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Oct 30, 2009 11:51 AM

Cutting Gourds and Winter Squashes

If someone wants to merge this with the pumpkin post, I don't mind, I just didn't want to hijack -

So I can cut an acorn squash. I can get into a pie pumpkin. I can, with effort, split a spaghetti squash. But that's about it.

Butternut? Forget it. Fairy Tale Pumpkins? Impossible. Anything larger than roughly 6-8" diameter I find impossible to chop into in order to clean and eat. Is there some trick I'm missing here? I'm a fitness instructor for a living, so I'm quite strong, but at best I can karate chop a butcher knife into the beast - and then I can't get it back out without risk of serious injury, or gourds flying across the kitchen. It feels pretty humiliating to have to wait for my husband to get home from work, and then meet him at the door with a "help!" and a squash on the end of a handle.

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  1. My friends at Fred's Cutlery Forum are knife fanatics, and they have taught me that extremely sharp, long, and slender blades are actually the best choice for these monsters.

    Now, these people are big into Japanese knives, and "force" is not a word that any one of them would use in the same sentence with "knife" for safety reasons. They helped me to understand that my old trusty Henkels or Wusthoffs, which are up to 4mm thick at the spine, actually tend to get wedged, and that what I was perceiving as cutting was actually splitting. I ended up purchasing a 10 inch Japanese style knife (Shun) that seems to do a fine job on Butternut versus my old 8 inch German style knives. I strongly suspect that a long gyuto would do an even better job.

    1. I have the same problem as you so eagerly awaiting tips. Check out this video; it never works like this for me:

      1. Ok, Butternut, actually quite simple. Cut the squash in two by inserting the tip of the knife into the center of the squash and pull down, remove knife, turn and repeat, at the junction of the bulb end (the seed cativity) and the neck. Now you have a platform for the neck to rest upright on and can remove the peel in long strips, from stem end to cut edge, rotating the neck as you go. I use an 8-inch chef's knife, as I like a little weight behind my effort and it's what I'm used to. You could use a y-peeler as well, butternut skin is not very thick.
        Cut a platform from the bottom (blossom end) of the squash and peel the seed cavity section of the squash in the same manner as the neck, curving the knife blade to fit the shape of the squash, as you would do when peeling a melon. I use the tip of my knife for this. Split the peeled section in half and scoop out the seeds. Then proceed to cut the squash into chunks by cutting the neck section downward into whatever size you want, say thirds, and cut into planks and pieces from there.
        If you have difficulty getting the knife through the squash, you can try a rocking motion with the knife or bang the squash on the counter, easing the knife through, although I don't find Butternut to be that dense a flesh. Make sure your cutting board is secured with a towel.

        The ehow video link below shows peeling the squash after spliting it in half; I find that to be more difficult than peeling the whole sections.
        As far as other squashes, I never peel Acorn, just split in half width-wise and stuff. Hubbard is a thrill. I use a cleaver and tap it through with a mallet for this beast then break it down into sections for roasting. I don''t bother peeling it.
        I found the post about using "sharp, long and slender blades" being the best choice but I really like some weight on my knife. I think it would take an extremely sharp knife to navigate a Hubbard and I'd rather split than saw.

        4 Replies
        1. re: bushwickgirl

 you peel the butternut first and then cut it open in chunks? My problem has never been with peeling so much as splitting the sucker open.

          For Hubbard, etc, you use a cleaver and a mallet like splitting wood? That makes sense, I suppose...never thought squash-eating had so much in common with lumberjack work, I guess. =)

          1. re: thursday

            Yeah, peel first then cut up. What kind of knife are you using?
            Take the neck portion, standing upright, and run the knife down it, with at least one-third of the knife tip, or more, protruding through the other side of the squash. You can use your hand to push on the top of the protruding tip of the knife for extra power. Just keep your palm flat on that protruding edge. So, if you're a righty, the knife handle is in your right hand, while your left hand pushes down on the top on the knife on the left side of the squash. Two hands are better than one here; a little extra leverage helps. Jeez, I wish I could draw a picture. Anyway, once you try it, you'll see what I mean.
            The seed cavity cuts very easily, as the flesh is thinner there.

            Yes, cleaver and mallet. I'm sure some lumberjack types might even want to break out their chainsaws ;-)

            1. re: bushwickgirl

              I'm with bushwickgirl. For butternut squash I use my chef's knife which has a nice flat spine that lets me put some weight behind it when I need it. I slice off the top and bottom, then separate the stem from the bulb in one slice (which can take some weight and some back-and-forth, but its not *that* hard with butternut). I locate the cut such that the stem piece does not flare out -- makes peeling easier. From there I like to use the chef's knife to coarsely peel and use the veggie peeler to clean up any sloppy peels. The bulb can be a challenge to get a good yield from, so I select squash with large stems in the market. I make vertical peels down from the top, turn it over, repeat, and generally have a lot of slop to clean up. Whatever I get from the bulb is a bonus.

              Other kinds of squash are just too much work to cube when raw. Roast first, either completely or enough to soften the flesh. I suppose you could nuke them a bit to soften them up? Haven't really tried that...

          2. re: bushwickgirl

            If butternut is organically grown and well-washed, just remove any blemishes, no need to peel unless it has particularly thick or tough skin.

            I (carefully) stab near the area where the neck and bulb meet, pull down, turn and repeat. I then cut the neck into 3/4 inch thick slabs, remove seeds from bulb and slice it into thick slabs. I then cut the round neck slabs in 6-8 pie shaped pieces and the bulb rings into a similar number of pieces. With the top and bottom slabs I cut into pieces slanting around the stem end and the blossom end.

          3. I cut it into thirds across the body of the squash.

            If I don't and go lengthwise, it's so difficult...
            I have a knife thats sort of a cross between a clever and chef's knife. It' a Henkel w/ twins. If I go lengthwise the squash whether it's butternut or acorn, my knife becomes lodged. The only way out is to use the squash as it's own weapon and I slam it, yep knife wedged inside the squash into the cutting board. I am not saying that I appove this metod but it's how the job got done until I started cutting it into thirds. At least the knife doesn't get stuck in such a way I have to resort to slamming. I think a person is in need of pretty good upper body strengh with these squashes and that leaves me out.

            1 Reply
            1. re: chef chicklet

              Actually, the slamming is a pretty common and well-used style of cutting up a squash.
              You are not alone...I have some upper body strength and still get into slamming mode on occasion. I even do it with heads of cabbage. Did you read my tip about using both hands? Cutting into thirds is by no means unacceptable; there's a few ways to cut a squash and the only one that's not acceptable is the one where you end up in the emergency room.

            2. I read in another thread recently, or maybe it was in the recipie comments somewhere...anyway, if it will fit in the microwave try this. Wrap the squash in a kitchen towel, nuke 3-5 minutes, let rest in microwave 3-5 minutes then peel as you normally would. I tried this out on a few red curry and it worked great!