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Cutting/peeling butternut squash

Hey everyone, I love butternut squash but don't love getting into a form where it's cook-ready. I've tried peeling it before cutting it into chunks but find the squash's distinctive shape makes that difficult. Anybody have any tips for peeling and cutting it up?

Thank you!

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  1. Hi medrite,

    First, make sure your knives are nice and sharp. I lop off the top and bottom of the squash, then usually cut it in half (separating the pear-shaped globe from the top). I peel both sections with a sharp paring knife (you could also use a good veggie peeler), then cut the bulbous section in half vertically to remove the seeds.

    It's actually not bad to prep compared to turnips or other winter squash varieties.

    7 Replies
    1. re: pinehurst

      I cut the squash up as Pinehurst suggests, then use a Y-shaped peeler to easily remove the peel. I'd never tried a Y peeler before but have grown to love it.

      1. re: tcamp

        tcamp, I have never heard of a Y peeler. What are its advantages? Thanks! andrea (pinehurst)

        1. re: pinehurst

          Also called a harp peeler or U peeler. This is the shape if it were lying sideways and the dashes were connected into a handle. The blade is the vertical part of the D: D--- You move it like you would a razor.

          1. re: greygarious

            Great idea -- I have one but it never occurred to me to use it for something like this. That's why I love you guys!

          2. re: pinehurst

            Grey's description is excellent. I find it especially useful for items like the butternut - hard and unwieldy to get a regular peeler in the right position.

            Looks like this:

            https://www.google.com/search?q=Y+pee...

            1. re: pinehurst

              The top one here is worth seeking out:

              http://www.davidmellordesign.com/acat...

              It has been criticised for taking off too much, which is valid for asapragus etc. but is just what is needed for squash (and celeriac, swedes and similar)

            2. re: tcamp

              Thanks so much for this suggestion. I've always used a chef's knife, cutting it as pinehurst describes, then slicing down in strips. This sounds much easier and more efficient (not to mention safer). I just ordered the OXO version from Amazon Prime (I have a half-dozen OXO utensils, they are the BEST!).

              http://www.amazon.com/OXO-Good-Grips-...

          3. Cut the bottom round part off. Use a real sharp industrial type peeler. Go slow and it will peel each section quite easily.

            1. Microwave it on high for 2-3 minutes, depending on size. This softens the exterior enough to make cutting and peeling a lot easier.

              6 Replies
              1. re: greygarious

                Wow, nice tip. My way in the past has been to have DH do it! lol

                We got a number of them this last year and cut them up and froze them in chunks via vacuum sealed bags. Wonderful for soups and risottos, etc.

                1. re: greygarious

                  I've always poked it w/ a knife a few times first because I was told it could explode if I didn't. I don't know if it will but I didn't want to take the chance.

                  1. re: chowser

                    I had a spaghetti squash explode in the microwave - but I was attempting to cook it through, not softening it up. It was very dramatic. ;)

                  2. re: greygarious

                    Best tip EVER. I just did this - 3 mins for a largeish squash. It peeled SO easily - it took me probably half the time it normally does with my U peeler. Thank you!!!!!!!!!!!

                    1. re: greygarious

                      I'll add for the microwaveless (like myself) 15 or 20 minutes in a pre-heating oven does the same.

                    2. I use a serrated bread knife. The serrations make it easy to penetrate the skin, and then just some firm pressure on the back of the knife forces the blade through. The same knife pares of the skin easily.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: mike0989

                        Thanks everybody, some great ideas here!

                      2. On week nights when I just want something easy, I just cut the stem off, cut it in half lengthwise, and put cut side down on a baking sheet. Bake in a moderate oven about 45 minutes or so. Then it is easy to scoop out the seeds and serve. Or makes it easy to scoop out the flesh and do something else.

                        If I start the squash first, I can prep everything else, and food hits the table in about an hour, which isn't too bad after a long day of work.

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: dkenworthy

                          I also prepare the squash this way

                          1. re: jpr54_1

                            Me as well.

