Do you keep gluten free coconut milk in your pantry? Canned coconut milk is gluten free and is popular in the cooking of southern Asia. I always have cans in my pantry to use in tantalizing Thai curries, flavourful Jasmine Coconut Rice or heavenly Vietnamese soup. Very occasionally I make a dessert of sticky Thai rice with mango.
I’ve tried light coconut milk but really, what’s the point of that? I want the rich, creaminess that comes from coconut milk, not a watered down version. I do not buy light coconut milk. That was the extent of my coconut milk knowledge until I taught a gluten-free and dairy-free cooking class.
Cooking With Coconut Milk
Coconut milk comes from a mature, brown coconut. The coconut meat is grated and squeezed to make thick coconut milk. For thin coconut milk the grated coconut is then soaked in water and squeezed a second time.
When you open a can of coconut it is separated, liquid on the bottom and solid on the top. To avoid this simply shake the can before opening.
Traditionally thick coconut milk and coconut cream are used for desserts and rich sauces. Thin coconut milk is used for soups and general cooking. I found so much variation among the labels that this information was not really helpful. Some stated the percent of coconut extract and others simply listed coconut milk. Some had emulsifiers and stabilizers, some didn’t.
Whipping Gluten Free Coconut Milk
For my cooking class I learned that cold coconut milk, as long as it has a high percentage of coconut extract, can be whipped just like whipping cream. This is perfect as a dairy free alternative. Store these cans of coconut milk in your fridge and have it ready to whip any time. Look for cans with 60-70% coconut extract. These are sometimes labeled coconut cream or for dessert.
The process is simple. Don’t shake it. Just open the cold can and scoop off the thick coconut cream leaving the coconut water in the bottom of the can. You can either drink the coconut water or use it to make a smoothie. Whip the coconut cream just as you would whipping cream…beat on high speed for a few minutes. Sweeten if desired.
Storing Coconut Milk
Once opened coconut milk must be kept in the fridge but will spoil after a few days. It can be frozen and I used to do that…freeze a little leftover coconut milk then thaw it and do that whole thing. Now I just use it up! Add it all to the recipe or use any remaining portion to make coconut rice within a few days. I find this is easier than managing it in the freezer.
Buying Coconut Milk
The cost of coconut milk varies significantly. Sold at Asian grocery stores it seems to be half the cost of the exact same brand at a regular grocery store. The 400 ml cans I bought ranged in price from $1.79 to $3.99/can. The price increases slightly as the fat content increases.
After everything I learned I am sticking with the two brands I usually buy at the Asian grocery store. For my everyday style of cooking I like the taste and creaminess of cans with 24% coconut extract. For me this works well in curries, marinades, sauces and dressings.
If coconut milk is not part of your Asian pantry I suggest you change that. Try a few brands and chose your personal favourite.