The most essential thing I learned from taking a knife skills class with Chef Shuna Lydon, other than the obvious tip of keeping your knives sharp, was the importance of stabilizing whatever it is you are attempting to cut. This is nowhere else as critical as when cutting a butternut squash, a notoriously difficult task because of the thickness and density of that squash. The most important thing to consider when following these steps, or anyone else’s steps for cutting winter squash is to keep whatever pieces you are working on as stable as possible. The first cut from the bottom of the squash is to help keep the squash steady on the board as you gently work your knife down from the top to bottom.
Keep squash pieces as stable as possible while cutting. A rubber mallet can help, if you have one, to gently push the knife through difficult thick spots. Using a very sharp vegetable peeler, one with a carbon steel blade, will help with the peeling.
- One butternut squash, 1 1/2 to 3 pounds
- A sharp, heavy, chef's knife
1 Using a heavy, sharpened chef's knife, cut off about 1/4-inch from the bottom of the squash in an even slice. Then cut off 1/4-inch from the stem end.
2 Holding the squash in one hand, use a sharp vegetable peeler in the other hand to peel off the outer layer of the squash. You can also secure the squash standing upright and peel it in downward strokes with the peeler. Stand the peeled squash upright on a cutting board. It shouldn't wobble, you want the squash to be stable. (If it is wobbly, make another cut at the bottom to even it out.) Make one long cut, down the middle from the top to bottom, with a heavy chef's knife. Some squashes can be pretty hard; to help with the cutting you can use a rubber mallet to gently tap on the ends of the knife to help push the knife down through the squash.
3 Use a metal spoon to scrape out the seeds and the stringy pulp from the squash cavity. (If you want, you can prepare the seeds like toasted pumpkin seeds.)
4 Lay the squash halves, cut side down on the cutting board for stability. Working section at a time, cut the squash into slices, lengthwise, the desired width of your squash pieces. Some recipes call for 1/2-inch slices or cubes, some for 1-inch or greater.
5 If you are cubing the squash, lay the slices down (you can stack a few at a time) and make another set of lengthwise cuts. Then make crosswise cuts to make cubes.
One 1 1/2 pound butternut squash will yield approximately 4 cups of 1/2-inch cubed squash.