This is all to say I don’t like extra work for the sake of itself. If I’m going to DIY something, like the coconut milk in this Thai-Style Coconut and Chicken Soup, there better be a good reason for it.
The problem with store-bought coconut milk
Unlike dairy milk, which is sold with the fat percentage printed right on the carton, coconut milk can contain anywhere between 5% and 20% fat. That’s a ridiculous range, and inconvenient if you happen to be in the business of recipe development.
It was the coconut milk that gave our kitchen trouble when developing the coconut and chicken soup. They tried many brands of canned coconut milk and got mixed results—from watery brews to curdled messes. Ultimately, they made their own by blending dried coconut with water and straining the puree. This is essentially how commercial coconut is made anyway; they just had to rehydrate the coconut first. Once the coconut milk was sorted, the kitchen was able to fortify it with canned coconut cream (a more consistent product than canned coconut milk) and coconut water, which allowed them to control the overall fat content in the soup. The result was delicious, but more importantly, it was consistently delicious.
Once you taste homemade coconut milk, you’ll never go back
I won’t say I was skeptical—I trust our kitchen—but I was not expecting to be as impressed as I was. The procedure for making your own coconut milk is simple. Soak 2 1/2 cups of dried, shredded coconut in 3 cups of water for five minutes until soft. Blend on high for a minute, then strain the solids out through a sieve, pressing on the pulp to extract as much milk as possible.
After milking the coconut shreds for all they were worth, I took a sip of the milk. I don’t want to sound hyperbolic, but it was incredible. Rich, but not so fatty it left a film on my tongue; lightly sweet, but not cloying. It tasted fresh, with a warm nuttiness that lingered on my palate for just a moment, making me crave the next sip almost immediately. I would have chugged down the whole batch right then had I not had an intense craving for Thai soup. (I plan to make another batch for blending into smoothies and chugging.)
Homemade coconut is just rich enough
This Thai-inspired soup isn’t the only recipe we make with DIY coconut milk—it’s also called for in our Colombian Coconut-Braised Chicken—but it was a recipe I had been craving since the beginning of soup season. (Honestly, we almost have too many good soups to choose from.)
This isn’t just a good soup, it’s a great one. The trio of coconut products provides a creamy backbone and silky viscosity without obscuring any of the flavors—and there are a lot of flavors to appreciate. It’s sour, sweet, salty, deeply savory and a touch bitter, with fragrant lemongrass, punchy ginger and just enough heat from fresh chilies, which are stirred in at the very end. Using a lesser coconut milk would have been disrespectful—not only to the many flavorful ingredients that went into the soup, but to time I invested while making it.
If you think I’m too biased to be objective—I do work here, after all—perhaps a few words from a fellow reader will convince you. “Should have known better,” they wrote. “I made this twice—the first time not following the directions, and the second time mostly following the directions...and I learned my lesson. Follow the directions as closely as possible because Milk Street knows what they are talking about.”
Just make the coconut milk. It takes all of 10 minutes, but even if it took a whole hour it would still be worth it.
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