Saltbox Seafood Joint Cookbook Launch
Tuesday, October 15, 6 p.m., free
Motorco Music Hall, Durham
Where can I get a good fish sandwich?” When chef Ricky Moore realized he didn’t have an answer to that question posed by his wife, Norma, he created her ideal sandwich instead. If you’ve ever had one of Saltbox Seafood Joint’s fish sandwiches—lightly dredged and seasoned local fish, fried till golden and piled on to a roll with coleslaw and tartar sauce—you have Norma’s vision to thank. It was the catalyst for Moore’s beloved Durham restaurant, Saltbox Seafood Joint, a contemporary fish shack focused on doing one thing well: seasonal North Carolina seafood.
Norma also inspired Moore to memorialize his story in the Saltbox Seafood Joint Cookbook (University of North Carolina Press), which comes out on October 14. At the October 15 Motorco book launch, there will also be a special preview screening of The Hook, a half-hour UNC-TV special about Ricky Moore.
In the cookbook, fans get a glimpse into Moore’s path as a chef, from his childhood in the N.C. coastal town of New Bern and time as an art school hopeful to his time in the military and, of course, his illustrious culinary career.
Following Norma’s advice, Moore left the “chefdom” out of the book’s sixty recipes, in hopes that the recipes and techniques will make home cooks less intimidated by seafood. He also hopes that the book will preach the gospel of N.C. seafood.
“I’m speaking to it from a level of reverence the same way someone who grew up on the Mediterranean Sea in Provence speaks to it,” Moore says. “I want you to know that I’m proud of my seafood heritage. It’s important to recognize that North Carolina is not just a place that’s known for barbecue.”
In advance of the cookbook launch, the INDY caught up with Moore, who talks “cooking off the dome” and shares a recipe for an Eastern North Carolina-style clam chowder that’ll have you whipping out your apron and Dutch oven, stat.
INDY: Before you joined the military, you considered art school. You draw a natural parallel between the military and the kitchen; do you see a parallel between art and cooking?
RICKY MOORE: Absolutely. Art, in general, can be an organized activity, or it can be an improvisational activity. That’s the way I see art. And I tend to teeter on both of those. You have mise en place, [a culinary term for] things in its place; an artist must be mentally organized to be creative. I’m also a big hip-hop fan. You listen to a lot of classic old-school emcees; they were very improvisational. A lot of emcees were very off the cuff—off the dome is the term—so cooking is just that, too.
Writing a cookbook is new territory for you. What informed your approach?
I had to define my team, people who could coach me on how to approach this. [There are a] whole bunch of cookbook authors in my neighborhood in Chapel Hill; people like Bridgette Lacy, Nancie McDermott, Sheri Castle, and Bill Smith. I want to credit Marcie Cohen Ferris for helping me get the ball rolling [with UNC Press]. She wrote a book [Matzoh Ball Gumbo] about her Jewish heritage meeting Southern food. When I read the book, I sent her an email. This was about twelve years ago.
How have you made your recipes approachable for home cooks?
There are a lot of good stories that people can connect with. I broke it down into chapters and I’ve got specific categories, from an all-purpose dredge, to grilling and smoking, to a perfect hominy. I kept the recipes simple. I want people to take it as a base and maybe do their own riff on it. You want to keep it easy and always focus on where you’re sourcing from; the quality, seasonality, and freshness of it. There’s a hundred-and-one miles of coastline of native species that we should be eating and supporting.
You use the term native species. You devote a page in your book about not using the terms ‘trash fish’ or ‘ugly fish.’ Why is that problematic?
The term ‘trash’ marginalizes something important and natural. Just because the masses don’t know much about it doesn’t mean we should define it as such. There are native species that you find in different countries where it’s normal. The example I gave in the book is the rouget. That’s a small, bony redfish, but it’s the main ingredient in bouillabaisse broth. There’s a level of reverence when they talk about it. I want the same thing when folks from coastal Carolina talk about croaker, spot, hogfish, and butterfish. These are all bony, sustainable fish. Sheepshead is nowhere near trash fish. Lionfish, nowhere near trash fish. Triggerfish—no way. These are rockstar fish, man.
The One Pot section, which includes soups and chowders, has some great stories. Can you share more about the “Warsh”-Pot Fish Stew recipe?
[The wash pot] is the cast-iron cauldron that was used in a lot of family functions: family reunions, church gatherings, football parties. In coastal Eastern Carolina, everybody would have one when they would do a big function. It’s a means of feeding a bunch of people; it’s a scoop and serve situation.
It’s people cooking together, sharing stories, talking. I wanted to say “warsh” to reference the [Eastern North Carolina] vernacular and micro-regionality of the dish. Everyone has a different version. To me, boiled eggs, tomato, salt pork or bacon, those are mandatory ingredients. From a traditional standpoint, the whole fish goes in the pot. It’s served with white sandwich bread and it goes in a Styrofoam bowl. It’s very communal. I want people to think about that dish and think about community.
You also shared the recipe for your Hush-Honeys®. Did you feel like you had to include it?
I needed to put that in there. Obviously, I didn’t give out all the secrets. There’s no trademark in a recipe technically—you trademark a name or a title. As I move forward and hopefully put [Hush-Honeys®] in the frozen food section of supermarkets, I’m the only one who can use the name and market it as such.
You have a slate of events coming up, including a book launch event. What can fans look forward to?
It all depends on the event; a lot of times I’ll be doing more readings or Q&A sessions and signings. I’m going to do my best to make sure someone’s being fed, maybe a little sip of chowder, or a fish seasoning or seasoned flour to take home. But the idea is to always have something for people to eat. That’s important to me.
Core Sound Clam and Sweet Potato Chowder
Be sure to clean the clams vigorously and thoroughly. Sand and grit is unpleasant even in the best homemade chowder.
4 cups water
24 cherrystone (medium) clams, rinsed well and scrubbed clean
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
1/4 pound slab bacon or salt pork, diced
2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic
2 medium leeks, tops removed, halved, and cleaned, then sliced into half-moons
3 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into medium dice
1/2 cup dry white wine (such as Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc)
3 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
2 cups heavy cream
Freshly cracked black pepper
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
Set a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat, pour in the water, and add the clams. Cover and cook until the clams have opened, 10–15 minutes. Note: Discard any clams that fail to open after 15–20 minutes.
Strain the clam broth through a sieve lined with 2 layers of paper towels and set aside. Remove the clam meat from the shells and set aside.
Rinse out the pot, set it on the stove over medium-low heat, and melt the butter. Add the slab bacon or salt pork and cook, stirring occasionally, until the fat has rendered and the pork has started to brown. Remove the pork with a slotted spoon and set aside.
Add the garlic and leeks to the fat and cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are soft but not brown, about 10 minutes. Stir in the potatoes and wine and cook until the wine has evaporated and the potatoes have started to soften, about 5 minutes. Add just enough clam broth to cover the potatoes, approximately 3 cups, reserving the rest for another use. Add the thyme and bay leaf. Simmer, partially covered, until the potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes more.
Meanwhile, chop the clams into pieces about the size of the diced pork.
When the potatoes are tender, stir in the cream, chopped clams, and cooked pork. Season with black pepper. Bring the chowder to a simmer and then remove the pot from the heat. Discard the thyme and bay leaf. Allow the chowder to cure for about 10 minutes, reheating it to barely simmering before serving. Portion into deep bowls and garnish with the chopped parsley.
Adapted from SALTBOX SEAFOOD JOINT COOKBOOK by Ricky Moore. Copyright © 2019 Ricky Moore. Used by permission of the University of North Carolina Press.
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