Viet-Cajun crawfish growing in popularity at Baton Rouge restaurants

Crawfish season is in full swing right about now, with backyard boilers ready to go for Easter weekend, and crawfish buffs scarfing down trays of mudbugs at their favorite local eateries.

Traditional methods reign supreme when it comes to how we enjoy our signature crustacean, but another vibrantly flavored version is gaining traction in Baton Rouge. Vietnamese-Cajun-style crawfish, popular in Houston and New Orleans, are making their way to the Capital City. Beausoleil and Chow Yum Phat are serving them as weekend specials during crawfish season, and Soji just wrapped up a limited run during the first half of Lent.

The formula is detailed, ingredient intensive and time consuming, but the end result is worth the work, says Beausoleil executive chef David Dickensauge. 

“It’s a good fit for us, because we’re a coastal restaurant with a lot of Asian influences on the menu,” says Dickensauge, a longtime fan of blending Vietnamese flavors into contemporary Southern cooking. (While working in Gulfport in 2017, he won the Mississippi Seafood Cookoff with his original Mississippi Seafood Pho.)

For Beausoleil’s Viet-Cajun crawfish, Dickensauge starts with a traditional boil mixture, adding lots of bold ingredients. Blood oranges and yuzu juice go into the pot, along with ginger, lemongrass, chicory coffee, poblano and jalapeño peppers, and other items. Dickensauge uses wild Atchafalaya Basin crawfish, and as soon as they’re boiled through and removed from the pot, he bathes them in compound butter studded with more lemongrass, Asian peppers, garlic and fish sauce.

The depth of flavor in Viet-Cajun crawfish makes itself apparent in two ways. Warm and floral spices from the boil penetrate the tails, intensifying their spicy sweetness. Then you get an extra pop from the fragrant, earthy creaminess of the compound butter.

At Chow Yum Phat, a similar format unfolds. Co-founder Jordan Ramirez says the restaurant started serving Viet-Cajun crawfish last year as a to-go item. The March shutdown provided time to experiment with the technique, Ramirez says.

“We played around with them and started taking orders,” he says. “We’d have people lined up in the parking lot waiting.”

To a basic Cajun boil, the CYP team adds citrus and lemongrass and other ingredients, and then tosses the boiled crawfish with lemongrass-garlic butter that also includes tiny bits of onion and cabbage. The crawfish are served with boiled potatoes, corn, quail eggs, mushrooms and edamame.

“All that flavor has been absorbed, but then you also get that extra bit of flavor from the butter on your fingers while you’re eating,” Ramirez says. “They’ve been really popular.”  

This story first ran in 225 magazine. Subscribe to the free 225 Daily e-newsletter for Baton Rouge restaurant news.