Authentic Cajun Crawfish Dip for Your Next Crawfish Boil

Picnic table of boiled crawfish

This week was my friend Luke’s annual crawfish boil, and it was amazing as always. I’m as Cajun as you can get, so I jump at any chance I have to eat crawfish here in Austin. Unfortunately, usually the serving sizes are not adequate for my Cajun stomach, nor is the seasoning adequate for my taste buds. Luke’s crawfish always manages to satisfy on both accounts. (The amazing picture above is also by him. Thank you Luke!)

Going to Austin crawfish boils, I’ve learned that I need to be prepared to bring my own crawfish dip. Crawfish dip, as in dip that you dip your crawfish in, is not something that exists here. I’ve seen people use butter, which I guess makes sense, crawfish are similar to lobster. That’s not how we we do it in Acadiana though. In Acadiana, we all make our own special concoction of mayo and other special ingredients, creating something not unlike the “special sauce” you put on a burger. Meeting everyone in the kitchen before the boil to each make your unique bowl of dip is one of my favorite parts of a crawfish boil. In Austin, however, this means me meeting myself in the kitchen, and then making enough to supply the party.

Yes, I bring Bag of Louisiana brand crawfish boil seasoningmy own crawfish dip to bars and other locations serving crawfish. I bring my own koozie too. That’s how I roll.

As my inaugural blog recipe, here’s my ‘classic’ version of the crawfish dip. It’s about as basic as you can get. This particular one is my go-to Austin-party dip because of the extra spice. It compensates for the fact that I usually find the crawfish to be under-seasoned. The spice it calls for is in fact ‘Crawfish Boil’, the same mixture that is commonly added to the pot of crawfish itself, usually Louisiana or Zatarain’s brand (pronounced Zat-UH-ranz or Zat-UH-rehnz). If you need help finding this in your area, try looking in a store that features international foods. In Texas, Fiesta actually has a very nice section of ‘Cajun supplies’. When I lived in Oregon, I found the same thing in Asian and Mexican supermarkets.

Print
Authentic Cajun Crawfish Dip
Prep Time
5 mins
 
Ingredients
  • 1 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/3 cup ketchup
  • 1 tsp crawfish boil seasoning
Instructions
  1. Mix all ingredients together. Taste as you go to add more seasoning if desired. If you find it getting too salty, you can try supplementing Low Sodium Tony Chachere's.

Farewell to Don Japanese food truck

I was planning on writing a review this week of my favorite food truck, Don Japanese. Sadly, last Wednesday I learned that they were permanently closing down by Friday. They didn’t give details as to why but their cryptic Facebook posts suggest that it’s because they are planning on opening a brick and mortar.

At first glance, they certainly seem successful enough to do it. Let’s take a look at the line:

Huge line at Don Japanese food truckThat was three weeks ago. On their last week as a food truck, the line wrapped around the entire truck lot. This is a great example of what we call the Franklin Question: does it have a line because it’s popular, or is it popular because it has a line? The answer to that question could determine the future of their restaurant, when they no longer have this level of hype to sustain them.

The food truck had a lot of advantages. It was cheap–you could get a full meal for $5 and upgrading it with extras like avocado or tempura barely bumped up the price. The location was great for food at that price point. Notice all the booksacks in the line. Probably 95% of the customers are students. Will their physical location be close enough to west campus to take advantage of their existing fan base?Photo of a playing card next to a bottle of water on a picnic table

Other elements made it a perfect fit for West Campus. There’s a friendly and hot server, a quirky social media presence, and the opportunity for students to practice Japanese. On any given day, you can find several customers practicing their kanji on phone apps during the long wait, then ordering politely in Japanese once they get up to the window. This surely can’t be sustained in a brick and mortar where the owners can no longer wait on each customer. Alas, I will miss how they always knew what I wanted even if I barely visited once a week. I will also miss having my order tracked by playing cards–hopefully they can keep that in their new incarnation.

