Coconuts play an important role in Parsi cooking and are symbolic of prosperity and life in Zoroastrian culture and religion. At most food markets in India, there are stalls dedicated to cracking, peeling, and grating coconuts, which makes life easier. If you’re based somewhere without this luxury, it is a useful and rewarding skill to learn how to crack a coconut.
Before we can crack our coconut, we must first have a coconut to crack! There are tell-tale signs for good and bad coconuts and once you have them memorized, you will be able to tell a perfect coconut from a dud in seconds.
First, look for lots of fresh fibers on the coconut—the older the coconut, the drier the fibers; look for ones that are lush and almost damp. Second, pick up the coconut and feel the weight—there should be a reassuring heft to the coconut. If it feels light for its size, it is probably old and dried out. Check the surface of the coconut for any cracks that may have let air in and spoiled the flesh. This is no good. Finally, place that coconut up to your ear and give it a good shake—there should be a generous amount of sloshing of coconut water going on inside that shell. The more water, the less time it’s been hanging around drying out.
To begin cracking, remove as much of the dried husk from the shell as possible, as this only gets in the way and dampens the blows. Go outside and find a hard piece of concrete, a brick, or a similar surface. Have next to you a bowl to collect the coconut water and a sturdy, pointed knife to pry the shell open.
Crouch down and, with a firm grip on your coconut, start giving it sharp blows on the ground around its equator. In this moment, I like to picture myself as one of the apes in the opening sequence of 2001: A Space Odyssey as I strike the blows.
After every strike, turn the coconut a few centimeters around and strike a different area along its equator—you are not looking to smash the coconut to smithereens, only to strike with enough force to crack the shell open a little and allow you to slip the knife in. Soon enough the sharp cracking sound will turn to a dull thud. This means the force field has been breached!
Find the spot with the crack and give it a few short, sharp taps to open that crack up. Stick your knife gently into the gap and, holding the coconut over the bowl, twist the knife to open the shell and empty out the coconut water. Once you’ve drained all the coconut water, a few more blows around the coconut should be sufficient to break it in half. You can now use a butter knife to carefully pry the flesh away from the shell.
Taste the water before you use it—sometimes it can turn sour inside the shell, although this is not always a reflection of how the flesh will taste. If you can resist drinking all the water in one go, you can use the rest for cooking.
Excerpted from Parsi: From Persia to Bombay: Recipes & Tales from the Ancient Culture. Used with the permission of the publisher, Bloomsbury. Copyright © 2022 by Farokh Talati.