Stop Roasting (and Start Pressure Cooking) Your Winter Squash
Stop Roasting (and Start Pressure Cooking) Your Winter Squash

Stop Roasting (and Start Pressure Cooking) Your Winter Squash

butternut squash macro

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:

  1. Speed.  Fork-tender squash takes 15-20 minutes in the pressure cooker, rather than 30-45 minutes in the oven.
  2. 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

  1. Remove the skin and seeds from your squash and cut into evenly-sized 1” cubes.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Pressure cook for 20 minutes.  Remove and season to taste.

Pressure Cooked Squash Soup Recipe

  1. Follow steps 1-3 above.  For extra richness, add butter or duck fat to the cooking liquid.
  2. 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).
  3. Using an immersion blender, puree the squash until smooth, adding additional liquid to reach the desired consistency.
  4. 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.]


  1. Al

    Awesome stuff. Two questions:

    -Do you season either the squash or the cooking liquid before cooking, or is it just the baking soda? (If not, would that be more important if you weren’t pureeing the squash?)

    -Does the amount of cooking liquid factor into how much baking soda is needed?

  2. @Al I season with a little salt before cooking, but I save most of the seasoning for after cooking since the flavors will change so much during the cooking process.
    Nope, you don’t need to factor the mass of the cooking liquid into the amount of baking soda.

  3. barbs

    20 minutes in the pressure cooker seems like it would cook it down into goo. Are you using a 15psi pressure cooker?

    For cubed squash, I’ve never seen more than about 8 minutes as a cook time. I’d be afraid that all the liquid would blow out in 20 minutes. Can you clarify/verify this timing, please?

  4. Dear Seattlefoodgeek,
    Along the same lines,, I want a little feedback on the opening to my story. It’s about a teenaged celebrity (Greyson Belle Winters) and her struggles to stay normal with all the pressures on her. Think of it as a novel similar to the books in the “Secrets of My Hollywood Life” series. Please note, this story starts off with a article that introduces the relationship between Greyson & Jake, but it isn’t featured below.


    “Greyson? Greyson. Greyson Belle Winters, look up from that stupid iPhone of yours and listen to me!” my mom complains, giving me her best evil eye.

    I smile sheepishly and take a sip of my citrus-infused water. “Sorry. I was reading that Teen Hollywood interview. What were you saying?” Jake laughs. My mom sighs. “I was saying, Kate, Penelope, and Elsie should be here any minute. Now turn your gadget off before I smash it with my Gucci.” I take her seriously. Her brand new snakeskin tote weighs close to twelve pounds. I have no idea what she keeps in there.

    Just then, Jake’s mom storms out of Cut & Peel’s kitchen door with a tray of food, dressed in her usual printed baby tee and destroyed jeans. She kisses Jake on top of his head and sits down. “Baby greens, hiziki, and cherry salad with a miso dressing alongside an organic rosemary pork roast,” Elsie explains as she sets down the dishes, “I’ve got twenty minutes. Where are Kate and Penelope?” Our agent-publicist duo is surprisingly running late. I can’t ever remember them being late. Actually, I can’t remember being able to go anywhere without being hounded by the paparazzi.

    “They’re late. So while we’re waiting, I’ll be in the bathroom.”Cut & Peel is located in a lush garden in Santa Monica, and Elsie wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s open and airy, with glass walls, bamboo furniture, and waterfalls bubbling everywhere. I wave and say hello to a few people I know as I make my way across the spacious seven thousand square foot room to the quiet bathroom. No one is in here except for the bathroom attendant. I regloss my lips and turn sideways to get a good look at myself in the mirror.

    “Greyson Belle Winters. What a surprise,” a smooth, sarcastic voice quips from behind me. I whip around, the tie-dyed skirt of my Sass and Bide chiffon dress twirling out around me. It’s Freesia Macintyre, another well-known teen queen. Did I mention that she hates me since I took her number one spot on Teen Vogue’s Most Fashionable Starlets list last year? It’s too bad, because she used to be really nice: to me and to everyone. She’s transformed into the classic Hollywood bad girl now.

    “Oh. Hi Freesia. What’s up?” I try to be polite. She smirks and pulls her hair up into a high ponytail. She turns to face the mirror. “Not much,” she starts, which tells me she’s here for something big. “I’m here on a business meeting. About Jack Holton’s new fantasy movie.” I inwardly take her diss. She knows Jack is one of Hollywood’s best directors – one that anyone would die to work with, especially me. I’m a sucker for fantasy movies.

    “That’s great, Free.”

    “Oh, shut up.” She turns on her four-inch Jimmy Choo wedges to face me. “Stop the fake friend act. And don’t call me Free.” I take a step back, now completely irritated.

    “Well, excuse me for trying to be polite,” I say, looking up at her smirk. Why did I have to be only five foot two? “I was trying to be the bigger person.” She rolls her eyes as I head for the door, tipping the attendant who has put on her headphones, most likely to drown her out. “By the way, I think your outfit proves why I was number one of Teen Vogue’s list!” I giggle slightly as I walk away, even though I feel a little bad, too. But, hey, she brought up Jack Holton!

    “GREYSON! Hi there, girl!” shrieks Penelope. She’s definitely the more hyper half of the Walsh sisters. She stands up to give me a kiss on the cheek while Kate just sits there, typing away on her Blackberry. She looks up a moment later and smiles at me. “Sorry ‘bout that. Hi Greyson, hi Jake. How’s life?”

    “I just had a run-in with the flower witch in the bathroom, if not good.”

    “What? Where is it?” Jake jokes, turning to look around the room. Being six minutes older, he likes to take the older brother role and protect me. I never really need the help, but since he’s my best friend I cut him a lot of slack.

    I sigh. “It is across the room, holding court with the Holton people.” My crew turns in their seats to look around. They spot Maria Andersen, Jack’s personal assistant, up in the balcony eating area, along with several associates from Emage Pictures talking animatedly with Freesia’s party. Kate smacks down a folder full of prospective offers and stands up with an evil gleam in her eyes. “I’ll be right back.” We watch as she makes her way up the stairs and starts talking to the group.

    While everyone tries to read my devious agent’s lips, I read over what Kate left behind. There are plenty of offers for me right now – more than most peopl
    I look forward to your next post

  5. xiaochen

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    I agree with Xiaochen I was looking up something for my pressure cooker and then this long bunch of words come on. Boring I didn’t even read it. Sorry but the long list of words had nothing to do with pressure cooker. I just went to the end of them.

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