I’m only now getting to the most important part of it all–the food. A don bowl is rice with some protein and sauce on top, and who doesn’t like that combination? It appeals to everyone. To me, though, fried tofu, rice, and avocado is my Plationic ideal of a meal. I would eat there every day if it weren’t for the line. If I wanted to switch things up–but why would I?!–I could add an onsen egg, a korokke, or spicy sauce. I could take any friend there and know they would find something they like. Where in West Campus will I get my fried tofu and rice fix now (… well, besides Coco’s!)?

I’m excited to see what the Don guys achieve once “the phoenix rises from the ashes.”

QBert from side of old arcade machine

Broken thumb — more updates soon!

I fractured or broke my right thumb a week ago, and now after a week of not resting it, it’s unusable. I am chicken-pecking out this post and am unable to finish up the longer posts I was working on. I’m still available on Instagram, though, so check me out @patioweatheratx. Hopefully after rest I can post about the last days of Don Japanese food truck and the recipes I’ve created for my friend Luke’s annual crawfish boil.

cropped_katy_purry

Citizen Eatery

A vegetarian, semi-paleo restaurant doesn’t seem like the place to stop by for a nightcap, but Brentwood is a cocktail desert so we decided to try it out.  They have a full but limited bar—curated would be a better term. One smokey Mezcal. No St. Germain but they do carry house-made elderflower liqueur. It’s a place where you must put your trust in the hands of the bartender.

Talking to the bartender at a place where no one is expected to sit at the bar is a tricky proposition. Will he welcome the companionship, or does he have this job precisely because it allows him to mix drinks in peace? In this case, it seemed to be the former. He was a pleasant guy to spend the evening with, giving us the history of various spirits, showing off his homemade habanero shrub, and performing magic tricks.

[aux_quote type=”pullquote-normal” text_align=”left” extra_classes=””]”What kind of wizardry is this!?” my friend asked.[/aux_quote] [aux_quote type=”pullquote-normal” text_align=”left”  extra_classes=””]”Dark wizardry,” he said. [/aux_quote]

It was a better time than I would have ever expected from a place that floats carrots, fat as a baby’s leg, in jars of water and calls it ‘decor’.

The drinks erred on the side of being too floral or sweet—maple syrup was a common ingredient—but impolitic amounts of whiskey made it worthwhile. The bartender has such a way with whiskey that his bestseller is The Imposter, which is not so much a drink as a fortune telling session that ends in you getting pleasantly buzzed. On the menu it is described as the “mystery whiskey concoction of the day”, but each is handcrafted for the drinker after a short quiz on personal tastes. It’s the kind of thing keeping their short cocktail menu from growing stale.

Farewell Citizen Eatery, we shall see you again.

Afro-Vegan Cover

Afro-Vegan: Bridging Traditions

Vegan cuisine lacks tradition.

There are examples of veganism or extreme vegetarianism going back to as far as ancient Greece and India, but most cases represent isolated individuals, not a lineage. There are few rare examples of near vegan cuisine being culturally sustained–Shojin Ryori and multiple Indian foodways for instance–but those are exceptions in the gastronomic world. Instead, veganism is more often associated with eschewing what came before, a deliberate turning away from a culture that shares different values.

As a result, most vegan cookbooks are instructional. The average reader is statistically probably unfamiliar with vegan cookery and in fact may have never had to prepare their own meals before, coming from a culture where meat-laden dishes can be delivered or picked up from a drive-thru. It is risky for a vegan cookbook to dive deeply rather than pan broadly, to presume even basic kitchen skills. This means we are treated less often to rich and uncompromising works like the beautiful and omnivorous Burma: Rivers of Flavor or Gran Cocina Latina.

