Over the years, I’ve had a complicated relationship with coconut. When I was young, my first experience with it was in an almond joy candy bar. I was immediately turned off by the chewy shreds of coconut and chalked it up to just not liking coconut. As I grew older and realized that most of my objections to food related more to texture than flavor, I circled back around to coconut and determined that while I love the flavor, I am still not thrilled with the texture of it. So I enjoy coconut milk in green curry, for example, but still turn away from almond joys.
That didn’t stop me from picking up a coconut that had rolled into the street on my run the other day and bringing it home with me. As I cradled the smooth round nut in my arms and listened to the pleasant sloshing sound of coconut water inside it, I conjured up an image of myself presenting Mr. Foodie (who absolutely loves coconut in all its glory) a series of dishes showcasing the water and flesh of this natural beauty.
Not knowing a thing about how to prepare a coconut, I set about researching methods to crack and drain one, only to discover that unlike the coconuts you buy from a store and that appeared in almost every youtube video I found on coconut prep, mine still had its husk on. I’d have to remove the husk before I could proceed with the steps for draining, cracking, and accessing the flesh. I contemplated imitating this Samoan chief who husks coconuts with his teeth:
But eventually I just followed the advice of this nice woman who husks her coconuts with a butter knife:
Even so it took me nearly half an hour and an incredibly amount of upper body strength to completely husk the coconut. But man did I feel like a million bucks when my cute little coconut stood free of its husk and ready for draining! The draining part was by far the easiest part – tap a screwdriver into the “eyes” until it pops through, hold over a bowl to drain. We strained our water because bits of the coconut shell kept dropping in during the draining process. The cracking open of the nut was also fairly easy – just tap the nut around its circumference and you’ll see a crack form, then split it open.
Mr. Foodie was more than a little impressed with my prep thus far and enjoyed a cool glass of fresh coconut water while I proceeded to spend entirely too much time and effort trying to release the flesh from the shells. This is where it fell apart for me. I watched dozens of videos with different methods. Some suggested putting the nut halves in the oven for a bit and some didn’t. One asked you to freeze the nut for 12 hours before easily removing the shell. I opted for neither of these and went for one of the knife-work videos in which you crack the shell into half-moons and, using a dull knife, “pop” the flesh away from the shell. what remains is a thin light brown “coat” which you then remove with a sharp knife like peeling an apple. I am making it sound relatively easy right now, but I can assure you it was not. Even in the videos, these so-called experts take a lot of time and appear as though they will end up cutting themselves or the countertop or both before the video ends. I broke the nut apart many times, was relatively successful in popping the flesh out, but by then (it was almost 7pm by this time), I was in a hurry to get dinner on the table which was supposed to involve the said coconut flesh. So I grabbed the flesh pieces (with their brown coats still on) and proceeded to grate them on the grater so I could “dry” the pieces in the oven for 15 minutes. They went in and came out looking the same to me, but I threw half of the grated pieces into my panko bread crumbs mixture which I used to make coconut pork chops (recipe below).
By the end of the process, there wasn’t much flesh on the baking sheet, but partly because in my hurry I grated the little coated pieces by hand and so ended up wasting quite a bit of flesh still attached to their coats. I ended up using seven pieces of kitchen equipment (and 2 pieces of hardware), taking 2 hours total prep time, and making a huge mess in my kitchen (I’m still finding little pieces of coconut husk everywhere) to get a cup of grated coconut. Mr. Foodie and I both agreed that it was probably not worth it; however, it is likely that were I to try again, knowing what I know now, it would go more quickly and would produce more product. While I consider this adventure a partial failure, I’m not disappointed – if you aren’t failing at all, then you aren’t pushing yourself.
We still ended up with a delicious dinner that night despite my anxiety about this new experience which I had assumed (god knows why) would be easier than it was. The coconut adds a subtle sweetness to the pork chops’ breading, and we also made Pineapple Salsa to go with it. I LOVE pineapple as with most fruits (save coconut lol), and this recipe is incredibly easy. Just take your favorite salsa recipe and add chopped pineapple for a tangy, sweet/tart note to balance out the spice of your peppers and/or acid of your tomatoes. I chopped one small onion, one jalapeno without seeds (although jalapenos vary in heat, so you may want to add seeds to kick it up), diced tomatoes, and the pineapple pieces. I wanted to add cilantro, but our grocery store is renovating and their produce department is severely limited as a result, so no cilantro (and don’t even get me started on my futile attempts to start up my herb garden – more to come on that).
With that, I’ll jot down my pork chop recipe and ask you if you’ve ever prepped a fresh coconut, and if so, if you have any tips for making it an easier process.
Coconut Panko Pork Chops Recipe
1/2 C Flour
1/2 C Panko Bread Crumbs (better than normal bread crumbs when pairing w/ coconut)
1/2 C Dried Coconut Shreds
Salt and Pepper
Olive or Coconut Oil
2-4 Pork Chops (depending on size)
Put the two eggs, mixed with a fork, in a small bowl or plate, put the flour on a different small plate, and put the coconut flesh and panko crumbs on yet another small plate or bowl. Season each pork chop with salt and pepper, dredge in the flour and shake off excess, dip into the egg wash, and finally coat all sides with the panko/coconut mixture. Get some olive oil (or coconut oil if you have it) hot in the skillet and cook the chops 3-5 minutes per side depending on the thickness of the chop (145 degrees internal temp is recommended; you will rest the meat after cooking so it will cook a little longer). Note: if your chops are not tender, consider letting them marinate in pineapple juice for an hour before cooking – the acid in the juice softens the meat and pork + pineapple is generally a good flavor combo.