Houston-born writer Dan Q. Dao travels home almost every spring for his family’s annual crawfish boil. But this isn’t your ordinary boil—it’s a Vietnamese-Cajun crawfish boil. He describes it as: “dozens of parents, uncles, aunties, cousins, and friends clearing 70 pounds of crawfish—and a couple coolers of beer—in the afternoon sun.” The Dao family, like many Vietnamese-American families, combines Vietnamese and Cajun ingredients and cooking techniques to make intensely flavored food that celebrates the best of both cultures. In this case, live crawfish are boiled in a spice blend (the family prefers Zatarain’s Extra Spicy Crawfish, Shrimp & Crab Boil), then cooled down and thrown into an ice chest or container filled with a chunky sauce, usually made with lots of butter, diced garlic cloves, orange wedges, and peppers. The result is crawfish that are full of flavor through and through. The oranges add bright citrusy notes that are completely unexpected yet natural pairing with garlic, cayenne pepper and other spices. Dao says it’s not clear whom to credit for the “invention” of Vietnamese-Cajun crawfish, or official recipe should be. “Viet-Cajun crawfish is a moving target,” he says. “But there’s no denying the fact that Houston’s many crawfish restaurants—now a crowded field of contenders—have evolved the dish into its next iteration, building off that original seasoning technique with tasty innovations in both ingredients and forms.”
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