Bryant Terry has always resisted these trends in modern veganism, seeking to ground his food in history, even an omnivorous history. Starting with Vegan Soul Kitchen, he has linked his recipes to family stories, century old traditions, and modern cinema and music. In his latest work, Afro-Vegan he goes further than ever. He maintains the habit of suggesting other cultural works like songs to tie into each recipe, and of “remixing” classic recipes with new twists, such as combining Southern skillet cornbread with North African dukkah. Unlike his past books, however, he goes further in emphasizing the linkages between what he cooks, traditional African American foodways, and the cuisines of Africa.

The book organization shows his emphasis on African and New World ingredients. “Okra, Black-eyed Peas, and Watermelon” get lumped together in one chapter, while “Grits, Grains, and Couscous” share another. Every recipe showcases some element of African cuisine but no recipe seems explicitly foreign. Terry reworks every ingredient or technique until it fits our modern expectations. Okra is grilled to make a spicy finger food, African black eyed pea fritters appear in a more traditional form and as softer patties for sliders. A whole chapter is devoted to cocktails, demonstrating that this is not intended to be a manual to recreate some kind of authentic African experience, but rather to incorporate tiny bits of tradition into modern life.

Terry does not talk down to his audience or spend much time explaining what’s needed in a pantry or how to deep fry. Because of this, he doesn’t need to water down his vision. Every dish works in concert, delivering a pitch perfect demonstration of Terry’s style. Sometimes this requires uncompromising instructions. Making Slow-braised Mustard Greens–which I would usually toss into one pot and call it a day–requires one pot and two pans, but the result is the creamiest mustard greens I’ve ever had. Za’atar Roasted Red Potatoes included more steps than I would expect from roasted potatoes–including taking the potatoes out halfway through to re-season, then laying each piece back on the baking sheet “cut side up”–but my boyfriend declared them, “the best anything. Ever.” The specifications may seem particular, but in each case Terry reassures that this is worth it. When describing how to meticulously remove the skin from every black-eyed pea used in Crunchy Bean and Okra Fritters, he suggests inviting guests to help. Even in the preparation, he manages to work in ways to make vegan food more about community building than dividing, furthering the book’s message.

Bryant Terry’s Afro-Vegan is one of the few vegan cookbooks I own that both explores a cuisine deeply while elevating it to new heights. It’s one that I’ll grab when I need inspiration for something new and exciting, as well as the one I’ll dog ear and bring to Louisiana on family visits. Hopefully other chefs will be inspired as well, and we can further the cause of integrating veganism into our communities and family histories.

Cover of Soup's On

Soup’s On!

Soup’s On by the 30-Minute Vegan–a.k.a. Mark Reinfeld–is pretty much what’s described on the tin: a variety of soup recipes all designed to be completed under thirty minutes. Soups are known for being fairly simple to make and for gaining flavor through time; here the simplicity is preserved and time saved by listing the flavor developing steps as “optional”.

The first chapter, “The Art of Soup Creation”, concerns how to make a soup, the kind of basic cooking instruction that beginning home cooks need and I wish more cookbooks provided. The usually cited foundational techniques for building flavor are skimmed over, however. Instead the focus is on using recipes as a template, explaining how to take a soup recipe, break it down into its requisite parts, then rebuild it with different ingredients. The book ends with another instructional chapter on soup finishing techniques, including recipes for garnishes like Vegan Crème FraÎche and Candied Pepitas as well as a few sides including ‘Cosmic Cornbread’ and Herbed Bread Sticks. Intervening chapters are organized by type of soup, such as “Creamy Blended Soups” and “Soups and Stews with Grains, Legumes, and Pasta”.

In addition to the recipe chapters, the book contains multiple appendices of varying usefulness. There are seasonal growing charts, but which climate zone they apply to is unknown, and the relevance of gardening in a book that implies 5 minutes can’t be spared to brown an onion is unclear. Another appendix contains a call to action against GMOs (the book is full of unsubstantiated health claims that seem out of place). More useful is a chart showing recommended soaking times of nuts and another chart showing measurement equivalencies for different natural sweeteners, allowing you to easily substitute agave nectar or brown rice syrup for sugar in any recipe. This is the kind of information that allows beginners to feel more confident in a kitchen, which seem appropriate to a book like this.

