When my mom grew up in Houston, Texas, excursions to Galveston, where my grandfather owned land, were a beach-filled regularity. Grandfather loved fishing, and my mom loved seafood. Especially shrimp. Those days, shrimp boats were manned by a tough lot of Texans, with some Cajuns mixed in. But by the time my Mom and Dad bought Neil Armstrong’s old house in the shrimping village of Seabrook on Galveston Bay, the shrimping community had broadened to include a large group of Vietnamese immigrants. Mom—a spicy food lover—was thrilled to discover the fusion cuisine that resulted: Viet Cajun. While the marriage of these two on the plate may seem unusual, both cultures share colonial French roots, which gives them a natural affinity. Best Viet Cajun dishes take familiar Cajun fare and ramp it up to include Vietnamese spices and seasonings such as lemongrass, ginger, and fish sauce. This shrimp and sausage boil is a classic example.
• 8 cups water
• 3 stalks lemongrass (halved)
• 2 heads garlic (each cut in half)
• 1 large knob of ginger (about 4 inches long)
• 1/4 cup fish sauce
• 1/2 cup Old Bay seasoning
• 1 .80-ounce container Cajun seasoning blend
• 1 tablespoon kosher salt
• 2 pounds tiny red potatoes
• 2 pounds smoked sausage, cut on the bias in chunks
• 4 pounds fresh Gulf shrimp (with heads and tails intact)
• 3 ears of corn (each cut into three pieces)
SPICY GARLIC BUTTER SAUCE:
• 1 cup (two sticks) butter
• 1 large head garlic, peeled, trimmed, and minced to make 1/2 cup
• 1 stalk of lemongrass, smashed and minced to make 2 tablespoons
• 2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
• Salt and freshly cracked pepper
• 1 small bunch of green onions, green portion cut into two-inch pieces
• 1 small bunch cilantro leaves
• 2 Thai peppers chopped (optional)
• 3 fresh limes
• In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt butter with minced garlic and lemongrass. Stir in cayenne, salt, and pepper. Continue heating and stirring until butter foams up and lemongrass and garlic are cooked tender.
• Make stock in a large, heavy-bottomed soup kettle, over medium heat, combine water with lemongrass, garlic, ginger, fish sauce, Cajun seasoning, and Old Bay. Heat to boiling; lower heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
• Add potatoes and sausage. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes or until potatoes are tender. Scoop sausage and potatoes out of kettle and set aside, keeping warm.
• Add shrimp and corn to simmering stock. Cover pot and cook for 4 to 5 minutes until shrimp are bright pink and corn is tender. Scoop shrimp and corn out of kettle and set aside.
• In a very large bowl, toss shrimp, corn, potatoes, and sausage with a few spoons of the garlic butter. Pile everything on a serving tray. Sprinkle with the two-inch slivers of green onion and the cilantro sprigs. Add a sprinkle of sliced Thai peppers if you want it extra hot. Serve with more of the spicy garlic butter and wedges of fresh lime.