Whether it's butternut, acorn, or kabocha, know how to cook up your favorite winter squashes for maximum flavor.

By Isadora Baum
March 25, 2020
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Credit: istetiana / Getty Images

There's nothing like enjoying roasted squash or a delicious, velvety squash soup during the colder months. Winter squash is so versatile too, you can mash it, blend it into soups and chilis, roast it for toppings on salads, and more!

Yet, you can also cook it the wrong way, where you'll end up with mushy or bland squash instead of firm and flavorful. Here are a few mistakes to avoid when cooking squash so you can make the most of your dishes:

Not Using the Right Cooking Technique

"Maybe the biggest mistake is not using the proper cooking technique to match the consistency that you are aiming for with the finished product," says Nick Schmuck, chef and partner at Walden in Chicago. Squashes behave very differently when cooked in the oven or on the stovetop.

Generally, a squash that is roasted in the oven is going to have a much softer texture, one that can get mushy if mixed with other ingredients, but making it ideal for a purée, soup, or being mashed. What's more, it can differ based on how you're roasting, too. "Roasting half of a squash whole in the oven vs cubing and roasting pieces will even yield a different texture," he says.

Yet, searing is different. "Searing squash over med-high heat on the stovetop typically yields a firmer texture that can stand up to different uses," he explains. And sadly, there isn't really a fix if you do it incorrectly and scorch the squash, so be careful!

Boiling is also an option that's particularly helpful if you're making a soup or purée. Simply cook in salted water until tender, and you can even blend the squash straight in the pot (to save on dishes) by using an immersion blender.

Not Seasoning Enough

This is pretty much a general food rule with all recipes and ingredients, but improper seasoning for squash can make or break a dish. "It's important to season ingredients at the beginning and during the cooking process so the salt can penetrate the food and taste seasoned versus tasting bland with a salty exterior," says Schmuck.

"On the stovetop that means adding salt when you add the raw ingredient. For the oven, toss or rub the squash with a bit of oil and then toss with salt. And if you are boiling, season the water you are cooking it in," he says. Plus, taste a piece halfway through the cooking process and adjust seasoning, if need be.

Not Matching Technique and Flavor

Matching the cooking technique to the flavor profile you desire can make sure it comes out the right way. "Sometimes you want a pure flavor, and boiling and mashing or pureeing might be the right technique. But if you want roasted flavor, and want to get creative with seasoning, roasting in the oven with herbs or spices is the way to go," Schmuck explains.

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