The past few days have been rough for me emotionally and even more so for this country. I haven’t seen so much destruction in my entire life. While crazy, I can understand the frustration the black community feels. I can’t imagine what it’s like to be persecuted from the day I am born just because of my skin color. The past few days have given me a lot to think about. In times where I am at a loss of how to feel and what to say, I turn to food. To me, food is not only a reflection of our culture but of the world we live in. So I wanted to create a recipe that personified the best of the US. Of what I know the US be. That’s where this Vietnamese Cajun Shrimp Toast came from. If you want to help George Floyd’s family with their funeral expenses, go here to donate.
What is Vietnamese Cajun (Viet-Cajun) food?
Vietnamese Cajun food is a fusion of Vietnamese and Cajun cuisine, and is found in the southern United States. After the Vietnam war, many Vietnamese immigrants came to the US and settled along the Gulf Coast. They chose to settle there because it reminded them of home with its warm, humid weather and thriving seafood industry.
Viet-Cajun cuisine is characterized by cajun spices mixed with Asian aromatics and spices. Common Vietnamese ingredients used in these dishes are ginger, garlic paste, and Asian chilis. One city that has a strong Viet-Cajun food scene is Houston, Texas. Crawfish & Noodles is a restaurant in Houston that specializes in Viet-Cajun dishes. One of their signature dishes is Viet-Cajun crawfish that is basically a crawfish boil with Vietnamese and Cajun ingredients.
Part of what make Vietnamese and Cajun cuisine such a natural fusion is their French origins. Cajun cuisine originated along the gulf coast which used to be a French colony before Thomas Jefferson purchased it with the Louisiana Purchase. Vietnam was also a French colony up until 1954.
Ingredients, Substitutions & Adjustments
- Shrimp – Shrimp is the core protein of this dish. You can use any kind of shrimp for this recipe. I would recommend using raw shrimp if you can find it because it has better flavor.
- Cajun Seasoning – Cajun seasoning is a mixture of salt, pepper, paprika, onion powder, oregano, cayenne pepper, and various other spices. Thankfully, cajun seasoning is pretty accessible and can be found in most grocery stores.
- Ancho chili powder – Ancho is a slightly sweet chili pepper from Mexico. I love how it’s not too spicy. Good substitutes of ancho chili powder are red chili flakes and paprika.
- Ground ginger – Ground ginger helps give more balance to the marinade. Fresh ginger also works for this marinade.
- Lemongrass – Adds a slightly sour taste to the shrimp. If you don’t have lemongrass, use 1 tablespoon of lime juice. If you use lime juice, don’t marinate the shrimp for more than 30 minutes because the acid from the citrus will start to break down the shrimp.
- Vegetable oil – Helps coat the shrimp in the marinade.
- Garlic – Adds more flavor to the marinade,
- Sake – Adds more flavor to the shrimp. A good substitute for sake is white wine, and you can drink it after cooking!
- Unsalted butter – I would highly recommend using unsalted butter because it helps you control the amount of salt in your dish.
- Baguette – You can use pretty much any kind of bread for this recipe. I like using a baguette because it’s a sturdy bread that can hold up the shrimp.
- Lime – Adds brightness to shrimp. If you don’t have lime, use a lemon instead.
- Cilantro – An optional topping for extra flavor.
Making my Vietnamese Cajun Shrimp Toast
First prepare your marinade. Combine cajun seasoning, ancho chili powder, ground ginger, minced lemongrass, and vegetable oil in a small bowl. Mix until well incorporated. Add the shrimp to the bowl and coat with the marinade. Marinate for 10 minutes. While the shrimp is marinating, toast the bread. Smear some butter on one side of the bread and toast for ~5 minutes. This time will vary based on the thickness of your bread.
Now it’s time to cook your shrimp. Heat a large nonstick pan over medium high heat. Add in the shrimp. Cook for ~1 minute on each side. Add in the garlic and cook for 20 seconds until it looks shiny. Lastly, add in the butter and sake. Cook until the butter melts and the alcohol has burned off. Remove from the heat. Spoon shrimp over toasted bread. Top with a squeeze of lime juice and a sprinkle of minced cilantro. Enjoy!
Tips on how to make the perfect Vietnamese Cajun Shrimp Toast
- Smack the lemongrass to release the flavor – The key to getting the best flavor out of lemongrass is to smack it a few times with the back of your knife.
- How do you know the alcohol has burned off? – When you add the sake to the shrimp, it’s important to cook it until the alcohol has burned off, so there isn’t an intense alcoholic flavor when you eat the toast. The easiest way to know if the alcohol has burned off is to smell it! If it doesn’t smell of alcohol anymore, the alcohol has burned off.
- Toast the bread – The fluffy center of bread tends to break down under the weight of wet toppings. That’s why it’s important to toast the bread first before placing the shrimp on it. This rule applies to any bread/wet topping combination.
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Vietnamese Cajun Shrimp Toast
- Combine cajun seasoning, ancho chili powder, minced lemongrass, ground ginger, and vegetable oil in a small bowl. Mix until well incorporated.
- Add the shrimp to the bowl and coat with the marinade. Marinate for 10 minutes.
- While the shrimp is marinating, toast the bread. Smear butter on one side of the bread and toast until golden brown (~5 minutes). The timing will vary based on the thickness of your bread.
- Heat a large nonstick pan over medium high heat. Add in the shrimp and marinade. Cook the shrimp for ~1 minutes on each side.
- Next add in the sliced garlic and cook for 20 seconds.
- Lastly, add in the butter and sake. Cook for another minute until the butter melts and the alcohol has burned off. Remove the shrimp from the heat.
- Now it's time to assemble your toast. Spoon the shrimp over the toasted bread. Finish it off with a squeeze of lime juice and minced cilantro.