Ko-So-A-Do

Hikari's Food/Japanophile and Other Interesting Stuff blog

Kabocha: The Japanese pumpkin you DON’T turn into a Jack-o-Lantern!

on October 11, 2012

As an American, when I think pumpkin, I think of the pie-making, Halloween carveable lump of orange squash.

Typical American Pumpkins

Maybe you’ve seen kabocha in the grocery store, mixed in with the other winter squashes. It looks like a little green pumpkin.

I was never one for cooking hard winter squash. My attempts at doing anything with acorn, spaghetti, butternut, etc. weren’t my best moments. I have to make my punkin pie from a can.

But when I first experimented with kabocha, I was amazed at how well it turned out! Now, my efforts since then have had varying results. Sometimes it’s too soggy, or salty, or… whatever.

I’ve had a 2-pound (approx. 1 kg) kabocha sitting on my kitchen counter for at least 2 weeks. It was time to cook it. Different people choose to cook it different ways. I prepared mine for simmering.

There are many variations for the simmering broth, I adapt mine for how I’m feeling, more salty? More sweet? Today’s came out more on the sweet side, but I will start with the basic as I’ve adapted it.

First of all, you’ll need a good size pan that can hold a single layer of cubed squash. I have a 12 inch saute pan with a glass lid that I use. If you can’t fit the whole thing, you can do it in batches or do something else with the extra like I did: roasted. This will be shown later.

Next, prepare the squash. First, wash that sucker. You don’t want to eat any dirt.

I cut it into quarters before I remembered to take pictures, Sorry!

Then, cut it in half and scrape out the seeds and stringy bits. Take care when cutting, it’s quite tough!

Once again, sorry no seeds picture, I forgot until I got to this stage.

Does anyone know if the seeds can be roasted like American pumpkin?

When doing this next part, everyone has their own way. Some leave the skin intact, some cut the skin. I learned from a Japanese person to cut off bits of skin to help it cook. It’s how I like it, so it’s what I do.

Cut off any weird bits you don’t want to eat.

I cut the kabocha again to make  eight triangular pieces and take a small paring knife, cutting off the bloom end and the stem as well as any weird lumpy bits or scars. When I finish, then I just scrape off bits of the skin like in the picture.

You can cut stripes or a random pattern, whatever you feel like.

You can skip this step if you like, but the skin is too firm for my taste. I always end up with a soggy product waiting for the skin to soften any other way.

I like all my chunks to have bits of skin missing.

This punkin was thin, so the chunks stayed small. Depending on the thickness of the flesh, you’ll want to cut it up into chunks between 1 to 2 inches wide, and try to make them all about the same size so they’ll cook evenly.

When you cook your kabocha, you’ll want to place the chunks skin-side-down, like so.

The skin side down helps prevent sogginess before the skin is cooked.

But before you do, we need to talk about simmering broth. As I said before, there are many different varieties. Basically, the recipe calls for dashi, mirin, shoyu and sugar.

Mirin is just flavored rice wine, so this can be left out if necessary. Have some umeshu? Sake or white wine? Maybe some vodka on hand? Use it instead! Just avoid red wines and other hard liquors, unless you want to try making brandied kabocha… hmmm. If I only liked brandy, I might try that… but anyway…

Dashi should be used, I’m not sure about using anything else as an adaptation. If you use the granules, just follow the directions to make however much liquid you need. I have to eyeball mine because I can’t read kanji very well and my box of dashi granules is directly from Japan, no translations.

Soy sauce and sugar are simple, anyone who likes asian food should have soy sauce.

For the sugar, feel free to use brown sugar, honey, agave syrup, or whatever floats your boat. You can try splenda as a sugar substitute, but nothing with aspartame. That’s just nasty.

I’m going to give a basic mix, but I usually end up adding more of something as the squash cooks, depending on the flavor of the broth as it cooks down. The amounts are approximate.

1 cup water/dashi per pound kabocha,

1 to 2 tablespoons of the following per cup water/dashi:

soy sauce, mirin, sugar.

Mix it all together and pour it over the kabocha in the pan, almost covering but not enough for the pieces to swim. You don’t want to drown it.

It’s okay if they stick out, but don’t make ’em swim!

~This time, I did something different. I put my pieces in a bag and added some chai spice and pumpkin pie spice. Just enough to add some color. I also added more sugar to sweeten my kabocha.

Heat the pan on medium high heat until it’s boiling, then reduce heat to medium/low and simmer.

I like to cover my pan during simmering but some people leave off the lid and let the sauce thicken. It’s up to you.

Cooking takes about 20 minutes, or until the squash is tender, but not soggy. Feel free to taste a piece after about 15 minutes and adjust the flavor if you like, just be careful with the shoyu. Over-salty kabocha isn’t so great.

The triangles are my taste-tester bites.

After it’s done, turn off the heat and let it sit for another 10 minutes at least before serving. When refrigerating, keep it in the sauce and the flavor will intensify.

To pack into a lunch, just let the chunks drain on a paper towel to remove excess liquid.

Other ways to cook kabocha:

Before baking

I had some extra pieces that wouldn’t fit in the pan so I roasted them. I simply placed them on a pan after tossing them in some extra sugar and some sesame seeds, popped them on a 350 degree toaster oven for about 20 minutes, and there they were! I should have tossed them in a little oil first, though. they were a bit dry. But I ate a few before taking the picture, they were so good!

After baking and extensive sampling.

How do you like your kabocha?

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2 responses to “Kabocha: The Japanese pumpkin you DON’T turn into a Jack-o-Lantern!

  1. I love pumpkin, and Japanese pumpkin is so sweet. Thanks for the recipe, last night I steamed some pumpkin and mix it with little Japanese mayo, it was delish!

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