What tools will help me extract the delicious goodness of butternut squash from its hard waxy peel?
September 29, 2006 6:45 PM   Subscribe

What tools are best for peeling and cubing butternut squashes? I'm not looking for recipes; I need recommendations for knives or vegetable peelers or whatever works best.

I know about this post (recipes). I just want to peel the squash, cube it, and then steam it until it can be squished with a fork for a mashed-potato texture.

I love butternut squash prepared this way, but last year it took forever for me to peel and cube each squash, and my wrists would be aching by the end (and they're not weak -- I play piano). Maybe my cutting technique is wrong, rather than my tools -- apparently some people claim it's "easy to peel"! I already use just the neck, which has almost no seeds -- I don't fool around with the base. I'd appreciate any other tips you can give me along with knife recommendations.

I'm thinking maybe an offset knife would be good for the cubing? I could easily be wrong, though, and I have no idea what I can use to peel. Whatever sharp things you recommend, I'll probably use them on squash throughout the winter, and hopefully I can get more than one year out of 'em.

I'm a student on a pretty tight budget, and, unsurprisingly, cheap is good -- but my birthday is in November, so I'll probably be able to afford a bit more then. I cook a lot, but I don't have any really good knives; I'm not set up to sharpen anything, for example, and everything I have now is dishwasher-safe.
posted by booksandlibretti to Food & Drink (23 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If all you're doing is looking for mashed, try microwaving. Cut your squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds with a regular spoon (just like scooping seeds from a cantaloupe). Put some plastic wrap over each half. Microwave each half for 4-6 minutes. Let cool a little, then use your spoon to scoop it out into a bowl. It's already pretty mashed at that point - not much else to do.

Alternatively, buy it frozen (already cubed).
posted by acridrabbit at 7:32 PM on September 29, 2006

This is almost certainly not how you're supposed to do it, but: I use a small, sharp knife (a strong one). Cut the neck off the bulb so that you have (relatively) flat surface to get the neck to stand upright. Cut the top off the same way. Cut the neck into several disks (an inch or two thick). Set a disk down flat, and start slicing sections of peel off. You'll end up with an octogon or hexagon or whatever, depending on your tolerance for wasting a little squash. Work your way around, then get the next disk. After that, cut into cubes (or chunks, rather - cubes don't quite happen for me).
posted by dilettante at 7:34 PM on September 29, 2006

I use one of those ergonomic grip peelers where the blade is at right angles to a U-shaped handle. These are much easier to control and you can exert a lot of force with them.

An alternative approach which I often use these days is to roast big rounds of butternut with the skin on, and leave peeling till after it's cooked. The skin is then soft and comes away easily.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 7:35 PM on September 29, 2006

I'd recommend a paring knife and medium chef's knife, available as peices of this very useful set. But this AskMe thread has some alternative recommendations.
posted by paulsc at 7:39 PM on September 29, 2006

I peel mine by hand, with a very very sharp paring knife... But then again, I am in culinary school.
posted by sindas at 7:44 PM on September 29, 2006

I've always cut mine in half and baked 'em in a pan with about 1/2 inch of water. Bake at 350 - 400 degrees for 15 - 20 minutes (my oven sucks, sorry I can't be more precise). After baking it this way you can use just about anything to peel the skin off. I've used butter knives before, the skin just slides right off.
posted by lekvar at 7:54 PM on September 29, 2006

I feel your pain. If foisting the thankless task off on somebody else is not an option, cook the squash first (as many others have suggested). Hmmm, strong boyfriends may be the best kitchen accessory of all!
posted by Quietgal at 7:57 PM on September 29, 2006 [1 favorite]

I discovered, to my surprise, that (as with many other vegetables) peeling butternut squash is superfluous: the peeling becomes soft during cooking, and it's fine---at least by me. And when I roast them (after cutting in half, my usual preparation), I also don't seed them: the seeds become roasted, somewhat like pumpkin seeds. It's all good.

I don't eat the stem, though. (Same with apples: I eat all of them except the stem.)
posted by LeisureGuy at 8:06 PM on September 29, 2006

Get yourself an Oxo brand Y peeler it has a nice fat handle. As far as cutting it I use a meat cleaver. It give you some extra leverage for the thick part.
posted by any major dude at 8:07 PM on September 29, 2006

Response by poster: I did see that thread, paulsc, but I was hoping for something that dealt specifically with squash. It's my understanding that chefs' knives, like Telf was looking for there, are used for a ton of different tasks. I was thinking there might be a different tool that's less versatile overall, but better for squash.

