Golden brown toasted rice and soft caramelized cubes of sautéed butternut squash seasoned with garlic, sage and thyme; somewhere between a fried rice and a cozy fall side-dish, serve this butternut squash rice alongside a holiday meal, simply-prepared chicken or fish; or, put an egg on top, fold through some soft greens and serve it for lunch or a light main.
How to Choose and Prepare you Butternut Squash
- When choosing a butternut squash look for a firm squash with no soft spots, blemishes or other damage, an even deep beige color without a greenish tinge, and a squash that feels heavy for its size, as they will contain more moisture than lighter-feeling squash.
- Store uncut butternut squash at room temperature or, even better, in a cool dark place (ideally between 10C and 15C), where it should keep for 3 months or more. After a butternut squash has been cut into, store any leftover raw squash, peeled and cubed, in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3-5 days.
- With a sharp knife, cut crosswise through the squash to remove the stem from the top and cut the bottom into a flat surface, removing as little of the squash flesh as possible. Peel the squash to remove the outer rind.
This butternut squash rice makes a great simple side to pair with chicken or fish for an easy weeknight meal. Try these soy braised chicken thighs with garlic and ginger, this steamed white fish with ginger and spring onion or these fish parcels with anchovy-butter sauce.
- Cut the peeled squash in half to separate the narrow portion from the bulbous end that contains the seeds. Then slice each half lengthwise through the center. Use a spoon to remove the seeds and pulp and discard or set the seeds aside to roast for a snack.
- Turn each quarter of squash onto its flat side and cut into slices lengthwise, then cube each slice into your desired size. For this recipe you want a small dice so the interior of the squash cooks through before the outside burns - aim for about ¼-½ inch cubes.
How to Make Perfect Fried Rice
Choose the Right Type of Rice
Choosing rice for any fried rice dish is all about getting the best texture in your finished dish. You want the rice to be tender on the inside with a slight chewy exterior and you want the grains to feel separate, not clumpy and mushy or hard and dry.
- Medium grain white rice, or Jasmine rice are the best rice options to get the ideal texture when frying cooked rice. But almost any type of rice you have leftover in your fridge will work out okay, as long as you prepare it properly.
- Ideally, you’ll use rice that has dried out a bit, as moisture in the rice can cause it to stick and clump when frying. Leftover rice that has been chilled overnight in the fridge is the best option, but you can also make this butternut squash rice with freshly cooked rice, as long as you let it dry out a bit. Freshly-cooked rice may just take a bit longer to brown and develop chewy crisp bits.
More quick and easy side dishes you’ll love: garlicky sautéed collard greens and honey sriracha brussels sprouts.
Tips for Cooking Fried Rice
- If using chilled leftover rice, use a fork to separate any clumps that may have formed as the rice sat before adding the rice to the pan.
- If using freshly cooked rice, rinse it before cooking and, once cooked, transfer it from the pot to a large plate or sheet pan, spread it out into a shallow layer and let it sit while you prepare your mise-en-place and cook the squash to allow some of the moisture to evaporate.
- Don’t fry too much rice at a time or it may steam instead of fry and become too soft. That’s why this recipe serves 2 people when served as a main, so you only need to fry 2 cups of rice at once.
- Set the pan over medium-high to high heat to heat up and toast the rice quickly.
Customize your Butternut Squash Rice
Change-up the Squash Variety.
Butternut is my favorite winter squash to use (and grow) because of its flavor and because of how easy they are to peel. A lot of winter squash varieties have ridges in the rind that make them difficult to peel. But this recipe will work beautifully with any other firm-fleshed winter squash or pumpkin you have or would prefer to use including delicata, acorn or kabocha. Avoid something like spaghetti squash, which has a much different texture once cooked than butternut squash.
For more rice-forward meal ideas try this crispy rice bowl with fried eggs and avocado or, for something more ambitious, these sweet potato tempura sushi rolls.
Put an Egg on Top.
If you’re looking to serve squash rice as a main rather than a side, putting an egg on top is a great way to beef it up. To keep it a one-pan dish, you can fry the eggs in the pan, then set them aside and make the rice in the same pan. Alternatively, you can scramble the eggs instead, as is done in traditional fried rice recipes. Either:
- scramble the eggs in the pan, remove the eggs from the pan and return them at the end to mix through the rice or
- make the rice and then push the rice to one side of the pan and crack the eggs into the empty side of the pan. Scramble the eggs then mix everything together.
Spinach or another quick-cooking soft green is another great addition to transform this butternut squash rice from a side-dish to a meal. Simply add several handfuls of baby or roughly chopped greens during the last few minutes of cooking time and mix through until wilted.
Change the Flavors.
The recipe for this butternut squash rice pairs the squash with cozy fall flavors common in North American or European cuisines - garlic, sage and thyme. Alternatively, you could swap these flavors for some more Asian-inspired ingredients like ginger, scallions and cilantro.
Make it Spicy.
If you’re a spice lover, add extra heat to this dish by doubling the red chili flakes, adding a finely chopped hot pepper with your desired heat level - like a jalapeño or habanero - along with the onions or serving it with a store-bought or homemade chili oil to drizzle over the finished dish at the table.
- This fennel chili oil would pair well with the sage and thyme in this dish.
- Or, if you’re swapping out the sage and thyme for something like ginger and scallions, try this Sichuan spicy chilli oil instead.
Storage and Leftovers
- Store any leftover squash rice in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 2-3 days.
- Reheat in the microwave with a bit of chicken broth or water to replace some of the moisture the rice will lose in the fridge over time.
Sautéed Butternut Squash Rice Recipe
Serves 2 as a main (with fried eggs) or 4-6 as a side.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 - 1 1/2 pounds butternut squash (about 1 small), peeled and cut into ½ inch dice
- 1 medium onion
- 4 garlic cloves
- 3 fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
- 3 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves removed from stems and finely chopped
- 2 cups leftover or cooked rice (medium-grain white, jasmine or basmati)
- 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 teaspoon low-sodium soy sauce
- Pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)
- Salt & pepper, to taste
Optional (but recommended) toppings:
- ¼ cup pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
- Crispy fried shallots (homemade or store-bought)
- Fried eggs
- Heat the olive oil in a large cast iron skillet or sauté pan (preferably nonstick). Add the squash, season with salt and pepper and cook, tossing occasionally, until the squash is browning and is easily pierced with a fork, about 10-15 minutes.
- Add the butter and onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the butter melts and the onion begins to turn translucent and golden, about 5-7 minutes. Add the thyme, sage and garlic, toss to combine and cook for another minute or two, until fragrant. Add the rice, the Worcestershire sauce and soy sauce. Mix together to combine.
- At this stage, if you want soft rice, cook for about 3-4 minutes, stirring frequently, just until the rice heats through. Alternatively, if you want more of a golden-brown toasty flavor and a crisp chewy texture, continue cooking the rice for another 10-20 minutes, occasionally scraping the browning crisp bits from the bottom of the pan with a thin flexible spatula, turning them over, and folding them into the rest of the rice.
- Remove from the heat, taste and season with more salt if necessary, and serve immediately with the pumpkin seeds and fried shallots, if using, and some fried eggs, if serving as a main dish.