Icacos point, the southwesternmost point in Trinidad and Tobago, is synonymous with its wetlands and coconut plantations. It was on these plantations that the East Indians who came as indentured labourers worked upon arrival. Evidence of this still somewhat exists in the little huts by the sea which provided dwelling houses for those labourers. Most of these huts have since washed into the Atlantic by the forces of nature reflected in rising sea levels.
As a child, we spent many weekends at Mayaro, so the coconut trees that lined the beach on the Atlantic side were normal to me, but Icacos takes this to another level.
Arriving in Icacos, one can only see acres upon acres of coconut trees, estate after estate, hundreds and thousands of coconuts. These estates produce nuts which are processed into edible oil, traditional oil to be used in cosmetic items, virgin coconut oil, and coconut milk.
To keep the trees producing, new seedlings are cultivated and planted while the mature trees are fertilised to keep them healthy and productive.
The coconut estates at Icacos use only dried nuts, once the nuts are ready, they drop to the ground and are harvested manually then transported to the processing area. Thousands of nuts are collected every day. The dried coconuts that we purchase at the market probably originate at one of these southern estates.
Once the dried nuts are trucked into the processing station, they are placed in a machine which cracks the nuts, preparing them for the extraction process, which is done by hand. The nuts are pried open and the coconut meat removed with a sharp knife, the husky shells are burnt and the burnt remains used for fertiliser. As many as 6,000 nuts can be processed in one day.
After extraction the nuts that are to be used for cooking oil are heat dried and turned into copra.
This copra is then sent to the factory where it is pressed, heated, refined and bottled for sale.
If the extracted coconut meat is to be used for virgin coconut oil, it is washed several times then sent to the factory where it is pressed and left to separate in freezer-like conditions. After a few days the pressed liquid separates. The thick, fluffy-like top layer is made into traditional oil (used for cosmetic purposes), the second layer which is a clear liquid holds the virgin coconut oil, the oil is removed from this mixture using a vacuum-like process to produce cold-pressed virgin oil.
The two most popular oils available to us here in the Caribbean are the pale golden coconut oil and the clear "white" virgin oil. Many people shy away from coconut oil because it solidifies on grocery shelves. This happens because it solidifies at temperatures about 68 degrees as it is rich in several types of the healthier saturated fats, lauric acid and medium chain fatty acids (MCFAs).
Coconut oil is anti-fungal, anti-microbial, it promotes a healthier metabolism and does not change composition when used at high frying temperatures.
I have found that frying with coconut oil produces a crisper product, and cooking and baking with it overall makes for a lighter end result, with less of a greasy feel. Also, much of the coconut oil available for sale is locally made, so stay local!
Coconut Fried Chicken with Fire and Spice Orange dip
1 lb boneless chicken breast cut into strips
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp salt
1 cups all -purpose flour
1 egg, beaten
1 cup finely-shredded fresh coconut`
1 cup bread or cracker crumbs
coconut oil for frying
Marinate chicken in garlic and salt.
In 2 separate plates put the flour and the shredded coconut mixed with the crumbs in another add salt to taste.
Dredge chicken in flour, then dip into egg and then roll in shredded coconut mixture.
Fry in hot oil until golden, drain and serve with dip.
Makes about 16 pieces
Fire and Spice dip
1 cup Thai sweet-chili sauce
2 tbs vinegar
1/4 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
1 tbs shredded ginger
Combine all the ingredients, serve with chicken.
Makes about 16 pieces
Cassava Flour Empanadas
2 cups cassava /yucca flour
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1/3 cup softened butter
Cool water to mix
1 lb ground beef or chicken
1 tsp ground garlic
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp salt
2 tbs vegetable oil
1 small onion chopped
2 tbs Portuguese thyme or marjoram
1 tbs Spanish thyme, chopped
Coconut oil for frying
Season beef with garlic, chili powder, cumin and salt.
Heat oil in a sauté pan, add onion and sauté until fragrant and translucent add beef and cook until brown. Add Portuguese thyme and cook for a few minutes more.
Add the chopped Spanish thyme and add to beef, stir well.
Remove from heat; turn out into a shallow bowl, chill.
Combine the flours with salt and butter; rub the butter in with your fingers until a mealy consistency is achieved.
Add water gradually and knead to a soft dough.
Wrap and chill for 1 hour.
Roll out dough to 1/4 inch thick, stamp out 3-inch rounds.
Place 1 tbs filling onto the bottom centre of each round and fold the top portion over the lower portion, covering the meat, seal with a little water.
Heat some coconut oil in a frying pan, fry empanadas until golden and cooked through.
Makes about 12