Less instructional are the recipes themselves. Everything I tried tasted delicious, especially a cauliflower soup that tasted like a velvety vegan cheese sauce. Producing that deliciousness, however, required me to make many judgement calls. Each recipe lists a few optional ingredients and cooking methods. In some cases the ‘optional’ method felt vital to me so I went with it, and I can’t be sure what the result would be for a novice following the bare bones version of each recipe. The recipe for Indian Chutney Stew with Tamarind, for instance, begins with pouring vegetable stock in a pot and then tossing in a slew of raw vegetables to boil. The main ingredient, tamarind paste, was to be one to three tablespoons. For such a pungent ingredient and the main flavor component of the dish, I would have appreciated a more specific suggestion. Meanwhile, adding a sweetener to balance the sourness of the tamarind was listed as optional. I found the soup almost inedible without this ‘optional’ ingredient. By following the ‘variations’ that involved sautéing the vegetables first, as well as adding some agave nectar, I ended with a delicious soup. The result was fantastic, but the recipe as written would not be something that I would recommend.

The target of this book appears to be inexperienced home cooks, but such cooks would be better served by learning more traditional ways of building flavor rather than how to throw things in a pot and boil them according to a recipe. If you are looking for some quick but tasty soup suggestions, I would recommend this book only in exchange for a promise to always take the 5 extra minutes to follow the optional instructions.

Cover of Pok Pok

Pok Pok

“Kill the crab.”

So begins one of the recipes in Pok Pok, the cookbook spinoff of Andy Ricker’s eponymous Portland restaurant specializing in Northern Thai cuisine. Ricker doesn’t shy away from the fact that this cookbook is for the committed, for those ready to learn how to kill a crab before dinner. Even if you choose to start with your ingredients already incapacitated, you will still be in for an evening of work. Making your own curry paste is a given since the paste is the central flavoring component of most dishes. Ricker demands more than just making the paste by hand; he describes the two different types of mortar and pestles that you should buy to do so. You will have to track down not only the infamous live crabs, but also blood and banana leaves. Substitutions are frowned upon.

Ricker understands what he is asking, and in the introductory materials he reassures the reader several times that this is necessary. “Some dishes can’t be replicated at home with concessions to convenience,” he warns. If you do adapt the dishes to the point of being unrecognizable, he will sigh, but understand, because he “wouldn’t be upset if it simply helped you make great food at home.” In testing these recipes, I tried to follow the instructions as closely as seemed reasonable. I didn’t go out and buy a mortar and pestle; I used my coffee grinder. My grocer didn’t have fresh Chinese noodles so I settled for dried; which led to extra complication and a small disaster later when I had to separately fry some, but that was my own fault. Even after making adjustments to the recipes to make it easier for me as a home cook, my testing companion and I still found it to be quite a lot of work.

When we sat down to eat our hard earned meal, all our suffering was redeemed. Everything was unbelievably delicious. I don’t think I’ve tested another cookbook where every single dish I tried was “Oh Em Geeeeeee!” good. This became the type of meal where dinner conversation disappears after the first bite and all you can hear is slurping and burping. The Khao Soi Kai, a coconut-based curry from the Ching Mai province, was rich and fragrant. The fried egg salad caused great skepticism as we were preparing it. The proportions of greens and eggs seemed off; the dressing tasted too spicy to eat. When it all came together, it turned out that Ricker was exactly right about everything and we were wrong to doubt. The stir fried water spinach was so delicious we fought over who would have the last serving. The sauce used in that recipe is going to become my default stir fry sauce from here on out. This might have been one of the tastiest dinners I’ve ever cooked in my tiny apartment kitchen.

