2011 - 02:10 AM

You know what, I never thought about this before. Are you sure the canned stuff is always homogenised? Because I usually find that the cream has separated and is stuck at the top of the can, and the more watery bit is always underneath, so I guess I just assumed they weren't homogenised!

#3 Chris Amirault

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Posted 21 March 2011 - 05:59 AM

It's not always homogenized, but it often is. Check the can: if there are stabilizers in there, well, that's what they're there for. And even when it's not, sometimes the can has been shaken up and it takes a long time to separate out.

How do you do it, Jenni?
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#4 Blether

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Posted 21 March 2011 - 07:07 AM

Like Jenni, I find the canned coconut milk & cream I buy (mostly from Thailand) is usually already separated in the can. I'd describe it as separated into solids and liquid, and I'm pretty sure the coconut oil is part of the 'solid' part - coconut oil's solid from somewhere around room temperature (I've a bottle of that on hand, too). Anyway, the solid part melts pretty quickly once I put the 'milk' or 'cream' in a hot pan.

I'm intrigued as to why you want to separate your coconut milk. D'you mind explaining ? I'm often using it in a context where I cook it till the 'fat floats free' on a sauce, just the same way we often do with a tomato sauce, and I think that means I'm seeing the oil separated. It's not clear to me how your 'oil' and 'solids' correspond to the (clear, watery) liquid and the 'solid' puck I find when I open a can.

#5 Chris Amirault

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Posted 21 March 2011 - 07:28 AM

Well, as David Thompson explains in Thai Food (the relevant parts of which I just reread for a class I taught yesterday), when you cook using coconut cream you first need to crack the cream into its two constituent parts: the solids and the oil. Most people don't do that step, and as a result they boil instead of fry their curry pastes.

There are a few different ways to do it: long simmering and then separating off or frying over high heat and then, when it cracks, adding the paste. I've never been particularly satisfied with either: simmering takes too long and the frying spatters hot cream all over the place. Gotta be a better way!
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#6 Jenni

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Posted 21 March 2011 - 07:30 AM

Well..I've never had a can that didn't separate out nicely into cream and thin milk, so I've obviously never had a homogenised can!

You are making a Thai dish where the coconut cream is cooked with spices till it separates, no? I have to say that I do not know much about Thai cuisine! In all the dishes I use coconut milk, the milk is not supposed to separate out. So, my suggestion is only to find a non homogenised can, or to make your own. It's not hard, honest!

ETA: Ok, so you answered that question!

Edited by Jenni, 21 March 2011 - 07:39 AM.


#7 Chris Amirault

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Posted 21 March 2011 - 07:32 AM

You are making a Thai dish where the coconut cream is cooked with spices till it separates, no?


Actually, no! :wink: That's precisely what one doesn't want to do: you're boiling the paste in the cream until the cream separates. Instead, you want to separate out the oil and fry the paste in that.
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#8 KennethT

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Posted 21 March 2011 - 07:36 AM

I also like to separate the cream from the coconut milk. I learned to do Thai cooking from a woman in Chiang Mai, adn I arranged to have a private lesson (well, me and my wife) all day so I could ask lots of questions, and arrange the dishes we made so that I could do many different techniques... so anyway, her method was to start with thick coconut milk (her coconut milk was fresh, not canned, but her thick milk was the viscosity of our cream).

Way back, after returning from the trip, I did a comparison between the different brands of canned coconut milk, and I like the Chaokaoh (sp?) brand best - when you leave it undisturbed, it separates quite nicely - in fact, if you let it sit long enough, the top inch or two becomes thick like sour cream works great for stir frying the curry paste before adding the rest of the coconut milk. So I buy a bunch of cans at a time in Chinatown where they're really cheap, and then just keep rotating the stock, letting the cans sit. When I start running low I'll get some more, so I'm never out of "old cans".

You can also buy coconut cream in cans (the cream is the green can, adn teh brown can is the milk). That's really good for drizzling in at the end, or if you have a lot of curry to make then you don't have to worry about getting separated cans.

