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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.
A Good Vegetable Peeler
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
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
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.
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.
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