There is more to cooking a squash or pumpkin than simply throwing it in boiling water. Kabocha squash is best simmered to enhance its natural sweetness and nutty flavour. Japanese cook it in a very simple way with soy sauce, mirin and sugar.
What is a Kabocha Squash?
“Kabocha” is a variety of Japanese winter squash. It is also known as Japanese pumpkin in North America. It has a hard knobbly dark green skin with uneven white stripes outside and bright yellow-orange colour flesh inside.
What does it Taste Like?
Kabocha taste like a mix between pumpkin, sweet potato and chestnuts. That’s the reason Japanese pumpkin is my favourite pumpkin. When it is cooked the texture is like a starchy type potato which I explained in my post Japanese Potato Croquettes recipe.
Where to Buy?
I saw kabocha squash are sold at Trader Joe’s and Walmart in America when I visited USA in 2019. In Australia, supermarkets used to stock them from New Zealand. It is also available from selected farmer’s markets.
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. Check the following points:
- Choose the one which stem calyx 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?
The Kabocha pumpkin is very hard. First, chop off the stem calyx. Make sure it is down on the flat surface (step by step photos 1- 4). After removing the seeds (step by step photo 5), it can be microwaved for 2 minutes making it softer and easier to cut.
3 Tips to Simmer Perfectly
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 cut kabocha pumpkins(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 or aluminium foil. See the below photo to make your own.
Other Japanese dishes that use Kabocha Squash
Kabocha squash is good for simmered, roasted, pureed, mashed and deep-fried.
- 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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- 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)