#9 Jenni

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Posted 21 March 2011 - 07:37 AM

^^^

Oh, i've always wondered why it was done! So basically you make your own coconut oil. That used to be done (in the same way) in South Indian houses, but I think most people buy coconut oil now :laugh:

I'm teasing you, of course, I wish I could be more helpful. But maybe you could buy a block of creamed coconut and do it? I find that creamed coconut separates into solid white bit and translucent fatty bit, so it would definitely not be homogenised.

Edited by Jenni, 21 March 2011 - 07:40 AM.


#10 bmdaniel

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Posted 21 March 2011 - 07:39 AM

I'm still confused about the terminology here -

When I buy coconut milk, the inside of the can is separated into a very thick top part (almost solid) and a watery bottom part. Is this what you are referring to, or a further separation of the top part?

#11 Chris Amirault

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Posted 21 March 2011 - 07:50 AM

The watery stuff that's inside of a whole coconut is called coconut water.

The other stuff is created by grating, soaking, and squeezing out the liquid from the meat. That liquid then separates into the cream and the milk. When you buy a can of "milk," you're getting a combination of cream and milk that, over time, will separate.

However, like dairy cream, coconut cream consists of both fat and other stuff. To fry curry paste, you want the oil to separate from that stuff, called "cracking the coconut." (That can obviously also refer to breaking the shell.) It's a very important step -- see this book for example -- that's often left out of Westernized cookbooks.

If you make it yourself (click for a topic about doing so), the cream separates very quickly and easily, and it's much oilier and thicker than the stuff at the top of the can.
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#12 bmdaniel

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Posted 21 March 2011 - 07:57 AM

Could you just use a good quality coconut oil to fry the paste?

#13 Chris Amirault

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Posted 21 March 2011 - 07:57 AM

Given the interest, I thought we could all add our input to this WikiGullet page. Join in!
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#14 Chris Amirault

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Posted 21 March 2011 - 07:58 AM

Could you just use a good quality coconut oil to fry the paste?


Yeah, I think that's the next likely step. May need to head over to the West African store this week....
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#15 Jenni

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Posted 21 March 2011 - 08:16 AM

^^
Or any store with South Asian goods...if it's not in the food oil section, look under haircare! Seriously, many South Asians use it to oil their hair.

#16 KennethT

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Posted 21 March 2011 - 09:12 AM

There was actually a NYTimes article the other week about the recent popularity of Coconut Oil - and there was a thread about it (I think it was an old thread re-visited). From what I remember, the upswing was to use the virgin coconut oil, but different brands taste differently. The 'unvirgin' oil has stuff in it that makes it supposedly bad for you, saturated fat/transfats or something... I didn't have that much time to read it in detail, but just got the main bullet points... But I think Whole Foods carries it for a while now...

#17 Chris Amirault

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Posted 21 March 2011 - 11:22 AM

That geng gari recipe of David Thompson's calls for 3c of coconut cream and 4c of coconut milk. "Healthy" doesn't really belong in a discussion about it!
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#18 Jenni

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Posted 21 March 2011 - 11:26 AM

Hey, coconuts aren't unhealthy! Ok, so because they are high in fat they have a significant amount of calories, but all you have to do is not overeat (well, not everday)! Oh, and go and see some elderly people in Kerala or Thailand who have eaten coconut everyday in large quantities and will laugh you out of the house if you suggest that coconut is bad for you.

Edited by Jenni, 21 March 2011 - 11:27 AM.


#19 bmdaniel

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Posted 21 March 2011 - 02:49 PM

A lot of people think coconut oil is particularly healthy because of these:

http://en.wikipedia....n_triglycerides

#20 Tri2Cook

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Posted 21 March 2011 - 02:55 PM

When I make a Rundown the oil seperates on it's own during the process... but it's not a particularly quick process if you're working with large amounts.
It's kinda like wrestling a gorilla... you don't stop when you're tired, you stop when the gorilla is tired.

#21 andiesenji

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Posted 21 March 2011 - 03:02 PM

I pour the coconut milk into my "cat glass" fat separator and heat it in the microwave - the time can vary considerably, sometime the stuff will boil vigorously after 2 minutes on high, sometimes it takes 4 or 5 minutes and I have no explanation for this phenomena.

