How to cook acorn squash

March 23, 2014 at 8:18 pm (Cook's Illustrated, Fall recipes, unrated, Website / blog, Winter recipes)


When I first moved to Germany I couldn’t find acorn squash, and then last year they suddenly started turning up, but I had forgotten how to cook them. I tried baking them several times but they always ended up with burned skin and dried-up insides. Clearly I am not good at winging it. So this time I followed an actual recipe! Well…, sort of. As much as such a thing is possible.

I started by looking at Cook’s Illustrated recipe, which recommends halving and seeding the squash, sprinkling it with salt, then microwaving it in a tightly-covered glass bowl on high  power for 20 minutes (actually 15 to 25 minutes depending on size). They argue that the microwave yields a squash that is tender and silky smooth. After microwaving they add 3/4 Tbs. butter, 3/4 Tbs. dark brown sugar, and 1/16 tsp. salt to each squash half, and place them under the broiler (actually 6 inches from the broiler) for 5 to 8 minutes.

Interestingly, they say to halve the squashes pole-to-pole. I’ve always halved them through the equator, but the pole-to-pole method seems to better show off the acorn shape of the squash.

I had two squashes to use up, but I didn’t think I’d be able to fit all four halves in my small microwave, so I decided not to follow CI’s recipe. Instead, I followed a mix of two recipes I found online: this Serious Eats recipe for classic baked acorn squash and the Pioneer Woman recipe. Like CI, both Serious Eats and Pioneer Woman cut the squash from pole to pole, or from stem to end. Why have I been doing it wrong all these years?

Below is the recipe I made, which came out (almost) perfect. I actually had one acorn and one Microwelle squash, and they tasted noticeably different, but both were delicious. Even Derek said so!

Ingredients:

  • two acorn squashes
  • dash of salt
  • 2 Tbs. butter
  • 2 Tbs. brown sugar
  • 1 ounce of maple syrup

Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F or 200°C.
  2. Cut the acorn squash in half, lengthwise, from pole to pole. Use an ice scream scoop or spoon to scoop out the seeds and stringy goop from the center of each half. Use a sharp knife to score the surface of the squash five or six times. Place the halves in a baking pan, cut side up. Sprinkle with salt. Add 1/2 Tbs. butter and 1/2 Tbs. brown sugar to each half, then drizzle with maple syrup. Add about a 1/4-inch of water to the bottom of the baking pan so that the skins don’t burn and the squash doesn’t get dried out. Cover the pan with foil.
  3. Put the pan into the oven and bake for 30 minutes. Then remove the foil and bake for an additional 30 to 40 minutes. Pioneer Woman instructs us to finish the squash thusly: “Turn on the broiler for the last five minutes to ensure the tops get brown and the butter/sugar mixture bubbles violently for a minute or so. But you’ll have to stand there and babysit! You don’t want to char the tops.”

My notes:

I used less butter than either of the recipes, and much less brown sugar than the Pioneer Woman, but still the squash tasted extremely sweet and decadent. I think next time I will cut both down a bit, to let the taste of the squash shine through a bit more. Oddly, both recipes call for at least twice as much brown sugar as butter, but I liked my one-to-one ratio.

Both recipes say to score the squash. I’m not quite sure what the scoring accomplishes (more even cooking?), but it certainly produces a pretty final product. (See the Pioneer Woman blog for a nice photo of her scoring technique and the final baked squashes.)

The only problem with my squash was that I did not heed the Pioneer Woman’s advice. I placed the squash under the broiler, and came back after five minutes to find the tops totally charred. I did put my squash just an inch or two from the broiler. I think it would have been better to space them by 6-inches, like Cook’s Illustrated suggests. Especially since when they’re only an inch from the broiler it’s hard to see what’s going on without opening the oven and taking them out.

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