                            I'm clumsy. If I tried peeling squash when it's uncooked, I would seriously injure myself.

                          2. re: dkenworthy

                            Yeah, this is incredibly easy and you don't have to fight with peeling it.

                            I do scoop out the seeds first, separate out the gunk, and bake them along with the squash with a bit of salt, as you would do with pumpkin seeds.

                            1. re: dkenworthy

                              I also use the oven method dkenworthy posts.

                              I NEVER peel it. Sometimes I cut it in half and place it cut side down in the microwave (quicker than the conventional oven).

                              My cooking time varies depending on whether I want to scoop out the squash and mash it or cut it into cubes to mix with gnocchi, sage and brown butter.

                              I've also found the frozen squash cubes to be okay.

                            2. If you're buying at a grocery store, ask the produce staff to cut it in half for you. With that as a starting point, the rest is a bit easier (also helpful for jicama). My grocery also sells pre-cut half squashes for the same price per pound as whole, and small bags of peeled/cubed at a very large premium.

                              I'm lucky to have a Costco close enough that I'm able to just purchase large (3 pound or so) tubs of peeled/cubed squash at a reasonable price there when I'm willing to commit to roasting/freezing it all fairly quickly. That's a lot of squash for our 2-person household.

                              5 Replies
                              1. re: MidwesternerTT

                                "If you're buying at a grocery store, ask the produce staff to cut it in half for you. "

                                hahahahahaha!!!!!

                                Oh, you were serious. Sorry! Where I live, I got yelled at once by a produce worker for pulling the green tops off of carrots. Most of the time the guys in the produce section of our supermarket are too busy yacking it up or stocking the bins and not moving out of the way of the customers trying to shop.

                                Good suggestion though if you live in a place where grocery store employees are actually nice.

                                1. re: ttoommyy

                                  I might yell at you, too. I am disgusted when I walk into a grocery store produce section - especially in the summer during corn season - when there are corn husks and silk scattered all over the floor. It's not your garbage bin.

                                  1. re: MsDivinaLoca

                                    I never understand the tradition of peeling and stripping the corn husks and silk in the stores, but I have seen it done all the time. Not sure why. Are they trying to pick the nicest corns by doing that?

                                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                      I husk my corn in the store only if I'm going to cook it that night. I prefer to leave the husks in the store because my understanding is they are sending it to be composted, which I don't do at my home. I'd rather they get composted than go in my trash. :)

                                      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                        The few times I've engaged someone in conversation who was taking off husks/silk, they said they'd rather the market toss the tossables than fill their home kitchen garbage cans. They don't realize the value in keeping the ears protected until ready to cook, and I didn't enlighten them....

                                2. I just cut off the stem end, and peel the long part with a vegetable peeler. I cut it off, and cut it into cubes or slices, and saute it, roast it, etc. I cut out the seeds from the other end, pour in some honey, and bake it.

                                  1. The absolute easiest way to do it is to buy it already peeled and cut. Yay Sam's Club and Trader Joe's...!

                                    Next easiest is to wash it well, then cut it in half, stem to stern and place it in an oven proof baking dish cut side down with about a half inch or so of water. Put it in a medium oven (325F or so) and bake until a fork pierces it easily. Cool and scrape out squash. If you want it to hold its shape in cubes or whatever, just take it out of the oven sooner. Trying to cut those things untreated is very dangerous to your fingers! One knife slip and you're bleeding... :-(

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: Caroline1

                                      You're right about buying it prepped but my darn CSA keeps tossing them in my bag.

                                    2. You don't actually HAVE to peel it unless you want to mash it. If you're roasting it, the skin will be soft enough to eat. I find it far easier to cut it into chunks and leave the skin on - when you peel it it starts shedding sticky juice and gets really slippery (not to mention how difficult it is to cut raw) You can even roast it whole if you poke a few holes in it.

                                      7 Replies
                                      1. re: Kajikit

                                        PS. If you really want it peeled, slice it into horizontal rings, then you can slice the skin off in strips.

