I don’t know about you, but for me one of the main components to fall cooking (and one of the things that gets me most excited about fall) is winter squash. There’s a nice selection of winter squash varieties to choose from, but my favorite go-to for recipes has always been butternut squash.
I used to be overwhelmed at the daunting idea of peeling and cutting up a whole squash and would always spend way too much money buying the pre-peeled/chopped variety at my local grocery store. The problem with those is depending on what you’re using it for, you still end up having to chop the pieces smaller, so you’re still doing work but paying more to do it (and getting far less squash). I finally decided enough was enough and it was time to figure out how to tackle a whole squash. Not only was it ridiculously easier than I had built it up to be in my head, but the amount of squash for the price paid is amazing! Not to mention it seems to last far longer once chopped and stored in the refrigerator than the pre-packaged kind.
Assuming I’m not the only one who felt reluctant to take on peeling and chopping up a whole squash, I put together this guide to show you exactly how to do it and how simple it is. It’s nothing knew and there are plenty of similar guides on other websites, but it makes me feel a bit more official as a food blogger when, rather than pointing to you to a different website, I’m providing the info for you right here instead.
Step One: First thing is, you must have a good chef’s knife. We’re not talking hundreds of dollars nice, but it needs to be sturdy and sharp. Taking that knife, cut off both ends of the squash. Note: my knife doesn’t just cut straight down through it so I have to push down with the knife and rotate the squash until it slices all the way through. Also, don’t be concerned with trying to make the cuts perfectly even. It won’t matter at all. You just want the ends cut off, so the squash looks like the photos below:
Step Two: You may choose to peel the squash at this point, prior to cutting the squash up any more. Many of the other online instructional sites say to do this, but I found it difficult to handle the squash for peeling when it was whole, so that’s why I do it as in my steps below. You could even peel it after cutting it in half (after the top photo below). Figure out what is easiest for you and do whatever you’d like! Personally, I like to peel it when it’s in quarters (seen in step three), so at this stage lay the squash on its side and cut in half in the middle (see top photo below), then stand each half upright and cut each of them into halves (see bottom photo below). Note: The top half of the squash doesn’t have the seeds in it, so there is no seed removal for that half. Score!
Whatever size you want, start by slicing each section of the squash however wide you’d like (mine were ~1/4″). See the top photo below for how my slices looked after this. The slices from the bottom half of my squash (that include the hollowed out section from de-seeding) didn’t need to be cut up any more because my squash was a bit on the smaller side, so they can just go on to be diced. Depending on the size of your squash, you may want to slice those in half. For the other slices (that don’t include the hollowed out section of squash), depending on the size chunks you’re ultimately going for, slice them once or twice more to make even width sections (see the bottom photo below for how mine looked after slicing them up more).
As far as cooking, there are a few different methods I like to switch between, depending on recipe:
- Roast the squash in halves. To do this, instead of the steps above, you would simply cut the whole squash in half lengthwise, scoop out and discard the seeds. Then, preheat your oven to 400 degrees F and line a baking sheet with foil. There are so many possibilities for spices and oils and such to be used. For our purposes here, I’m simply going to tell you how to roast the squash for use in recipes. Place the scooped out halves cut-side down on the prepared baking sheet and bake for ~40-45 minutes until squash is completely done and tender (a fork should go through easily). Simply scoop the squash out from the skin to use in your recipes. Alternatively, if you wanted to use oil and salt/pepper or other spices, you should bake them cut-side up, brushed with oil and with the spices sprinkled over top of each oft he halves.
- A slightly faster way for cooking (but which takes a bit more prep time) would be to boil squash chunks to be mashed later. To do this, follow all of the steps above, but your chunks can be a bit bigger (~1″ squares or so). Then, fill a large saucepan/dutch oven ~3/4 of the way full with water and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Once the water is boiling, carefully add the squash chunks, cover the pan and reduce heat to medium. Cook squash for ~20 minutes, until thoroughly cooked and tender (again, a fork should go through easily). Drain the squash very well (they retain a lot of moisture) before mashing to use in your recipes.
- Lastly, you may want to roast squash in smaller chunks. To do this, toss your squash with ~1-2 Tbsp. olive oil (depends on how large of a squash you have) salt and pepper to taste. Spread out on an ungreased baking sheet and bake in a preheated 400 degree F oven for ~15 minutes, stirring about halfway through, until thoroughly cooked and tender (a fork should go through easily). There are numerous recipes out there as well for cooking squash this way with other spices/ingredients, but this is the general idea.
I hope you found this helpful and no longer feel intimidated when you walk by the squash at the grocery store. Make sure to check out our How to Peel, Cut & Cook Kabocha Squash (w/Photo Guide) page as well, for even more squash possibilities!