Kabocha squash is best when simmered to enhance its natural sweetness and nutty flavor. This is the most typical way it is eaten in Japan, especially because it’s so easy. The naturally sweet pumpkin is cooked in a savoury-sweet sauce to enhance the flavour even more and make the pumpkin velvety and tender. The result is a simple yet incredibly delicious side dish that goes well with any meal.
What is a Kabocha Squash?
“Kabocha” is a Japanese variety of winter squash similar to butternut squash or acorn squash. It’s most often called Kabocha squash or Japanese pumpkin. It has a hard knobbly dark green skin with uneven white stripes outside and bright orange flesh. When cooked, the pumpkin is firm and tender with a delicious sweet flavour comparable to sweet potato. It’s a common vegetable used in Japanese cuisine for many dishes like this simmered kabocha squash.
What does it Taste Like?
Kabocha tastes like a mix between pumpkin, sweet potato, and chestnuts. When simmered in the sweet soy sauce mixture, the pumpkin absorbs all the delicious sauce becoming even more infused with a savoury sweet flavour. It makes eating vegetables easy, especially for children.
Where to Buy Kabocha Squash?
For anyone in the US, kabocha squash can be found at Trader Joe’s, Walmart, and possibly other supermarkets. In Australia, grocery stores used to stock them from New Zealand but they are rare. I have also found it at the farmer’s market so no matter where you are, you can always check your local markets. The best time to find kabocha is during late summer to early fall when it’s in its true season, although you can find it year-round.
How to Pick a Good One?
The freshness does not always guarantee the deliciousness of this squash. Conversely, because the starch changes into sugar, an aged Kabocha will be sweet and have “hoku hoku” texture, meaning it’s steamy and tender but not soggy . Check the following points:
- Choose the one which has a stem base that is completely dry and looks like cork.
- The skin is shiny dark green and feels hard.
- Choose the one that feels heavy when held in your hand
How to Cut a Kabocha Squash?
The Kabocha pumpkin is very hard so it’s important to be very careful when cutting it. Use a sharp knife and cut the stem first making sure it is down on a flat surface (step by step photos 1- 4). After removing the seeds and pulp (step by step photo 5), it can be microwaved for 2 minutes making it softer and easier to cut. Slice the pumpkin into thick chunks/wedges so it’s ready to be simmered.
3 Tips for Making Simmered Kabocha Perfectly
- The art of simmering is important for this Kabocha squash recipe. I will give you three tips to keep its shape while it’s simmering. Simmering the Kabocha squash is fairly simple and it’s easy to cook. But the problem that often happens is that the kabocha squash loses its shape while being simmered. Follow these three tips to avoid this happening.
- Lay the skin side face down to the pot without leaving any gaps and without overlapping (prepare a suitable size pot) (step by step photo 9)
- Round off every corner of the kabocha chunk pieces (step by step photo 6)
- Cook with minimum liquid and use “Otoshibuta” (a drop lid) (step by step photos 15 and 16)
Japanese Cooking Secret : Otoshibuta
What is Otoshibuta?
Otoshibuta is an indispensable lid used in Japanese cooking which is a little smaller than the pot in its diameter. Traditionally, otoshibuta is made out of wood, but nowadays you can get steel and silicone otoshibuta as well.
Why Otoshibuta ?
- Otoshibuta holds the ingredients and prevents the ingredients from falling apart.
- It cooks ingredients evenly because the liquid underneath the Otoshibuta will be circulated.
- It forces the seasoning to penetrate well through the ingredients.
I don’t Have an Otoshibuta
No problem. You can substitute with parchment paper, baking sheets, or aluminium foil. See the below photo to make your own.
Other Japanese dishes that use the Kabocha Squash
This sweet savory dish isn’t all that you can do with Kabocha squash. This tasty pumpkin is good when simmered, roasted, pureed, mashed and deep-fried. You can try it as a roast by seasoning it with olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper and tossing it in the oven or add it to curries, soups, and stews. It can even be used in desserts like muffins.
- Pureed – Kabocha pumpkin soup, Kabocha pumpkin bread
- Mashed – Kabocha salad
- Deep-fried – Tempura, Kushikatsu
Here are my instructions for simmered kabocha squash and if you liked it, please rate it and leave a comment or any questions below.
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Simmered Kabocha Squash
- 1/2 Kabocha squash pumpkin *1
- 2/3 cup water
- 1 tbs sugar *2
- 1 tbs sake *3
- 1 1/2 tbs soy sauce
- 1/2 tbs mirin *4
- Peel and seed the pumpkin then cut it into even sized chunks. *5
- Round off each corner of pumpkin cuts. *6
- Lay the cut pumpkin skin side down without leaving any gaps and without overlapping.
- Add water and bring to boil then turn the heat down to medium heat. Cook about 20 minutes or until the kabocha becomes soft.
- Add sugar, sake, and mirin and bring them to boil over medium heat.
- Once it has boiled, turn the heat down to low, and add soy sauce. Put a drop-lid (Otoshibuta) on to the Kabocha pieces directly and simmer for about 10 minutes or until the pumpkin is cooked. *7
- Garnish with chopped ginger. (optional)