                                        1. re: Kajikit

                                          You eat the skin? I have never, ever, ever heard of this. Does anybody else eat winter squash skin?

                                          1. re: gourmanda

                                            Yes, you can for kabocha squash. Haven't tried others but I assume the same.

                                            1. re: jaykayen

                                              I do this for kobocha but I find butternut skin kinda thick and chewy personally.

                                            2. re: gourmanda

                                              yes, i do!
                                              when I bake the squash-the skin gets real esp. if u use butter

                                              1. re: gourmanda

                                                The big pumpkins with the really thick skins stay inedible ('Queensland Blue' is the prime example. A very big tough-skinned pumpkin adapted for growing in the Australian climate)... but you just peel the cooked pumpkin off them. All the thin-skinned versions cook down to really tender. But if you don't want to eat the skin, just peel it off and leave it on the plate the same way you'd leave an unwanted baked potato or sweet potato skin. If you were going to bake one of those cute little mini-squashes, you wouldn't be trying to peel that, would you?

                                                1. re: gourmanda

                                                  my best friend eats the skin of winter squashes. personally it does not appeal.

                                              2. Peel first, then cut. At the very least, I peel off a couple of strips, so that my knife can get through.
                                                Or, fold a towel as a pad for the squash, so that it doesn't roll around so much. Use a cleaver to cut into big chunks, then peel before cutting up.

                                                1. I just baked cubed butternut squash for a warm salad with a maple vinaigrette. That time of year!
                                                  I cut the bottom and top, then peel with a peeler. It's tough, but doable.
                                                  I then cut in half and remove seeds.
                                                  Then I cut each half in half and do the best I can to get symmetrical cubes.
                                                  The tricky part, I find, is that I have to refrain from cutting stacked pieces, like I do potatoes, because the squash is slippery and you can really hurt yourself if your stack slips under the knife.
                                                  So, it takes a little time, but that's my approach to the butternut squash.

                                                  2 Replies
                                                  1. re: monavano

                                                    Sounds yummy, care to share the recipe for that maple vinaigrette?

                                                    1. re: medrite

                                                      Sure!
                                                      I use this Barefoot Contessa recipe:
                                                      http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/in...

                                                      I've also riffed on it a bit and today, am using cider vinegar, maple syrup, Pommery mustard, evoo, s&p.

                                                  2. The more expensive serrated peelers easily stand up to the flesh.

                                                    1. I've found that a y-shape peeler works best for butternut squash (or any other odd/round shape thing that needs peeling) http://www.amazon.com/OXO-Good-Grips-...

                                                      1. Put the whole squash in an inch of water and bake at 350°F for an hour - poke with a knife before baking. When done, let it cool, cut in half, scoop out seeds and peel - skin comes right off. I love butternut because it is so sweet, I just made a red pepper squash soup in the crockpot.

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: EllenLV

                                                          I just cut up half a dozen small squashes into large chunks added ten pounds of washed carrots to three gallons of cold water to which I added a full jar of 'Better than Bouillon chicken 'base' (8oz). S&P. I slow simmered this for about three hours. Removed the chunks of squash and scraped off the meat. Back into pot w/carrots.
                                                          Then stick blended. Then put through a strainer to remove any 'bits'. Then slow simmered to reduce to a 'pure'e'. Then I added about two cups of a sugar and brandy sauce I had made. I had simmered the brandy and reduced it to remove as much alcohol as possible.
                                                          Into Zip locks then into the freezer.
                                                          No dairy.
                                                          Really delicious and a nice gift for friends and family.

                                                        2. I just put the whole squash into a 200F oven for an hour or so depending on the size. When I can easily poke a knife into it it'd done. Remove and cool until you can just handle it. Then do whatever you want with it. I slice it in half and scarp out the seeds then I scrap off the squash into a bowl. Add a little boiling hot light cream, some clarified butter and a pinch of nutmeg.
                                                          Serve HOT!

