Winter squash, with hundreds of splendid varieties, are deliciously nourishing, easy to grow, and store well for months into the winter season. But preparing them can be as daunting as cracking into a coconut— without the right tools and a little bit of know-how, the task is nearly impossible. Aside from the delightful Delicata (whose skin is just as tender and edible as its creamy interior), butternut squash is one of the easiest cold-season squashes to prepare. But, like other winter squash, it’s hard exterior can be intimidating, and dangerous if you don’t know the technique.
The method I’m going to show you is reliable, and quick, once you’ve done it a few times. It also works well for many other types of winter squash. I recommend using a good quality chef’s knife, at least 8” long, and it must be very sharp. Please don’t use this technique with a dull knife as it is not only ineffective, but downright dangerous since dull blades tend to slip more easily.
Because the butternut squash has a relatively soft skin, it is possible to use a standard vegetable peeler. I don’t recommend this method though, because it is tedious, and labor intensive. When cooking, it’s nice to be able to prepare foods quickly, with minimal effort. Using a chef’s knife as described below completes this chore in half the time of using a vegetable peeler.
Cut off the stem. With a firm grip, and fingers a safe distance from your knife, carefully insert the blade into to tip of the squash, near the stem. If the squash is fresh, you should have no trouble cutting off the stem. With an older squash, the shell may be tougher. Sometimes it’s helpful to roll the squash back and forth while applying firm downward pressure to your knife.
Separate the spherical seed-end from the neck. Find the place where the larger, round end tapers off to the longer, narrow ‘neck’ of the squash and cut all the way through the squash. The spherical end is home to the seeds (which are edible— try them roasted with salt) and the neck contains nothing but the delicious flesh of this beautiful fruit.
Cut the spherical end in half. Place the spherical end flat, cut side down, on your cutting board. With a firm grip on the squash, gently slide your knife into the center of the top of the squash and cut all the way through.
Once open, you’ll see that butternut squash boasts an amazing amount of flesh, especially compared to other varieties of winter squash that typically feature large seed cavities and relatively little flesh.
Remove the seeds. Using a large spoon, scrape out the seeds from each half.
Peel the neck. To peel, start by placing the neck end of the squash flat on your cutting board, with the larger side down. Keep a firm grip on the squash (curl the fingers of your holding hand back to avoid accidentally losing a digit), and begin peeling the squash by making a thin slice into the top, with the blade just between the shell and the flesh.
Carefully work your way down the edge of the squash, peeling the skin and leaving as much of the flesh intact as possible. It’s inevitable that you’ll loose a bit of the flesh, but with a bit of practice, it’s easy to become quite accurate.
Next, with the flat end resting on the board, start working your way around the outside of the squash, using the same technique you used to peel the neck.
Now that your butternut squash has been peeled, it can be chopped and used in any recipe that calls for peeled, chopped squash. Try Spicy Coconut Butternut Squash Soup, or Curried Butternut Squash and Pear Bisque.