Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Easy, elegant shrimp de Jonghe

For years, I have made and loved shrimp de Jonghe.  Buttery, garlicky bread crumbs mixed with shallot and herbs, layered with small shrimp and a good splash of sherry, this classic recipe is easy and impressive every time.  True Chicago cuisine, the ingredients come together in a magical alchemy that entices everyone to the kitchen with an irresistible aroma, and enchants everyone at the table especially if it's served as an appetizer portion in scallop shells.

Original photo taken by CG

Accredited to Henri De Jonghe, one of three brothers who later owned the DeJonghe Hotel in the Loop during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, shrimp de Jonghe was part of the signature cuisine of the original De Jonghe Brothers restaurant.  Some say that Henri's long-time chef, Emile Zehr, was the creator of this delectable concoction, but history is murky here, as it often is when culinary miracles occur and two chef's egos are on the line.  In any event, the original recipe for shrimp de Jonghe remained a secret long after De Jonghe and Zehr died, although versions of it have appeared in many incarnations for over a decade.

Sources also indicate that the De Jonghe brothers' restaurant originally opened on Chicago's South Side in time for the 1892 World's Columbian Exposition, had a successful debut, moved to the basement of the Masonic Temple in downtown Chicago, then later relocated in the heart of the famous Loop.

Aerial view of the Columbian Exposition (Chicago World's Fair) in 1893.  Photo: public domain.
The restaurant in the De Jonghe Hotel soon became the "in" place to dine and its fame was widely known.  The establishment flourished until a Prohibition agent posing as "a traveling man from Boston" visited during the summer of 1923 and arranged to buy, with the help of hotel manager James T. Hickey (himself no stranger to the inside of a police station), 3 pint bottles of whiskey from the head waiter.  A raid ensued, 30 cases of liquor were seized and De Jonghe's was padlocked, never to reopen again.  For more information on this turn-of-the-century hotel and restaurant (and yet another approximation of the original recipe for shrimp de Jonghe), see this article from the 27 January 1985 edition of the Chicago Tribune.

The De Jonghe Hotel and Restaurant  c. 1910 from John Chuckman

Although I am sad that the De Jonghe Hotel and Restaurant are no longer to be enjoyed, I am grateful for the one enduring culinary treasure associated with them--and for their part in making some colorful history during Prohibition.  Shrimp de Jonghe is truly a timeless dish, but serve it with sparkling wine in a vintage coupe and voila!  You're in the dining room of the Hotel De Jonghe making eyes with that sheik across the room.

Using a vintage hollow-stem coupe convinces me I've had another life as a flapper...

Recently, I paired shrimp de Jonghe with an absinthe-based cocktail in an absinthe tasting.  I took one of my favorite renditions of shrimp de Jonghe (from The New Doubleday Cookbook) and ramped up the anise profile by increasing the tarragon called for in the recipe and substituting Pernod for the sherry.  As I said before, use those cute little scallop shells as part of your presentation and you'll have your guests eating out of your hand, er shell.

Shrimp de Jonghe with Pernod

     Shellfish and anise are a natural combination.  If you can't get Pernod, any high-quality pastis or anise-flavored liqueur that is not too sugary will work.  This recipe is adapted from The Doubleday Cookbook.  Fresh herbs are what make this work so beautifully--don't skimp.

1 cup unsalted butter, liquified
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 shallots, minced (or substitute 2 scallions, minced)
1 Tbs. minced parsley
1 Tbs. minced chives
1/2 tsp. minced tarragon leaves
1/4 tsp. dried marjoram leaves
1/8 tsp. freshly ground nutmeg
4 cups soft white bread crumbs, divided
2 Tbs. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 to 2 Tbs. Pernod, plus enough water to equal 1/3 cup liquid
3 cups cooked and peeled small cocktail shrimp, about 1 lb. (I often thaw out and use the frozen variety called Pacific Seafood, which you can find at most HEBs, because they're the perfect size for this dish)

Special equipment: scallop shells for baking, approx. 5" across (you can find them on sites such as this one), or use 4" individual ramekins

1.)  Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2.)  If you are using scallop shells, you'll need a couple of baking trays filled with rock salt, or  about three 12-cup muffin tins to balance the shells on while they're in the oven.  If you're using individual ramekins, butter the insides well and place them on a baking tray.
3.)  Cream together by hand the liquified butter, garlic, shallots, herbs and nutmeg until well-blended.
4.)  Mix in 3 cups of bread crumbs, lemon juice and Pernod.
5.)  Layer seasoned bread crumbs and shrimp in shells or ramekins, starting and ending with a layer of crumbs.
5.)  Divide remaining crumbs evenly over the top of each shell or ramekin.
6.)  Bake for 20 minutes, or until topping is lightly browned and mixure is heated through.  Makes about 10-12 appetizer portions.

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