At the Stove with Chef Ricky Moore: Fish & Grits

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“Many folks don’t like seafood because it tastes “fishy,” says chef Ricky Moore. “People often define oily fish like mackerel or butterfish as a fishy fish. I like to coach people. No it's not fishy, it’s full of flavor.” 

Ricky’s had this conversation time and time again, but it’s the savory, spicy seafood he serves from the Saltbox Seafood Joint that does the persuading. 

Saltbox has become the Triangle's go-to spot for dependable, fresh local seafood, but rarely will you see tuna or dolphin on it’s menu. Instead, Ricky introduces greater Durham to the likes of lesser-consumed North Carolina bonefish like croaker, spot, and mullet. Some people balk at this “trash” fish, but Ricky’s convinced seafood eaters will love it if they just give it a chance.

“I believe if you say you are a lover of seafood then you are open minded to what that is. Try it and see. Don’t cut yourself short because you’re used to eating a certain way. Just try it.”

For nearly four years, Ricky Moore’s been working against the tide to transform the way Triangle residents think about seafood. His commitment to and enthusiasm for serving a range of lesser-known bonefish and unusual species is redefining how people think about where seafood comes from and how it’s prepared.

Reared in a frugal household that valued every part of the fish, Ricky embraces diverse seafood and opening people’s minds to new possibilities. He transforms what many consider “trash” fish into mouthwatering delicacies by marrying a variety of spices and experimenting with preparation.

“Folks are culturally conditioned to eat things filleted and [then there’s] the trauma of bonefish and getting choked. Slowly but surely I’ve been able to introduce people [to new seafood] [by] changing the dynamic of dishes.”

Fried and broiled aren’t your only options at Saltbox. “I grew up having bonefish fried, [but now] I do croaker and spot and butterfish and hogfish grilled. Now we are changing the dynamic of the dish. I try to do different things to attract people. Slowly but surely people are coming around. I think I’ve been successful in inspiring people to go outside of what they normally eat,” says Ricky.

This week, Ricky brings us a twist on the classic Southern staple, shrimp and grits, using jumping mullet. “Fish and grits were a favorite in my family. It was grits, fish, biscuits and molasses. You would fry the fish and take the fish grease, pour that in the grits and pour in molasses and then dip the biscuit and the fish together. That was the meal. That was the before lunch sort of thing,” says Ricky. 

This week, expand your palate with Ricky’s fish & grits. 


Recipe by Ricky Moore, Chef and Owner, Saltbox Seafood Joint 2016



4-6 Jumbo Mullet fillets
2 teaspoons black pepper
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon paprika
2 tablespoons hot sauce
1 tablespoon yellow mustard
1 egg beaten
2 cup corn flour
3 cups of canola or vegetable oil
1 bunch sage leaves
4 oz sliced jowls 

1 cup Grits
3 cups of chicken broth
1 cup of heavy cream
1 cup of water
1 stick of butter
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated
a few dashes of hot sauce



Serves 4


To prepare the grits, heat all the liquid ingredients in a stock pot over high heat, add butter and seasonings, when mixture comes to a boil, slowly stir in grits, while whisking non stop for 2 minutes, reduce heat to low, cover grits and cook stirring occasionally for about 30 minutes.

Brown slice jowl in a pan on medium high heat until crispy. Set aside. 

Add extra broth to thin grits if needed. Stir in cheeses and hot sauce whisk well.

To prepare the fish, mix seasonings into a small bowl, divide. Rinse fish in cold water, pat dry. Cut fish into 1/2 inch strips.  

Place fish on flat surface to season. Season the fish on one side with half of the seasonings. Lightly toss seasoned fish so the seasoning is evenly distributed. Add beaten egg, hot sauce and mustard to fish. Mix lightly and set aside.

Add corn flour (corn flour) to a brown paper bag or freezer bag season with remaining seasonings shake to mix up. 

Heat oil to 350 degrees using a cooking thermometer if you don’t own one then do it the way my mother taught me. Take a little bit of corn flour, drop it in the oil, if the corn flour starts to fry quickly and floats to the top, the oil is ready.

Shake loose excess corn flour as you lift fish out to place in fryer.

 Fry fish 7-8 minutes until golden brown and flaky to touch. At the last minute drop the sage leave in the oil for 3 seconds just to crisp up.

Lift fish and sage out with strainer and place on paper towel to assist with draining.

Spoon grits into a warm bowl place fish on top and garnish with the jowls and sage.


Visit Ricky and his team at Saltbox Seafood Joint Tuesday through Saturday 11 AM - 7PM, or until the fish runs out. For daily specials and seasonal features, like Saltbox Seafood Joint on Facebook.


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