I'd really like to stick to the beautiful fresh squash from the greenmarket, rather than the frozen stuff (which I think winds up being more expensive). I'll certainly experiment with easier ways of cooking it, as long as the end result has the same kind of texture.

sindas, when you peel the squash with a knife, do you cut the neck into coins and then peel like dilettante described? Or do you just take your knife and start peeling the whole squash? I did the former last year, but I'm not exactly in culinary school.

Quietgal, when they start selling those on Amazon, let me know. Heck, if there's a waiting list, I don't mind signing up now.
posted by booksandlibretti at 8:10 PM on September 29, 2006

Use a big knife to cut it up. The leverage helps.

Definitely don't take the skin off before cooking. It's far easier to peel the skin off (possibly with your hands, even) after the squash is cooked, and you also won't waste so much.

Also--the bulb end tends to be the sweetest part. In my experience it's not that difficult to scoop out the seeds (same as you'd do when cutting up a cantaloupe). The stringy/goopy stuff that surrounds the seeds is fine to eat if you can't get it all out.
posted by needs more cowbell at 8:37 PM on September 29, 2006

I have a friend who swears by her kitchen dicer to chop squash (she makes lots of squash soup). She peels it first, using a serrated peeler she bought in a specialist food store, and then, after de-seeding and cutting it into fairly big chunks, she dices it in her dicer.

She uses a gadget called the Nicer Dicer which she bought at a home show, but a google search reveals lots of other similar gadgets on the market, including expensive professional ones.
posted by essexjan at 4:34 AM on September 30, 2006

I normally cook it before peeling, but when I don't, I use a regular veggie peeler (a very sharp paring knife if I don't have a sharp peeler) and a Chinese cleaver, which I got in a Chinese restaurant supply store for under US$10.

(Quick method is to cut in half lengthwide with cleaver, scoop seeds out with teaspoon [and, yes, they can be cleaned and roasted just like pumpkin seeds - most pumpkin seeds are generic squash seeds], put one half on salad plate cut side down and pour a little water onto the plate, nuke until done.)
posted by QIbHom at 4:50 AM on September 30, 2006

I know what you are talking about. My favorite way of cooking butternut squash is baking peeled slices. With uniform sized pieces you have much more control over being able to cook them until done but not mushy.

My method: Select a squash with a thick neck (where most of the meat is) and a small bulb.

Cut the top off and seperate the neck from the bulb just as it starts to swell. This gives you a cylinder. Set the cylinder upright on a cutting board. You can then use a largish kinfe to make make ~10 downward passes to remove the peel in about 30 seconds.

The bulb is a bit more difficult. Cut the bottom off and slice it in 2 around the equator. Put each equator side down on your cutting board and use the above technique. This takes more technique because you are working on a curved surface.
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 6:24 AM on September 30, 2006

Go to Bed Bath and Beyond at 6th Ave b/t 18th and 19th and get some of these Henckels International Classic knives. You want an 8" Chef's knife ($45), a paring knife ($22), and a sharpening steel ($23). They probably sell a set of just that. The knives that paulsc recommended are high carbon and require a LOT of care; the International Classic are stainless steel, are still FANTASTIC knives (Henckels is a very well-known brand), and are easily cared for. They're also more affordable than the pro-level high carbon models, and will last for decades if not forever. They will do anything you need cooking-wise, and the only other thing you may want is a 6" utility knife.
posted by The Michael The at 8:46 AM on September 30, 2006 [2 favorites]

If you just want to mash your squash you don't need to cut it at all before baking or microwaving it. Just stab it with a knife in a few places for air vents (so it doesn't explode) and cook whole. You can cut it open and scoop the seeds out when it's done cooking. A fork works quite nicely to get all the squash off of the peel.
posted by Margalo Epps at 8:59 AM on September 30, 2006

I never tried cooking it 1st, so I'll try that with the squash that I got this week. I use a veggie peeler, preferably Ecko brand, which has the best blade, if not the most comfy handle. Cook, puree, thicken with roux, thin with chicken stock and flavor with curry. Top the wonderful soup with yogurt.
posted by theora55 at 10:09 AM on September 30, 2006

Henckels International knifes are not "fantastic". The reason they are widely known is for their regular, expensive, set of knifes. The rule with Henckels is if it is twins on the logo, its good. A single person logo not really worth getting. Save up for a real Henckels. Or Wustof, or Global, or Kershaw, or F. Dick.
posted by sindas at 12:25 PM on September 30, 2006

"I did see that thread, paulsc, but I was hoping for something that dealt specifically with squash. It's my understanding that chefs' knives, like Telf was looking for there, are used for a ton of different tasks. I was thinking there might be a different tool that's less versatile overall, but better for squash."

