How to “Crack” Coconut Cream

By Cook's Illustrated Published March 2014

Here's the easiest way to "crack" coconut cream for making curries.

Traditional Thai curry recipes call for frying the spice paste in coconut cream that’s been “cracked”—that is, simmered until its oil separates out. Besides drawing out the oil, simmering the coconut cream also forces water to evaporate, making for a slightly more concentrated curry. We skip this step in our Thai Chicken Curry with Potatoes and Peanuts (see related content) and fry the paste in vegetable oil to keep things simple, but if you want to achieve a slightly richer-tasting curry, follow the steps below and then proceed with step 4 of the recipe, adding the curry paste to the saucepan and omitting the oil. (Add the remaining coconut milk with the broth.) In step 5, add up to 3/4 cup of water to ensure that the chicken pieces are just submerged in the liquid.

Note that some products contain emulsifiers and stabilizers that discourage the formation of the cream layer. We have found that Thai Kitchen Coconut Milk works best for this process.

1. Skim solid layer of cream from can of coconut milk to yield roughly 3/4 cup.

2. Simmer cream in large saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly, until cream is texture of yogurt and sizzles at edges, 7 to 12 minutes.