Photo by ewige
No, believe it or not, coconut milk — an indispensable ingredient in most Southeast Asian cooking — is not the liquid inside a coconut. It is made by soaking the grated flesh of a coconut in hot water or scalded milk, then straining the combination.
Coconut milk is classified as thick, thin, or coconut cream. Thick coconut milk is the result of the first soaking and squeezing. If this milk is refrigerated it separates, and the top layer is the cream. Thin coconut milk is what is produced when one steeps the coconut meat a second time and then strains.
Canned coconut milk, which is mostly quite good, separates naturally. The top layer can be spooned off for recipes calling for cream, the bottom poured into thin, or just shake it up to get the most commonly called-for thick coconut milk.