When I lived in Port Douglas in 1988 there was a slightly mad Israeli guy in a loincloth that would climb and farm the coconut trees of 4 Mile beach. He would cut open the tops of the coconuts with a machete and sell them for a few cents to tourists and locals.
After you drank the milk, he would split them open so you could scoop up the luscious flesh.
Simple and abundant, coconuts cover Thailand. Only in the remote and mountainous areas of the North, where there are no coconut palms, is the sweet and delicious milk missing from the core cuisine. In the rest of the country your senses are bombarded with the unctuous, lick of coconut in light desserts, rich curries and crunchy salads. The scent of burning coconut oil with coriander, fish sauce and garlic permeates the air. Then there’s the milk, vinegar, flesh and juice of coconuts, that seem to follow you wherever you go.
Coconut custard accompanies bright jackfruit (Sanka Gab Kanoon). Coconut oil with its high smoking point is a great heat stable starting point for wok cooked dishes and in some areas simple coconut pancakes make a great start to the day.
Coconuts are a staple of South East Asian cuisine and the Thais just love to throw it around. You find it in ice-creams, puddings and jellies. It accompanies ripe sugar bananas and sweet mangoes. It’s even used in tangy chicken or prawn soups and teamed up with sweet, perfumed Thai basil to drizzle over flame cooked chicken.
One of my all-time favourite recipes from Mogens Bay Esbensen’s wonderful book on Thai cooking is Banana prawns and mud crab in coconut sauce. Yum.
Making red curry paste in a mortar and pestle, and making coconut cream from scratch is one of the most satisfying experiences. Add a kilo of Eden or Kinkawooka mussels, Tiger prawns and chopped coriander, for the perfect feed for a mass of people in summer.
There’s something about the vision of psychedelic curry paste, with its chilli oil floating to the top of opaque, coconut milk that I never grow tired of. The fragrant smell that permeates my home when I prepare this dish, is probably my personal highlight.
At Longrain the coconut sorbet is the ultimate ‘palate cleanser’. Even if guests are feeling too stuffed to scoff a full dessert, any and all, will happily partake in a scoop of coconut sorbet to round off their spice laden feast.
Right now on the menu we have coconut milk in our yellow veg and green beef curries and dried coconut chips on the prawn Betel leaf with watermelon. Our Restaurant Manager Dan Knight is using coconut milk in cocktails and shredded coconut adds crunch to many of our desserts. It's not just flavour, but texture.
Whatever you do with your coconuts, remember the wise words of Dustin Hoffman who said: The two basic items necessary to sustain life are sunshine and coconut milk.