Coconut cream vs coconut milk?
I have a Thai cookbook which has several recipes that call for both coconut cream and coconut milk but does not explain the difference. Can anyone help?
Coconut cream is thicker and richer than the milk---just like with the dairy products. If you're shopping at an Asian market, you should be able to find cans of both. I'm not sure whether products like Coco Lopez can be used as a substitute (they may include sweeteners). If you really need a substitute, I think you can reduce coconut milk until it gets as thick as coconut cream.
I believe that, as regards Thai (or any other southeast Asian cooking) they both come from a can of unsweetened coconut MILK. Recipes instruct one to open a can of coconut milk, without shaking or stirring, and scrape out the thickened cream which has separated out. The cream is used as a cooking fat, then the remaining milk is used to enrich the broth or sauce.
NEVER substitute Coco Lopez or the like.
It's very easy to make your own of either. The coconut milk is made from shredded fresh coconut meat (I buy dessicated coconut at the health food store.) Simmer it with an equal amount of water until it gets foamy and strain through cheesecloth. Squeeze out every bit of "milk" that you can. For "cream" use about 1:4 cups water to coconut. You can use milk or partly milk for the liquid for extra richness.
Coconut CREAM = Coconut MILK + Sugar (Cane Sugar)
When cooking savory foods, recipes usually call for Coconut MILK.
The Coconut CREAM is usually used when wanting a sweet product like a flan or sweet drinks like Piña Coladas.
So, if a recipe calls for Coconut MILK DO NOT use Coconut CREAM. They're not one and the same.
In Thai recipes I have seen, "coconut cream" does NOT mean sweetened coconut milk. It just means the thicker part of unsweetened coconut milk, and it is used as a base for many savory curries (red, green, panang, etc.)
Gretchen, as far as I get it, the cream and milk (as your Thai books refer to them) are basically different poles of the same product. Open a can of coconut milk (unsweetened, like Aroy brand), or let stand a pitcher of fresh coconut milk, and you will find that it separates, with a thick yogurt-like substance on top and a thinner liquid remaining below. The thick stuff on top is coconut cream; the thinner liquid below is coconut milk. The border between the two (cream and milk) is relative, and may not be clear with some batches. The cream has most of the fat, which is why it is usually called for to release the fats to fry your paste.
You can add some water to coconut cream to turn it into milk, and for SOME purposes you can reduce the milk to make it cream. However, if you do this, the oil may separate out, which you only want if the point was to get the oil. If your cans don't have much cream, then it may take longer to cook the milk to get the oil. You might even have to add a little cooking oil if after much cooking the milk/cream, none of it ever separates.
coconut juice, the clear juice found in the center of the coconut-
is this mixed into the pulp to make the milk or simply discarded? Does it have a use in recipes?
(I was just in Costa Rica where they take fresh coconut and make a whole in the top and stick the straw in and you just suck. It doesn't taste at all of coconut milk or even really of coconut. Just a sweetish juice with a slightly bitter aftertaste.)