The thought of rice infused with coconut goodness makes me swoon. Over the years, I’ve seen it on Southeast Asian restaurant menus and read recipes and tried recipes for it. But the rice has always turned out either gummy and more importantly, not very coconutty.
For the most part, I’ve tried blending different proportions of water and coconut milk and never got a satisfactory result -- one that I would proudly serve my family and friends. My all-time favorite Vietnamese cookbook – Lam Bep Gioi by Mrs. Van Dai (sort of the Julia Child of Vietnam in the 1940s) calls for cooking the rice as normal and then stirring in a couple tablespoons of coconut milk at the end. That didn’t work, my friends.
The other day I found a solution. Not using coconut milk. Well, not using it straight.
I was developing a recipe that required a ton of coconut cream and was skimming off the thick cream from many cans of coconut milk (Chaokoh and Mae Ploy brand). The opaque liquid below is a ‘skim’ version of coconut milk. I had a few cups worth and given my immigrant/refugee ways, I couldn’t throw it out.
It sat in the fridge for days, and suddenly it dawned upon me that the stuff is just like water and I started using it that way. Most times when you use coconut milk, you blend it with some water. So I used the skim milk instead of water to boost the coconut presence in my dishes. Curries were extra lovely. With plenty leftover, I used it to cook a pot of rice and lo and behold, there was a wonderful, delicate coconut quality in every grain.
If you think of it, a resourceful Viet cook would extract the first pressing of coconut milk (nuoc cot) and then add more water for a second, ultra-skim version (nuoc nhi) that could be used in lieu of water. Same thing here but I was using canned coconut milk instead of making it from scratch.
To make coconut rice, use long-grain rice (I’m a Jasmine rice fan) and this proportion of rice to liquid:
1 1/4 cups skim coconut milk (decrease the water slightly for ‘new crop’ rice)
I cook rice in a pot. Rice cooker users, just use your regular measurements. Tips on obtaining the skim coconut milk:
- Select coconut milk without emulsifiers, let it doesn’t separate. Chaokoh and Mae Ploy, standard brands, are great. Any Tetra type boxed stuff is great too.
- Leave the coconut milk to sit overnight to allow a “plug” of thicker cream to form so you can spoon it out.
- If a little cream gets into the skim milk, that’s okay.
What to serve the coconut rice with? Any savory dish that already contains coconut (e.g., a curry with coconut milk, Vietnamese pork simmered in caramel sauce with coconut water) or something that you'd like to add extra tropical flair to.