Don’t let butternut squash’s tough exterior and firm texture scare you away from enjoying this autumn staple.
As the weather cools, grocery stores and farmers’ markets start stocking up on fresh winter squash. One popular variety, the butternut squash, is a versatile ingredient that can take many classic fall dishes to the next level.
Butternut squash are known for their deep orange flesh and—as implied in the name— their nutty, subtly sweet flavor that is reminiscent of pumpkin. When cooked, butternut squash takes on a soft consistency and absorbs flavors around it. There are so many ways to cook butternut squash— a quick stove top sauté allows the squash to keep some of its bite, while roasted squash becomes soft and caramelized on its exposed surfaces. It can even be pureed to thicken a soup or stand alone as its own soup base.
Because of its subtle flavor, butternut squash lends itself well to both sweet and savory cooking. A chameleon in the kitchen, it can just as easily become a warm, nutty salad topping as the filling of a freshly made pie. Here’s how to cut it to get started.
Because of its popularity, butternut squash is typically available year-round, though it’s at its prime in the fall and winter seasons. There are a few things to look for when you’re shopping for butternut squash.
Butternut squash typically weigh between one to five pounds with a bulbous, seed-filled base attached to a long neck with a stem at the top. A ripe butternut squash will have dark beige skin with very little shine. Avoid squash with green spots, as this indicates it’s not quite ready. Try to find a squash with its stem still intact—if the stem has fallen off, the squash may be past its prime. The butternut squash should feel heavy for its size and sound hollow if you give it a gentle tap.
The thick, beige skin of a butternut squash helps keep it fresh for months. While it’s edible and full of nutrients, the texture may not be welcomed in all dishes. If you’re roasting or grilling your squash in rings or wedges, you might want to leave the skin on, but if you’re puréeing it for soup or even tossing it with pasta, you’ll likely want to peel it. .
To peel your butternut squash, start by stabilizing it so it doesn’t slide around your cutting board. Make a thin cut with a Nakiri Knife lengthwise on one side to create a flat surface. Lay the squash on its flat side, and cut off the ends. Now you’re ready to peel. The best tool for this is a vegetable peeler—ideally a swivel one that will easily glide over the contours of the squash without removing too much flesh. As you would with a knife, peel away from your body, applying gentle pressure until all of the skin is removed.
If you don’t have a vegetable peeler, a sharp Chef Knife will do the trick. After you remove the ends of the squash, stand it up on its now-flat base. Rotate it as you make shallow cuts, removing the skin. If it feels like the squash isn’t stable enough to safely peel this way and you’re planning to dice it (rather than enjoy it halved), cut the squash in half lengthwise to create two shorter pieces. They are more manageable and less likely to slip out from under your grip as you peel.How to Soften Butternut Squash
Optionally, you may choose to soften the squash prior to peeling it. Using a fork, poke holes on the surface of the squash. This helps release steam from the squash as it softens. Microwave the whole squash, prior to making any cuts, for 30 seconds to two minutes. This is enough time to soften the squash but not enough time to start cooking it. Proceed with peeling, but be careful as it will be hot coming out of the microwave.
Butternut squash is a versatile winter staple that can be enjoyed in so many ways. Whether you’re adding it in cubes to a soup, roasting slices for a winter salad, or simply enjoying it halved and baked with olive oil, here is the best way to slice it to your preferred size.Step 1: Wash, Dry, and Peel the Squash
Even if you won’t be eating the skin of the butternut squash, it is always best to wash and dry it prior to preparing it for a meal to eliminate any dirt it picked up on the way to your kitchen. Soften the squash in the microwave and peel according to the instructions above. You can also leave the skin on, since it’s edible and will soften when cooked.Step 2: Cut the Squash in Half and Remove the Seeds
With its blunt tip and straight blade, the shape of our Nakiri serves as a smaller cleaver for vegetables, giving you the power you need to cut through a dense squash. Our Santoku would also be a good choice, as its fluted blade will keep the squash from sticking to it.
The top of the squash will be solid, but the round base of the squash contains a compartment of seeds. With a spoon or ice cream scooper, scrape the seeds and any loose pulp free from the squash and set aside. If you plan to roast your butternut squash in halves, your chopping work is done. If you want slices, cubes, or any other kind of cut, continue to Step 3.Step 3: Slice or Cube the Squash
Flip the squash halves so the flat side is against your cutting board. If you want to roast slices of squash, starting at one end, make ¼–½” thick cuts and repeat on the second squash half.
If you want to cube the squash, first cut each squash half in half one more time to create smaller sections to work with. Decide what size cubes you want to make (most recipes call for around ½” cubes), and slice the squash into pieces lengthwise. Stacking a few slices at a time, cut once more to make cubes.
Since butternut squash is not a perfect cube to begin with, you may need to chop some of the pieces in half again to get equally-sized pieces. Regardless of which size of cube you decide to cut, make sure everything is relatively the same size to ensure even cooking.
The options for butternut squash are endless, and it is a great ingredient to have on-hand throughout the fall and winter. To make the cutting process easier, our Knives come with a flat edge and balanced handle– perfect for getting into the tough surface of a squash.