What’s cooking today: Caramelised butternut boats

What’s cooking today: Caramelised butternut boats
Tony Jackman’s caramelised butternut boats cooked in an air fryer. (Photo: Tony Jackman)

Butternut takes some time to cook, and even in an air fryer it’s not a quick fix. But the air-spewing beast does a really good job of cooking butternut.

When cut in half, the two parts of a butternut become big (or little) boats, a part of which is a cavity which can be used for a stuffing. Butternut takes to caramelisation like a, well, ship to the ocean, but before we start drowning in maritime metaphors let’s wade back to shore.

So I made a baste of butter, brown sugar and cinnamon and popped the two halves in the air fryer and started cooking. Because this fellow was more supertanker than tug, it took a fair while to become tender all the way through.

Because I had made this for the same meal as my Persian roast chicken, the recipe for which we published on Thursday, 23 March, I stuffed the cavity with the leftover stuffing from the poultry roast, but you can use any stuffing you like. My first thought would be spinach and feta, after the spinach has been wilted and then tossed in olive oil with garlic, lemon and seasoning, including a grinding of nutmeg.

The quantities here depend entirely on the size of the butternut, and we all know how greatly they vary in size, from ultra-large crude carrier to pilot boat.

(Serves 2 to 6 depending on the size of the butternut)


1 large butternut, sliced in half, seeds removed

3 Tbsp butter

Salt to taste

Pepper to taste

1 Tsp ground cinnamon

1 Tbsp brown sugar

Your choice of stuffing (see above)

Foil to cover


Slice 1 large butternut into two long “boats” lengthwise, leaving the skin on after scooping out the seeds.

Use a small, sharp knife to make slits all along the “deck” as it were, to encourage quicker cooking in the thickest, hardest parts. Or stab it many times with a fork so that the tiny holes will do the same job, which is what I did, as you can see in the photograph.

Season with salt, pepper and cinnamon, sprinkle brown sugar on, and drizzle with melted butter. If using a stuffing, spoon it into the cavity.

You need foil for this recipe, so you need to cut pieces big enough to tuck underneath the butternut in the air fryer basket. This prevents the foil from being blown up and attaching to the element above.

Bear in mind that the butternut I cooked was about as big as you’d expect to find outside of an agricultural show where Farmer Gerrit wins the trophy every year for his 35kg pampoen. Your cooking time will shorten commensurately with the size, so don’t be too alarmed that mine cooked for a full 70 minutes. It is likely to need less, perhaps up to 50.

Preheat the air fryer to 195℃. Place the “boats” skin side down so that the flat part faces up. Tuck the foil in firmly. I started at 195℃ for 20 minutes, then another 30, and then put it back in for another 20. Try it as a side dish to my Persian roast chicken. DM/TGIFood

Follow Tony Jackman on Instagram @tony_jackman_cooks.

This dish is photographed on a platter by Mervyn Gers Ceramics.


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