Most of us remember from high school World History that about 10,000 French immigrated to the maritime provinces of Canada in the 17th century. Here they made a life for about 100 years. Then the British forced the Acadians to leave Canada.
About 2,500 found their way to south Louisiana. “Acadian” morphed into “Cajun.” According to folklore, the lobsters from the cold waters of Canada followed their friends, shrinking substantially from the rigors of the journey south. Thus, crawfish and Cajuns have a very close relationship going back for generations.
As generations passed, many Cajuns moved west to South Texas. In Houston the Cajuns crossed paths with the Vietnamese community who had escaped to the U.S. during the conflict in Vietnam.
These two groups had several things in common: Many were fisherman, many were rice farmers, and there was the French connection between them. Each group loved to eat the small crustaceans, especially if the meal included a highly seasoned sauce. The Cajuns brought their knowledge of boiling the crawfish “jus' rite” and the Vietnamese added a wealth of seasonings. The end result is a perfect fusion recipe.
This Asian-Cajun fusion has captured the taste buds of people in and around Houston. This new flavor may not please lovers of the traditional crawfish boil, but for fans of Asian cuisine, it is fantastic.
Some items listed in the ingredients not available in local markets are available at Asian grocery stores. The nearest to us is B&K Seafood and Asian Market in Hattiesburg. It is located near Best Buy on Hardy Street. They have the only fresh Asian produce in Hattiesburg.
For crawfish aficionados, these spring months are the perfect time for having a crawfish boil. The weather is pleasant, the crawfish are abundant and the company is always good.
Asian-Cajun Crawfish Boil
Recipe by Susan L. Ebert
First published in Edible Houston
For the Boil:
• 1 (30-pound) sack of raw crawfish
• 1–3 cups Crawfish Boil Spice (store-bought or homemade)
• 1 cup unfiltered organic apple cider vinegar, such as Bragg's
• 1 bunch celery, washed and cut in half
• *5–6 stalks of lemongrass, chopped coarse
• 6 heads garlic, unpeeled but halved
• *1 large knob ginger, chopped
• *1 large knob galangal, chopped
• *1 bunch Thai basil
• *4–5 citrus leaves (Lemon leaves or Kiffir Lime Leaves)
• 6 fresh jalapeño peppers, halved
• 8 oranges, halved
• 2 lemons, halved
• 6 limes, halved
• 2 pounds small new potatoes, scrubbed
• 1 pound fresh carrots, scrubbed
• 24 boiling onions, washed and trimmed
• *1 pound Chineses longbeans
• *2 pounds snow or sugar snap pea pods, or a mixture
• *1 pound Shiitake or oyster mushrooms, cleaned
*Available in Asian markets
For the sauce:
• 1 pound (4 sticks) butter
• 8–12 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
• Crawfish boil spice, to taste
• 6 limes, cut into wedges
Place a 30-quart pot with a strainer basket on the burner, and fill it about two-thirds full with water. Add 1 cup crawfish boil spice, plus the vinegar, celery, garlic, ginger, basil and jalapeños and squeeze each cut orange, lemon and lime over the pot. Light the burner, crank the heat to high and bring to a boil. When the pot is boiling, add the potatoes, carrots and onions. Reduce the flow of propane as needed to keep your pot at a lively simmer, but below a raging boil. When it starts to bubble again, cover and cook for 10 minutes.
Next, add the longbeans, pea pods and mushrooms and return the pot to a lively simmer, then cover and cook for 2–3 minutes. Remove all vegetables from the pot and keep warm.
Finally, add one-third of the crawfish (10 pounds); cook the rest in two separate batches. When the broth just starts to bubble, turn the heat off and cover the pot. After 10 minutes, don oven mitts and check: If the crawfish still float, cover the pot and let them poach for a few more minutes. Once they sink, they’ve absorbed all the spicy broth they can and are ready to eat. Lift out the strainer, let it drain over the pot (retain the broth in the pot for the next batch), then pour the crawfish into a large bowl.
Add one-third of the vegetables to the cooked crawfish and pour over one-third of the sauce (see below). Toss gently to coat, add the fresh lime wedges and eat!
To cook the remaining crawfish, bring the broth back to a boil, add more boil spice and the crawfish, and when it begins to bubble again, repeat the cooking process.
For the sauce:
While the crawfish finish cooking, melt ½ cup (1 stick) of the butter in a large saucepan, add the garlic and sauté over medium heat until the garlic is fragrant and translucent. Add the rest of the butter and season with the boil spice to taste. Other popular condiments include sriracha sauce or Muôí Tiêu Chanh, made by muddling coarse salt and white pepper together with Thai chilies and lime wedges.
Fran Ginn is former chef/owner of The Back Door Café, who retired after 31 years in the food industry to be a grandmother. She can be contacted at email@example.com.