A crawfish feast where the South meets East

Alexander Simpson and his family, are regulars at Crawfish & Noodles in Houston on March 10, 2021. Spring is turning into a comeback season at Crawfish & Noodles, a Houston restaurant famed for its Viet-Cajun style. (Photo: NYTimes)
In early March, a delivery truck carrying dozens of bags of live Louisiana crawfish arrived at Crawfish & Noodles. The restaurant, in a district known as Asiatown, is arguably Houston’s best-known purveyor of Viet Cajun crawfish. The style expands the flavor profile of traditional South Louisiana whole boiled crawfish, with modified spice blends and a twist developed by Vietnamese American chefs: a generous bath in seasoned butter sauce.اضافة اعلان

While Crawfish & Noodles serves its signature dish year-round, the restaurant is busiest in the spring, when crawfish are in season. Given how much business he lost during the shutdowns at the start of the pandemic last year, Trong Nguyen, owner and head chef, feared that the winter storms that ravaged Texas in February — and delayed the crawfish harvest in Louisiana — would cause similar harm this spring.

“I need the high season to get through the slow season,” he said. “Last year, we didn’t get that.”

But as the delivery arrived, Nguyen was confident that his connections to crawfish suppliers in Louisiana’s Cajun country would help him salvage the spring of 2021.

Restaurateurs across the country are tallying up the losses from a year of a rampant virus. In Asiatown, owners have also faced crippling winter weather and a rise in anti-Asian sentiment. For Nguyen, a haul of fresh crawfish is a welcome cause for optimism.

“These are called Grade A Select jumbo crawfish,” he said, resting his hand atop the three yellow mesh bags of live crustaceans at the rear of the truck.

February’s freeze iced over crawfish ponds in southwestern Louisiana and southeastern Texas, temporarily disrupting a harvest that traditionally spikes to meet increased demand during Lent. 

“This kind is not available to anyone else right now, because of the freeze,” he said.

Nicholas Yxtos carried one of the 36-pound bags into the kitchen and poured them onto a counter. He plucked and discarded the dead shellfish from the pile, pushing the rest into a sink full of water to soak.

Miguel Cotty, one of the chefs, was already preparing batches of crawfish for the dinner service, which had just started. The crawfish are boiled for three to seven minutes, depending on their size and the volume of the batch.

Cotty shook a powdered spice blend over an order and tossed it in a large metal bowl. He then poured several ladles of orange-red butter sauce over the crawfish and tossed it some more. He scooped the now-glossy crawfish into a smaller metal bowl for serving and topped them with three spice-dusted pieces of corn on the cob.

Nguyen, 51, was a teenager when his family moved to Houston from Vietnam. He first tasted whole boiled crawfish while working at a casino in Lake Charles, Louisiana. It was the classic Louisiana crawfish boil, with a salty, cayenne-charged kick.

“It was something I liked to eat, because it’s spicy,” he said.

Viet Cajun crawfish emerged in Houston in the early 2000s. Nguyen opened Crawfish & Noodles with relatives in 2008, and since then has changed the spice blend and sauce recipe several times. For special events, he said, he occasionally uses a spice blend that includes ginger and lemongrass, a combination commonly found at Viet Cajun crawfish places in the Gulf Coast region and in California, where the style is also popular. But garlic, onion, cayenne, lemon pepper, and butter are the dominant flavors in his recipe.

Jim Gossen, a retired local restaurateur and seafood distributor, recalls trying the butter-coated crawfish for the first time at Crawfish & Noodles, not long after it opened.

“They were really good, and really, really rich,” said Gossen, 72, who helped introduce traditional boiled crawfish to the Houston market in the early 1980s. “I have no proof, but I would venture to say that today they sell more crawfish in Houston than in Louisiana.”

Last year, Nguyen was a finalist for the James Beard Foundation award for Best Chef: Texas (though the foundation decided not to announce the winners).

“We have a phenomenal amount of tourists coming in from all over the place,” Nguyen said. “People drag in suitcases, directly from the airport.”

Wearing a glove to sample one of his just-cooked crawfish, he tore off a tail and bit into the severed head, then sucked. It’s the best way, he said, to taste the spices blended with the butter and juices of the shellfish.

At an adjacent table, Andrew Duong was eating his second meal at Crawfish & Noodles in a week. Duong, 27, was visiting from Chicago, where he said he runs a restaurant that also specializes in Viet Cajun crawfish. It’s a measure of how far the style has spread beyond the Gulf Coast, parts of Georgia, and California in recent years.

“It’s booming up in Chicago,” he said. “But it’s not like down here, where you see crawfish everywhere.”

Spiced salmon with snap peas


4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, finely grated or minced
1 teaspoon baharat spice blend, or use another warm and earthy spice blend, such as garam masala
4 (6- to 8-ounce) salmon fillets
Kosher salt and black pepper
2 medium red onions
1 pound sugar snap peas (4 cups)
Lime wedges
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro or mint leaves and tender stems


Step 1: Heat oven to 200 degrees. In a small bowl, stir together 1 tablespoon oil, garlic, and baharat. Season salmon all over with salt and black pepper. Rub spice mixture all over salmon. Set salmon aside while slicing the onions and sugar snap peas.

Step 2: Cut the onions in half root-to-stem, then peel them and slice into 1/4-inch-thick half-moons. Trim the peas and cut them in half crosswise.

Step 3: In a large, preferably nonstick ovenproof skillet, heat 2 tablespoons oil over high heat. Add fish, skin-side down if there’s skin, and cook until browned, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer salmon to a plate, browned-side up. (Don’t sear the other side; the salmon will finish cooking in the oven.)

Step 4: Reduce heat to medium and add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the skillet. Stir in onions and cook until lightly golden, 3 minutes. Add snap peas and a pinch each of salt and pepper, stirring everything to coat with pan juices. Cook until peas have softened and browned slightly, 5 to 7 minutes. Put salmon, browned-side up, on top of peas and transfer pan to the oven. Roast until fish is just cooked through, 5 to 8 minutes longer.

Step 5: Squeeze a little lime juice over salmon and transfer fish to serving plates. Stir herbs into peas and onions. Taste, and add more salt and lime juice, if needed. Serve with the salmon, with the lime wedges on the side.