Going into this book expecting the immersive education experience of a culinary tour guide book like Burma: Rivers of Flavor may lead to disappointment. Ricker editorializes too often, compromises too little. If you approach this cookbook as you might a celebrity chef’s manifesto instead, with a little humility and a lot of determination, you will benefit more from the experience, and the delicious smells of Northern Thailand wafting about your kitchen will be your rewards.

Cover of The Joy of Vegan Baking

VeganMofo: The Joy of Vegan Baking

For the month of September, this blog will be devoted to VeganMofo. Tune in while I provide short reviews of some of my favorite, and least favorite, vegan cookbooks.

The Joy of Vegan Baking seeks to demonstrate that being vegan is not “limiting” by presenting veganized versions of many “familiar favorites”. There are chocolate chip cookies, cornbread, rolls, cobblers and just about any other standard baked good that you can think of. All of the recipes are presented in the kind and encouraging words of Colleen Patrick-Goudreau, better known for her inspirational “Food for Thought” podcast. Unfortunately, most of the recipes are lackluster. Anyone with a basic knowledge of how to use egg replacer or flaxseeds in baking–easily learned from the Internet–could then employ those tricks on their own in typical recipes. In a world full of cooking blogs and websites like food.com, I’m not really convinced that even new vegans need a cookbook to teach them to make chocolate chip cookies.

Cover of book Viva Vegan

VeganMofo: Viva Vegan!

For the month of September, this blog will be devoted to VeganMofo. Tune in while I provide short reviews of some of my favorite, and least favorite, vegan cookbooks.

Viva Vegan! is Terry Hope Romero’s attempt to teach vegans that there’s more to Latin vegan cooking than swapping out the cheese on your enchiladas with Daiya. It does succeed at introducing a variety of yummy Latin foods that readers may not have experienced before, such as llapingachos, an Ecuadorean dish that combines potatoes and peanut sauce, and–a favorite in my house–arepas. Veganizing these dishes is a more difficult task in a cuisine that relies so heavily on meat for flavoring. Rather than just swapping out meat for seitan, Romero offers creative suggestions for fillings in empanadas and arepas, and yes, great preparation ideas for seitan.

The dessert chapter is definitely the most valuable part of the book. I made a Cafe con Leche flan and didn’t have to spend a week experimenting with the amount of agar to use. For the savory dishes, I will probably keep Presilla’s Gran Cocina Latin by my side and veganize them myself. For the sweets, however, I’ll be glad to turn to Viva Vegan! every time and let Romero do the work for me.

Cover of the book "The Asian Vegan Kitchen"

VeganMofo: The Asian Vegan Kitchen

For the month of September, this blog will be devoted to VeganMofo. Tune in while I provide short reviews of some of my favorite, and least favorite, vegan cookbooks. 

Quick one today since my cat wants snuggles and I’m not one to deny her.

Today’s book is The Asian Vegan Kitchen by Hema Parekh. Parekh gives a sampling of recipes from around Asia. She covers better known cuisines like Indian and Chinese, but also devotes chapters to underappreciated areas like Malaysia and Burma. The recipes are all accessible to home cooks, with surprisingly few ingredients that couldn’t be found in an ordinary grocery store. In some cases, this accessibility means toning down the authenticity, but in this case I appreciate it. Books that focus on presenting a truly authentic view of a country like Burma: Rivers of Flavor or Pok Pok are often ‘special occasion’ books, for those weekends where you want to spend all day in the grocery store and all evening tinkering away in the kitchen. The Asian Vegan Kitchen is truly a weeknight, home cooking kind of book, with many of the recipes coming from her own weeknight repertoire.

This book is an especially interesting specimen of vegan cookbook because she does not harp on the fact that she is veganizing often very fishy meals. Some swaparoos are obvious, like the teriyaki tofu steak. In other cases, she just picks naturally vegan or “all but the fish sauce” dishes, like the delicious Japanese Braised Onions and Potatoes. In this sense, the book is very much like The Mediterranean Vegan Kitchen.

Not every cookbook needs to be full color or elaborate. Some just need to be useful, and this book definitely falls into that category.