How to Prepare, Peel, and Cut Butternut Squash | Knife Skills

Do you know your way around a butternut squash?

10/24/2021 9:00:00 PM

Do you know your way around a butternut squash?

A symbol of fall, butternut squash is perhaps the most common and versatile of winter squashes. Thanks to its firm flesh and very thick, tough skin, it can keep for a long time at room temperature, but that thick skin and firm flesh also make it more challenging than most vegetables to peel and slice. Here are the tools and techniques you'll need for trimming the squash, peeling it, removing its seeds, and then cutting it into different size pieces.

, a serrated (a.k.a. bread) knife needn't be an expensive purchase. They're not easy to sharpen, so you'll have to replace them from time to time.As I'll show below, I often peel my squash with whatever knife I'm using, but a peeler can be useful, too. And when I use a peeler, I'm really only interested in one kind: a

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razor-sharp Y-peeler. If you're not used to using one, it can seem awkward and difficult at first, but with a little practice, I doubt you'll go back to the other kind. I don't think I've ever seen a professional chef use anything but one of these.

You'll also need a spoon for removing the seeds.Cut Off the Stem EndThe first thing I do is cut right below the stem of the squash to remove it.Cut Off the Blossom EndNext, I rotate the squash and slice off the very bottom of the other, more bulbous end, where the flower once grew on the fruit (it's not anatomically accurate, but let's call it the belly button). I try not to cut off too much here, erring on the side of not quite getting enough of that belly button on my first pass—if I need to take more off, I can always cut again. Once I've fully removed that bottom belly button, I'm good to go.

Divide in Half WidthwiseButternut squash has two sections: The top section on the stem-end side is narrower and filled with solid flesh. The more bulbous section on the flower end (where that belly button was) is hollow and contains the seeds.I line the knife up right where the narrow section meets the bulbous section and split the squash in half there.

You should now have two sections of squash: the top portion and the bulbous seed section.PeelIf you have a peeler, go ahead and strip the skin off with it. You want to peel down to the orange flesh, cutting away any white or light-colored flesh directly below the skin, as well as any green veins that run lengthwise under the skin.

If you're not using a peeler, set each section of squash on a flat end and slice around it, with either a sharp knife or a serrated blade (my photos here show both) to remove the skin.Also, can we stop and appreciate my freakishly double-jointed thumb in the photo above?

Repeat the peeling for both the top section and the bulbous seed section of the squash.Split the Seed SectionNext, I stand the seed section on a flat side and slice it in half lengthwise.Remove the SeedsUsing a spoon, I scrape out the seeds and any of the fibrous flesh that's attached to them.

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If you like to eat pumpkin seeds, don't throw these away: They can be toasted and enjoyed as a snack. (I'm not so crazy about pumpkin seeds, so I usually toss 'em.)Slice and Dice the Seed SectionI take each hollowed seed section half, set it hollow side down on the cutting board, and slice it lengthwise into sections. You can go as thin or as thick as you want here—that will determine the size of your pieces. You can cook these curved slices as they are, or dice them.

To dice them, just cut each slice into chunks of your desired size. Because these curved pieces of squash are not perfectly regular in shape, you won't get perfect cubes here, but that's okay. Nature doesn't grow too many things with flawless right angles.

Slice and Dice the Top SectionIf the top section of the squash is particularly long, I'll split it in half widthwise to make it more manageable.Then I stand it on end and slice down in even intervals to form slabs. Here, I'm doing a roughly three-quarter-inch dice, so that's the width of each of my slabs. You can go thicker or thinner, depending on your specific need.

Once I've cut it into slabs, I cross-cut those slabs into batons.Then I rotate those batons and cut them into dice.Alternate Cut: CirclesThe top section of the squash can also be sliced into rounds.To do so, I turn it on its side and slice through it widthwise.

Again, you can go as thick or as thin as you want here.Take Two: Small DiceIf you want smaller dice, all you need to do is make thinner cuts on both the seed end and the stem end. Here, I'm demonstrating on the stem end.Start with the stem section of the squash on its end, and cut down through it lengthwise, making your slices much closer together.

Then slice those thinner slabs into much thinner matchsticks.And cross-cut those matchsticks into tiny cubes. These are roughly an eighth of an inch. Aren't they cute? Read more: Serious Eats »

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Very much so. For starters, I know you don't need to peel it!

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