                                                          1. We love roasted chunks of butternut squash and I make it all the time. The easiest way is to lay it sideways on your cutting board and first cut the very end off (with the stem). Then continue cutting the neck into rings of whatever thickness you want your chunks to be. Then lay each ring flat on the cutting board and cut down the sides to remove the peel. Then cut the rings into chunks. Then take the bulbous end and put it cut side down on the cutting board and cut it in half vertically. Scoop out the seeds. Lay each empty half on the cutting board cut side down and cut the peel off the sides (downward). Cut in half vertically again, put the new cut side down, and continue cutting the peel off of those pieces. Then they can be cut into chunks, too. Take all your chunks, mix with a bit of olive oil and seasonings, and roast. yum!

                                                            3 Replies
                                                            1. re: AmyH

                                                              AmyH you have the right idea - IMHO. I have roasted small ones when cut in half lengthwise and served that way for the diner to scoop out at the table. I have also boiled and scooped out the flesh for those dishes where a mash is required. But when I do want to peel and cut into chunks your way of using a chef's knife and cutting downward to remove the skin from rings and other cut portions, well, it is definitely the safest and easiest method I have found. That said, peeling the raw squash is time consuming any way you do it. But the chef's knife, downward slice method you recommend here is the least likley to end with you losing a chunk of skin or a finger from my experience.

                                                              1. re: AmyH

                                                                Thanks much, AmyH for this technique. I used it tonight on a half-butternut that I wanted as cubes. Very easy, reasonably quick and little risk of sliced fingers.

                                                                1. re: MidwesternerTT

                                                                  I'm glad to hear it worked for you and Pat50. I had tried it many ways until I settled on that one.

                                                              2. dont peel just chop and roast, its all edible and the skin is really really flavoursome (just like potatoes)

                                                                4 Replies
                                                                1. re: pecandanish

                                                                  Hi pecandanish: Just curious - did you mean that you can actually chew and swallow that skin? or did you mean that, just like bones add flavour to soup, the skin adds flavour to the roasting flesh of the squash, but is, itself, inedible? When I have roasted the half squash and used a spoon to eat the flesh right from the shell, the skin seemed to me at that time as if it was still hard/tough enough that I never even considered trying to eat it. If you are saying it can be eaten, then, is there anything special you are doing to make it softer than what I experienced? I'd be interested to find out more.

                                                                  1. re: Pat50

                                                                    A simple roast will tenderise the skin as well as the flesh. It becomes perfectly edible, although I prefer butternut without the skin.

                                                                    http://www.jamieoliver.com/recipes/ve...

                                                                    1. re: Harters

                                                                      Yup.

                                                                      It depends on the squash and the thickness of the skin. In Asia, the squashes I buy have skins that are thin enough - usually - to leave them on and eat them. Occasionally a squash will have a very tough skin, usually if it's been scratched up and damaged, in which case I remove the skin after cooking.

                                                                      This is true even of pumpkin. The pumpkin I buy in Sri Lanka/Singapore are much, much, much smaller than the pumpkins I used to buy in Canada and have a thinner skin, so leaving it on and eating it is not a problem at all. In Sri Lanka and Singapore, all the pumpkin I've eaten that's been cooked by others whether in their homes or with outside food, the skin has been left on.

                                                                      1. re: LMAshton

                                                                        Ah, yes, LMAshton: Thank you for that. It brings back memories. Yes, when I was in South America many, many years ago, the pumpkin and squash there were indeed much thinner skin - perhaps the amount of rainfall? perhaps the much greater humidity? perhaps the fact that they grow much, much faster there due to the much greater number of hours of sunlight? so they don't have time to grow the thicker, tougher skin? so this is a variable; so sometimes we could well be eating the skin, sometimes not. Ah, thank you for that.

                                                                2. If I'm freezing for later use, using a very sharp Chef knife, I cut of both ends, then cut in half. Using a good quality vegetable peeler, I peel off the skin. It really goes quickly. Then cube and freeze.

                                                                  If read that "nuking" the squash for 30 sec -1 min also softens the skin for peeling.

                                                                  If I'm using the flesh in a mix, then I just cut in half and roast.

