Puerto Ricans have their own version of the warming, life-affirming chicken soup made by Jewish grandmothers.
Only it’s a drink, which is a heck of a lot more fun, and way tastier. It’s a spirituous little beverage called coquito. It’s tempting to say it’s a Puerto Rican eggnog — but don’t.
Sure, there’s egg and dairy in there, and of course booze. But coquito (little coconut) isn’t just some random carton you grab at the local A&P in early December. This is a concoction with deep familial roots in Puerto Rico.
I encountered coquito for the first time when I was 10. At the time, we were living in Puerto Rico, and attended a Christmas party. The hosts served creamy, delicious-looking drinks called coquito. When I requested one, my mom said no, because they were “grownup” milkshakes.
Ten minutes later, on very wobbly legs, I made my way into a quiet corner after secretly sampling said milkshake.
Coquito is a delicious milky potion. Silky, rich, and full of the tastes of coconut, ginger, and spices. The ingredient that gave me noodle-knees was rum — Barcardi 151.
Every Puerto Rican family has its own super-secret, super-special version. The recipe for it is normally tightly-guarded and handed down to only the very favorite offspring.
And somehow, I, and by extension you, Gentle Reader, are now in possession of one of those venerated family heirlooms.
Years ago I met the then-Durham chief of police, Jose Lopez, and his awesome wife, Becky, in line at Costco. They have become friends, and Becky is now my Puerto Rican food mentor, coach, and head cheerleader. And in the spirit of friendship for which Puertorriqueños are known, she gave me her family coquito recipe to share.
So, here, in her own words, is Becky Lopez’ great-grandmother’s coquito recipe. And if you’d like to say thanks for her generosity, take a moment and spare a thought or a prayer for the residents of Puerto Rico who are still in dire straits from this year’s hurricane season. If you can do more, visit https://hispanicfederation.org/unidos, where 100% of your donation goes to recovery efforts in Puerto Rico.
And from my snug little apartment in downtown Durham to your very own abode, have the most wonderful of holidays, and a happy, peaceful new year.
Thanks for your time.
Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Becky’s Family Coquito
5 fresh cinnamon sticks
1/4 thumb size piece of ginger (about 1/2 in.)
2 capfuls of vanilla extract
2 egg yolks (no membrane)
2 cans of evaporated milk
2 cans of coconut milk
1 can of coconut syrup (Coco Lopez)
151 proof dark rum or your choice of dark rum (Important: add only after mixture has cooled down)
*Bacardi stopped making 151 a few years ago. I now use Cruzan 137 aged rum.
Take cinnamon sticks and smash them in a paper towel with a mallet so that their oils and taste may be released in the boil. Peel the ginger then cut it into thin pieces. Place the cinnamon and ginger in a small pot filled halfway with water and boil it for about 15 min. This should yield no more than 1 cup of liquid mixture.
Open one can of evaporated milk and one can of coconut milk and empty them into large pot. Place egg yolks in this mixture. Stir well until there’s no separation between eggs and liquid. Remove anything floating (remove any egg membrane) and cook on medium for 10 min. Turn off heat and add the coconut syrup, stir, then add the rest of the ingredients including the vanilla extract, cinnamon, and ginger water. Stir well. Cool down and add rum to taste.
Optional: before adding rum, place this mixture in a cold place (fridge or outside) @ 45 degrees or lower overnight then strain the congealed fat from the top.
When mixture’s cooled down add rum to your taste.
Because the eggs were slowly cooked this drink can last for years in the fridge. Grandma would always bring out the last year’s Coquito (which always taste better) and served it in shot glasses. With time it thickens and becomes even more creamy.
I have had up to 4-year-old Coquito in my fridge. The trick is to shake your refrigerated bottles at least once a month.
Buen provecho! (Enjoy!)