I understand your point, booksandlibretti, but allow me to observe that a principal value of a good knife, is that, with practice and developed technique, you can use it so nicely to do so many things. The same knife that can quickly peel and cube a tough ol' squash, can also peel and slice a tomato, or a grape, if you know what you're doing. So, for cooks, good kitchen knives tend to be, to use a military term, force multipliers.

"... The knives that paulsc recommended are high carbon and require a LOT of care;..."
posted by The Michael The at 11:46 AM EST on September 30


I don't what it is about kitchen knives that provokes such religious fervor, here on AskMe and on other Internet sites, but I swear there is more opinion floating around about kitchen cutlery than there is about abortion rights. I don't really wanna start another AskMe cutlery war, but I'll drop these tips in, for what they are worth.

The knives I recommended aren't generally cheap, but they are widely available, and often found on sale around Christmas time, as starter set gift items. Henkel know their wares are frequently gift requests, and offer such starter sets as a kind of loss leader, to hook you for later sales, and it works. I've had my original Henkel knives for more than 15 years, and I've added many others in the interim.

But I wouldn't say Henkel forged knives need much care, and while they have a lot of carbon content, they are made with alloys containing nickel, vandium, chromium and other metals common to stainless steel alloys, and are manufactured with multi-step heat treatment methods that make them far more durable than inexpensive high carbon knives. The keys to enjoying them are to store them properly, wash them immediately as soon as you are done using them, never put them in a dishwasher, never use a steel on them, for reasons detailed here, and use a good cutting board under them (which you should do for hygiene and safety any way). A good Henkel knife will hold an edge for a long time, and you can keep that edge easily, with either the electric ChefChoice TriRazor edge machines, or, if you're willing to do a little work, with the excellent manual versions of their sharpeners.
posted by paulsc at 2:36 PM on September 30, 2006

I generally find that roasting butternut squash first and then peeling it works well. Here is a recipe we make called Spicy Roasted Butternut Squash that is based on a Jaime Oliver recipe. Great thing about this recipe is that the left overs can easily be made into a yummy soup.
posted by terrapin at 4:38 PM on September 30, 2006

Henckels International knifes are not "fantastic". The reason they are widely known is for their regular, expensive, set of knifes. The rule with Henckels is if it is twins on the logo, its good. A single person logo not really worth getting. Save up for a real Henckels. Or Wustof, or Global, or Kershaw, or F. Dick.

I call bullshit on this. Of course a culinary school student like sindas would toe this party line, but for those of us that won't be making a living by cutting things, the lesser version is just fine. Holds an edge well, is extremely durable, and slices through veg like butter two years after purchase, yet is half the price of the Pro lines? I'll take that deal.
posted by The Michael The at 6:50 PM on September 30, 2006

I have an Oxo Good Grips veggie peeler that is great with squash. The Y peeler was already recommended by any major dude upthread but I personally prefer the traditionally shaped swivel peeler as I get better leverage (I think it's this one). Good Grips is a range designed for older people or people with arthritis or grip problems (none of which applies to me, we inherited it from a grandparent). I'm pretty sure it just came from a supermarket or a standard home store type place, and cost about $8 (as opposed to $3 for your standard peeler). Whether you go for the Y or the swivel I definitely recommend the range.

It's basically a traditional peeler but with a larger, stronger blade and an ergonomically designed, rubber handle. You need to grip hard to push through the tough skin, the rubber fins on the handle make this easy and non-painful. Also the big tough blade is strong and sharp enough to cut off the skin without too much effort and has a wide gap in the middle which doesn't get clogged easily. Peels carrots and things nicely but really come into it's own for big jobs like pumpkin. We have a matching paring knife which is always sharp and really useful (I never peel anything with the knife though because my fingers tend to get peeled too, a peeler is so much safer). Oh, and I just cut the top off then peel the squash whole.

As for cutting the squash, my knives suck so I just choose the longest and lean on both ends. I'm sure some of the other suggestions are better.
posted by shelleycat at 7:34 PM on September 30, 2006

Response by poster: I'm going to experiment with some of the different cooking methods, to see if I can get the right texture from those. If not, I'll be back to check out the knife/peeler recommendations and probably to ask follow-up questions. Thanks again!
posted by booksandlibretti at 5:13 PM on October 2, 2006

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