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When did you last DeJonghe?

Shrimp deJonghe (Photo ©2008 by Leah A. Zeldes.)

Shrimp deJonghe (Photo by Leah A. Zeldes.)

When was the last time you ate shrimp DeJonghe? Among the dishes invented in Chicago, shrimp DeJonghe gets perhaps the least attention, yet this scrumptious dish has the oldest pedigree of any of Chicago’s special recipes.

Brothers Pierre, Henri and Charles DeJonghe came to Chicago from Belgium in 1891 and opened a restaurant at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. They went on to operate several restaurants, among them the popular DeJonghe’s Hotel and Restaurant at 12 E. Monroe St., extant from 1899 to 1923. It was there shrimp DeJonghe was created, possibly by their chef, Emil Zehr.

It may seem odd that a seafood dish would be Chicago’s oldest specialty, but just as today, O’Hare Airport makes Chicago an important transportation hub, with fresh fish and shellfish flown in fresh from around the world, in the 19th and early 20th century, railroads rushed fresh Gulf shrimp on ice to the city.

Classic DeJonghe is a luscious casserole of plump shrimp doused in garlic butter and sherry, blanketed with a velvety layer of garlic- and sherry-infused breadcrumbs, and then baked till it sizzles and a crispy crust forms around the ramekin.

Today, you will find shrimp DeJonghe at a variety of Chicago restaurants, ranging from seafood spots to steakhouses to Italian eateries to casual taverns, among them Hugo’s Frog Bar & Fish House on the Gold Coast, Petterino’s in the Loop and Sabatino’s in Irving Park.

It’s a delicious dish that deserves much more appreciation.