Viet-Cajun Crawfish - Gastro Obscura

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Viet-Cajun Crawfish

In Houston, Vietnamese chefs offer a unique take on the “mud bug.”

At a Viet-Cajun crawfish boil, you’ll find fire-engine red piles of boiled crustaceans. Be sure to fasten your bib, because tucking into these buttery, seasoned “mud bugs” is a messy affair, even for the experienced.

This fusion dish’s journey began in Louisiana, where many Vietnamese refugees immigrated during the Vietnam War. But it wasn’t until the mid-2000s, when Vietnamese communities in Houston, Texas, started experimenting with traditional crawfish boils, that Viet-Cajun crawfish became the flavorful blend of cuisines that it’s known for today.

At its heart, a traditional Cajun crawfish boil consists of crustaceans, corn, and potatoes boiled in a pot of water along with the likes of mustard seed, coriander, cayenne pepper, bay leaves, and allspice. Houston-based Vietnamese cooks take this recipe a step further, tossing the cooled crawfish in a butter-based sauce that mixes lots of garlic with seasonings such as ginger, peppers, scallions, orange wedges, and lemongrass. The result is a medley of flavors that blend and balance one another. Some chefs say the Vietnamese emphasis on butter, for instance, provides the perfect creamy counterpoint to Cajun spices.

When it’s time to eat, simply pinch the mud bug between your thumb and forefinger and, using the other hand, twist off the back end while holding on to the critter’s head. Sucking out the briny head cavity is a must (get ready for your lips to burn). Regardless of how you eat it, the gift of Viet-Cajun cuisine is one based on integration and innovation, something all eaters can be grateful for.

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