Man, o man do I love butternut squash, acorn squash, spaghetti squash, delicata squash… you get the point. When I was young, one of my favorite side dishes at family dinners was an acorn squash, halved, filled with butter and brown sugar, and roasted until soft and sweet. It tasted like candy, but technically qualified as a vegetable – a loophole that I still enjoy exploiting.
During my recent, steamy love affair with my pressure cooker, I’ve discovered that it does fantastic things to squash. For example, last week, Jethro served THE BEST butternut squash soup I’ve ever eaten – pressure cooked, of course. There are two fundamental benefits to pressure cooking, as opposed to roasting, squash:
- Speed. Fork-tender squash takes 15-20 minutes in the pressure cooker, rather than 30-45 minutes in the oven.
- All-Over Tan. Put another way, the pressure cooker achieves deep, even browning on all surfaces, with a significantly reduced risk of burning. Let’s explore that more…
One of the best tricks I’ve learned from Modernist Cuisine is that adding 0.5% baking soda (by weight) to things you’re about to pressure cook results in fantastic caramelization. The baking soda increases the pH of the food, which allows the Maillard reaction to take place at the the relatively low-temperature environment of the pressure cooker – typical Maillard reactions start around 310F, but a pressure cooker operating at 15 psi only reaches about 250F. That means that you get deliciously-sweet, browned squash without running the risk of accidentally scorching your squash.
Also, pressure cookers brown more evenly than ovens. Think of your oven like a cheap tanning bed, with lights above and below the subject (in this case, food). The top and bottom of the food is exposed to a lot of light and gets nicely tanned. The sides, however, remain pasty-white because they’re mostly in shadow. The environment inside a pressure cooker, however, is more akin to bathing in a pool of self-tanner. The heat and pressure generated by the steam come from all sides, and as a result, your cubes of squash are beautifully browned from every angle, not just the top and bottom.
If you’re ready to drink the Kool-Aid, here are some pressure cooked squash recipes to get you started.
Basic Pressure Cooked Squash Recipe
- Remove the skin and seeds from your squash and cut into evenly-sized 1” cubes.
- Add 1/2 cup of liquid to your pressure cooker. I recommend centrifuged squash water (thanks Jethro!), chicken stock, or other flavorful liquid. Water works fine, too.
- Toss your cubed squash in .5% its own weight in baking soda. You can eyeball this measurement – about 1/2 tsp. of baking soda for 2 lbs. of squash. Add the squash to the pressure cooker.
- Pressure cook for 20 minutes. Remove and season to taste.
Pressure Cooked Squash Soup Recipe
- Follow steps 1-3 above. For extra richness, add butter or duck fat to the cooking liquid.
- Check after 20 minutes. Pressure cook an additional 10-20 minutes if the squash isn’t tender enough to fall apart yet (cooking time will vary by species).
- Using an immersion blender, puree the squash until smooth, adding additional liquid to reach the desired consistency.
- Season to taste with salt, pepper, cinnamon, cloves, roasted garlic, nutmeg, maple syrup, brown sugar, balsamic vinegar, apple cider, tarragon, ginger, or whatever else suits your fancy.
Go wild with variations. Add other stuff like apples or canned pumpkin or bell peppers or carrots or leeks. I promise it’ll be good.
[BTW, the picture above is an acorn squash, uncooked.]