                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                  1. re: jcohen1005

                                                                    Cut in half lengthwise. Add a bit of olive oil on the cut sides along with salt and pepper, turn the cut sides down and roast at 350 for 45-60 minutes until soft. Scoop out the flesh and mash or make curried butternut squash soup. Don't bother peeling first, it's so tasty roasted and not boiled.

                                                                  2. I definitely peel first, and then cut. On the other hand, I do cut the top and bottom before peeling, and then cut the rest.

                                                                    1. I do love the fresh squash and agree with most of the methods described above. It's not one of my favorite kitchen chores.
                                                                      Another suggestion is that if you are planning to mash or puree the squash, consider buying frozen. I've found that with soups or mashes you can't tell the difference in the finished dish. It's easy and quick - no long baking time - and you can make as little as you want.

                                                                      1. Lots of great tips here for peeling your squash. May I add my favorite tip for dealing with butternut that I learned from Martha. Use your ice cream scoop for getting the seeds out. It works like magic, it is super quick and very thorough.

                                                                        2 Replies
                                                                        1. re: MzNancy

                                                                          Great idea, leave it to Martha to come up with something like that.

                                                                          1. re: MzNancy

                                                                            I like using a grapefruit spoon on a raw squash. That serrated edge is great for scraping out the strings.

                                                                          2. Laterally, is there any easy way to peel the zig-zag exterior of uncooked acorn squash?

                                                                            Or does one just scrape out the cooked meat with a spoon? (Not for fancy get-togethers....)

                                                                            3 Replies
                                                                            1. re: msmarm

                                                                              acorn squash I scrape out after cooking.

                                                                              1. re: msmarm

                                                                                I scrape. I find acorn impossible to peel pre cooking.

                                                                                1. re: msmarm

                                                                                  msmarm: actually spooning out the cooked meat at the table, (by itself, or along with any filling) is exactly what I use for fancy get-togethers - I think it looks so special on the plate or even served in its own special little bowl. definitely, to me, very colourful and attractive.

                                                                                2. Buy peeled, cut up squash ready to cook at Trader Joe's or Costco. Caroline1 has the right idea!

                                                                                    1. I do a combo of the methods already described because I'm lazy :) I generally peel down the nice long straight bit. Don't worry about how much bulb I get. The straight is pretty easy to do with a regular peeler. Then I lop of the bulb, halve, seed, and roast. It will scoop right out of the shell and I use that for stuff where a mash doesn't matter like sauces, soups, or ravioli filling. The straight bit is now all peeled and pretty easy to cut up into whatever shape needed. I like to make oven baked "fries" with this :)

                                                                                      1. I use a Y peeler for all peeling jobs. Makes fast work of a butternut.

                                                                                        I have three peelers - different makes but this one is the easiest to use and is ruthlessy sharp.
                                                                                        http://www.johnlewis.com/oxo-good-gri...

                                                                                        1. Many good suggestions here.

                                                                                          One thing I'll add:
                                                                                          Splitting winter squash is easier with either a very thin knife (like some of the Japanese made santokus, gyutos, and nakiris) or a very thick knife (like a sharp meat cleaver). Thin knives don't get stuck in the hard flesh as easily as thicker knives and cut with less resistance. Thicker knives can sort of wedge winter squash apart as they cut, similar to splitting logs with a maul.

                                                                                          Knives that are in-between (like most German, French, or American chef knives) aren't thick enough to wedge the squash apart but are thick enough to get firmly stuck in the squash. You can still do it with these knives (especially if the squash was microwaved) but it's more work.

                                                                                          2 Replies
                                                                                          1. re: cowboyardee

                                                                                            If I have to cut a raw hard squash I use a 10" chef's knife with a thin blade (and I sharpen it beforehand) and then I smack it with a rubber mallet. Like butter!

                                                                                            1. re: ski_gpsy

                                                                                              +1!
                                                                                              Then there's, "Oh, Honey, do you have a few minutes to help me in the kitchen?"