Any fairly experienced cook is aware that swapping cream for skim milk will impact the outcome of your recipe.
However, I have been experimenting with Thai cooking lately, and I encountered a number of Thai recipes calling for either coconut milk or coconut cream, completely unaware that these two were as distinct as their dairy analogues!
I made a wonderful looking soup, using coconut milk in lieu of cream. Something was not right. Perplexed by my failure to capture the taste I was aiming for, I did a litte research on the topic and here is what I found:
Coconut cream is the thick non-liquid part of coconut milk that separates and rises to the top of the milk.
For this reason, you actually can by coconut milk, if the cream is unavailable, and use the thicker top portion of the unshaken can in place of coconut cream! In essence, the true distinction between to two substances is the thickness of the liquid, which will influence the overall richness of the dish!
For those of you who are interested in what exactly coconut milk is made of, here are some general facts:
The meat of the coconut is finely grated and steeped in hot wate, then cooled. It is then squeezed until dry; the white fluid is strained (generally with a cheese cloth) to remove all the pulp. More hot water is added to the pulp and the process is repeated to yield coconut milk.
If you need a reason to try cooking with coconut milk, doctors have found that the monolaurins in the coconut oil have very powerful antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal agents, and boost immunity (who knew?)
Coconut milk is present in a variety of thai curries and soups, as well as in several Malaysian, Singaporean, Indonesian, Sri Lankan, West Indian, Hawaiian, and Filipino delicacies. Coconut cream can also be found in thai dishes, as well as in pina coladas (which happen to be my favorite vacation drink!)