October 9th, 2013
01:15 AM ET
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Editor's Note: America's Test Kitchen is a real 2,500 square foot test kitchen located just outside of Boston that is home to more than three dozen full-time cooks and product testers. Our mission is simple: to develop the absolute best recipes for all of your favorite foods. To do this, we test each recipe 30, 40, sometimes as many as 70 times, until we arrive at the combination of ingredients, technique, temperature, cooking time, and equipment that yields the best, most-foolproof recipe. America’s Test Kitchen's online cooking school is based on nearly 20 years of test kitchen work in our own facility, on the recipes created for Cook’s Illustrated magazine, and on our two public television cooking shows.

Sure, it saves prep time to buy pre-cut, peeled butternut squash, but we had to wonder: How does the flavor and texture of this timesaving squash stand up to a whole squash we cut up ourselves? Whole squash you peel and cube yourself can’t be beat in terms of flavor and texture.

(That said, most supermarkets sell butternut squash that has been completely or partially prepped. If you are truly strapped for time, we have found the peeled and halved squash is fine. We don’t like the butternut squash sold in chunks; while it’s a timesaver, the flavor is wan and the texture stringy.)

Read on for our guide to the easiest—and safest—way to prepare a butternut squash.

Essential Equipment for Prepping Squash

A Good Vegetable Peeler
Dull and inefficient, a subpar peeler makes a mountain of tiresome work out of a simple task. A good peeler should be fast and smooth—no clogging up with peels, jamming on bumps, or making you go over and over a spot to remove all of the peel. It should make thin peels, not waste a lot of good food. It shouldn’t hurt or tire your hands and it should stay sharp.

In the test kitchen, we keep two peelers: a classic model that handles the usual tasks, and a second model with a serrated blade designed to remove peels from delicate foods like peaches and tomatoes. We found that straight peelers, with blades that extend directly out from the handle, and Y peelers, with a blade running perpendicular to the handle (resembling a wishbone), function similarly. Ceramic blades will dull very quickly and become discolored; stick with metal blades.

A Good Chef’s Knife
When it comes to vegetable prep, a good chef’s knife is absolutely essential. This knife can handle myriad tasks large and small, from chopping onions and splitting butternut squash through the center to trimming asparagus.

Look for a chef’s knife that is 8 inches long and that has a pointed tip, a comfortable grip, and a curved edge, which helps when rhythmically rocking the blade to chop a pile of carrots or dice an onion. A good chef’s knife will be substantial but lightweight. Look for one made from high-carbon stainless steel, a hard metal that, once sharpened, tends to stay that way.

Squash Shopping and Storing Tips

Whether acorn, butternut, delicata, or another variety, squash should feel hard; soft spots are an indication that the squash has been mishandled. Squash should also feel heavy for its size, a sign that the flesh is moist and soft.

You can store winter squash in a cool, well-ventilated spot for several weeks.

Step-by-Step: How to Cut Up Butternut Squash

1. After peeling squash, use chef’s knife to trim off top and bottom and then cut squash in half where narrow neck and wide curved bottom meet.

2. Cut neck of squash into evenly sized planks according to recipe.

3. Cut planks into evenly sized pieces according to recipe.

4. Cut base in half lengthwise and scoop out and discard seeds and fibers. Slice each base half into evenly sized lengths according to recipe.

5. Cut lengths into evenly sized pieces according to recipe.

Watch It on Video

See Cook's Illustrated Associate Editor Andrea Geary show how to prepare a butternut squash in our Super Quick Video Tip on YouTube.


Recipe: Seared Scallops with Squash Puree and Sage Butter

Source: Simple Weeknight Favorites

Serves 4

Why this recipe works: It doesn’t take long to pan-sear a batch of scallops; the success of this recipe lies in the accompaniments. Butternut squash, which we simply microwave and puree with a little half-and-half, butter, and seasoning, is a side that brings out the sweet flavor of the scallops. Once we make the squash puree, we pan-sear the scallops (in two batches to ensure perfect browning), then make a quick shallot-sage browned butter sauce in the same pan.

butternut squash scallops

2 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch chunks (5 1⁄2 cups)
1 tablespoon half-and-half
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
Salt and pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 1⁄2 pounds large sea scallops, tendons removed
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 shallot, minced
2 teaspoons minced fresh sage plus 8 whole sage leaves
1 tablespoon lemon juice

1. Place squash in bowl, cover, and microwave until tender, 8 to 12 minutes, stirring halfway through cooking. Drain, then transfer to food processor. Add half-and-half, 1 tablespoon butter, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and cayenne and process until smooth, about 20 seconds. Return to bowl and cover to keep warm.

2. Pat scallops dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over high heat until just smoking. Add half of scallops and cook, without moving, until well browned, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. Flip scallops and cook until sides are firm and centers are opaque, 30 to 90 seconds.

Transfer to plate and tent loosely with aluminum foil. Wipe out skillet with paper towels and repeat with remaining 1 tablespoon oil and remaining scallops. Transfer to plate with first batch.

3. Heat remaining 3 tablespoons butter over medium heat, swirling skillet constantly, until butter is starting to brown and has nutty aroma, about 1 minute. Add shallot, minced sage, and sage leaves and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.

Off heat, stir in lemon juice and season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour sauce over scallops and serve with butternut squash.

More from America's Test Kitchen:
Christopher Kimball's Radio Interview with Michael Pollan
On TV: How to Make the Best Peaches and Cream Pie
How to Prepare Vegetables from Artichokes to Zucchini in the Cooking School Cookbook
What Does a Cook's Illustrated Test Cook's Job Look Like?
Yes, There Are Cinnamon-Sugared Buttermilk Doughnuts in the Cook's Illustrated Baking Book

Taming of the stew: The chili edition
Squash is the answer to all your problems
How to roast butternut squash
5@5 – Chef Tony Conte's Five Tips on Cooking Fall Squash
Quick, simple vegetable sides

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    December 13, 2013 at 5:06 am |
  2. Mission Restaurant Supply

    There's nothing more delicious than a butternut squash in the fall and winter months!

    Mission Restaurant Supply

    October 17, 2013 at 9:41 am |
  3. Culinary Blasphemy

    Reblogged this on Culinary Blasphemy.

    October 14, 2013 at 10:57 am |
  4. KitchenKnifeGuru

    For butternut squash, a sharp, high-quality chef knife is essential! Here are a couple of articles with tips on how to find one on KitchenKnifeGuru.com:
    http://kitchenknifeguru.com/knives/best-chef-knives-six-recommendations/ and http://kitchenknifeguru.com/knives/how-to-buy-a-great-chef-knife/.

    October 10, 2013 at 10:21 am |
  5. Inspiralized

    What about how to make butternut squash noodles? Check out this guide: http://www.inspiralized.com/2013/10/09/how-to-spiralize-a-butternut-squash/

    October 9, 2013 at 11:23 am |
  6. JellyBean

    Too bad I didn't run into an article like this the first and only time I cooked butternut squash. It was gawd awful. Now, for a BLT.

    October 9, 2013 at 7:31 am |
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