Friday, March 10, 2006

Coconut Vanilla Bean Flan

Some South Pacific Islanders used to call it Monkey Fruit. Some, like myself, use the fibers mixed in their potting soil, helping plants to retain their precious moisture. Some fancy cosmetic makers use the milk in their products to for anti-aging benefits. Some cultures like to cook with it. Some like the way it smells. It is the amazingly versatile coconut.

Whether it be entrée, snack, dessert or face cream, the coconut makes an amazing addition to most any dish. So first things first, how do you pick this prized item?

When shopping for coconuts, make sure the outer shell is nice and hard. It should not give when pressed. Check the one end with the 3 “eyes.” The eyes should be firm and carry no mold. Some companies cover the eyes with wax to prevent them from puncturing in their journey to your grocery. This is okay. The whole coconut should have some weight to it. You should also be able to hear juice sloshing around when you shake it. If the coconut feels too light, it may have lost it’s juice or be past its prime. Likewise if you cannot hear any sloshing around the shell may have a hairline crack that formed in shipping, you should continue searching until one with a nice dark brown coloring is found. Now, how to crack that shell…

1) With your handy machete, give the coconut a good whack… Oh, no machete?
2) Go outside and throw the coconut onto cement with all your force. Go around and pick up the bits. Note that this method you will lose most any coconut water that may have been inside.
3) Take out your drill bit and drill 2 holes into the coconut shell. Start with using a small hole and gradually get larger. Pour coconut water out into a bowl and enjoy. Now you can whack it with a hammer to get it into bits. (I kid you not because this is how I did it until I found this seemingly easy way to crack the nut, see number 4)
4) See thisvideo for a clean and easy way to crack that nut!

Once the pieces of the coconut fruit are available, use a fork or spoon to nudge the meat off the hard shell. This bulk meat can be pulsed into slivers for use plain, or steeped in boiling water to get coconut milk. One coconut produces about 4 cups of shredded meat.

Serving Size= 2 cups. Active Time= 15 minutes.
* 2 cups shredded coconut meat (see above)
* 2 cups boiling water

1) Place shredded coconut meat in a glass container with a top. Add boiling water, cover and let steep for 10 minutes. Using cheese cloth, strain the liquid through. Wring the accumulated wet meat in the cheese cloth, removing all milk from the meat.
NOTE: This can be repeated once more using the same meat. The first pressing of coconut milk is the thickest and sweetest, most prized in cooking. Once refrigerated, a cream will settled to the top of the milk. This is very tasty when used in cooking. Coconut milk will last about 2 days in the refrigerator. To keep longer, fill an ice tray with the milk and freeze until ready to use.

Now that you know how to make fresh coconut milk, we can make coconut flan. This recipe was adapted from’s Vanilla Bean Flan recipe. It was light, sweet, had fabulous vanilla undertones and subtle coconut flavoring throughout. It was also extremely simple to make, required few ingredients and is quite easy to halve if necessary.

Serving Size= 4 (in 4 5-6 oz ramekins). Active Time= 30 minutes. Inactive time= 3-½ hours
* 1-¼ + ¼ cups fresh coconut milk + cream
* 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
* ¼ cup sugar
* 1 large egg
* 1 large egg yolk

1) Preheat oven to 350°F.
2) Heat 1-¼ cups coconut milk and cream with vanilla bean halves in a small saucepan over moderate heat until hot. Remove from heat, cover; steep 20 minutes.
3) Over medium-low heat, cook sugar in small saucepan, swirling often to help sugar melt evenly, until melted and pale golden. Continue to cook, swirling skillet, until sugar becomes a deep caramel; about 5 minutes total. Pour immediately into ramekins, tilting cups to coat bottom—caramel will begin to cool and harden once removed from heat so act quickly.
4) Whisk together whole egg, yolk, and remaining ¼ cup coconut milk with a pinch of salt until smooth. Discard vanilla bean pod from steeped milk and gradually whisk milk into egg mixture.
5) Divide mixture among ramekins and bake in a water bath, loosely covered with a sheet of foil, in middle of oven until custard is set but still trembles slightly, 35 to 40 minutes.
6) Remove cups from water bath and cool on a rack. Chill, uncovered, at least 2 hours. Unmold flans by running a knife around edges to loosen and inverting onto plates.

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