I just leave it in the mwave to cool and the thicker stuff will float to the top and I can pour the thinner stuff out through the spout from the bottom.

The Philippine market sells a separator for coconut milk that is just like one of the plastic fat separators that has a spout in the center of the bottom that opens and closes and is similar to
THIS ONE but is not made by Amco.


I use a lot of coconut oil and have written about it in other threads. I use only the organic, virgin coconut oil and my favorite brand is HPIM3962.JPG
I go through one of these 54 ounce tubs in three months.
I buy it from Amazon via the "Subscribe and Save" program.

Edited by andiesenji, 21 March 2011 - 03:11 PM.

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#22 Chris Amirault

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Posted 21 March 2011 - 03:04 PM

That is genius.
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#23 Brianemone

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Posted 21 March 2011 - 03:33 PM

Chris, is this thread an attempt at putting off the inevitable purchase of a centrifuge? If so, just do it.

Would save heating the cream to separate the oil.

#24 ...tm...

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Posted 21 March 2011 - 03:44 PM

These days I definitely just use coconut oil, which is readily found in supermarkets/health type store around here.
But back when I was trying to make sure I'd made things by the book a couple times before I go my own way I noticed that all brands of coconut cream I could find contained stabilizers, while many brands of coconut milk do not. For example, the most recommended brand of coconut milk available in the US, Chaokoh, includes carboxymethylcellulose in its cream but not milk. After burning the cream a couple times I realized it is better to use the thick, top part of the milk for the initial cracking step, but add coconut cream later on for richness (including a trendy, swirled dollop just before serving).
That being said, the oil is much easier, and David Thompson even says "if using canned, add a little oil when frying the paste: this will replicate separated coconut cream." I kind of do the opposite--start with coconut oil and add a little coconut cream after the paste starts to become fragrant, as the taste of the coconut solids cooked at frying temperature adds something.
Andie makes me want to find a microwaveable fat separator, though.

#25 Chris Amirault

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Posted 21 March 2011 - 03:48 PM

Chris, is this thread an attempt at putting off the inevitable purchase of a centrifuge? If so, just do it.


I wish I were that wily.
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#26 scubadoo97

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Posted 21 March 2011 - 03:53 PM

I have been buying Chaokoh brand of coconut milk most often. I have yet to open a can that didn't have a thick layer of cream at the top. As long as you don't shake it before opening it is cracked when opened. I like to fry my curry paste in the fat before adding the liquid.

#27 BaconFat

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Posted 23 March 2011 - 09:24 AM

I have had the same issues with splatter when trying to break the oil out of the coconut milk. I also use "Chaokoh" brand and do the same rotation mentioned up thread.

I have a set of Viking cookware that I normally use except when cooking green curry. Whenever I tried to use the Viking stuff, the coconut would seriously spatter before getting hot enough to break. Out of frustration I went back to an old Analon non-stick pan and the spattering issue was solved. I could get the heat up and break out the oil without wearing half of the coconut milk.

#28 patrickamory

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Posted 27 March 2011 - 04:56 PM

Frst of all, to those who doubt: I think you absolutely need to use coconut cream, not just coconut oil, for any Thai curry that calls for it (some call for simple frying in oil - some for boiling). It's the combination of the oil and the milk solids that gives it that incredible silky texture.

I don't think you can ever properly "crack" canned coconut cream. I've tried.

Really, this is your best bet...:

coconut_milking_sm.jpg

#29 natasha1270

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Posted 27 March 2011 - 05:22 PM

I've seen packets and small cans of coconut solids at Grand Mart. Maybe you could use a combo of oil and solids to replicate this or perhaps try with frozen coconut milk?
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#30 patrickamory

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Posted 27 March 2011 - 08:28 PM

Further to the above, a couple of pictures of the coconut cream in the skillet, and then the cream starting to crack... this cream cracked extremely fast, it was about 3-4 minutes. I've had it take 15-20.

coconut_cream.jpg

coconut_cream_cracking.jpg