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Seafood means more than fried flounder and shrimp to chef Ricky Moore. For a man who's made a name for himself through seafood, it should. To Ricky, seafood is about about heritage.
Ricky grew up fishing the waters of the Neuse River in New Bern with his grandmother.
“We’d go up to the Neuse River. We had a bamboo pole with a string on it,” remembers Ricky “She had a bucket, a hat, and a chair. She’d throw the pole out, catch fish, and bring them back in the bucket.” They’d clean the fish as they caught them, and after a day of fishing, Ricky would carefully watch his grandmother prepare the fish.
“My grandmother would fry the fish ultra crispy,” he reminisces. “She’d have squash and some bacon and some onions and some potatoes, and she would fry it in a pan to mush. [It] had no texture to it, but it was ultra delicious, and the fish was usually a croaker or a spot. Never filleted.”
He didn’t know then how influential those evenings would become.
Decades later, Ricky is making a living serving fresh North Carolina seafood at his SALTBOX SEAFOOD JOINT in downtown Durham.
There he dishes out lesser-known species of fish like croaker, spot, bluefish and mullet from the window of a modest garden-shed sized building. Day in and day out, he draws inspiration from years of professional training, global travels and those childhood days palling around Eastern North Carolina with his grandmother.
The diverse, savory seafood Ricky prepares at SALTBOX has transformed the way the Triangle understands, appreciates, and consumes North Carolina’s coastal bounty.
OVER THE NEXT MONTH, RICKY, ONE OF THE TRIANGLE'S MOST CREATIVE CHEFS, WILL BRING US A WEEKLY RECIPE.
This week’s recipe is inspired by those special seafood meals with his grandmother. In a gesture to his belief in using all of the fish, Ricky incorporates one of his favorite parts of a fish — the collar — into this dish.
“Growing up having a frugal household, you try to use everything. [And]If you go out of this country, particularly in southeast Asia, everyting is utilized,” says Ricky.
The collar, Ricky explains, is found in “larger fish that usually has bigger heads on them. Around the base of the gills is also the throat of the fish [or] what they call the collar. And that collar has a lot of meat. And I like to save that and trim that up and serve it roasted, or smoked, or grill, or even sometimes confit.”
Without further adieu…
Recipe by Ricky Moore, Chef and Owner of SALTBOX SEAFOOD JOINT, 2016
WHAT ARE FISH COLLARS?
The collar is the cut from along the fish clavicle, right behind the gills. Some say it is the best part of the fish. The collar runs from top to bottom. It contains rich, tender meat and a little fat cap. The meat is anchored to the bone, but once cooked it separates nicely. There are only two collars per fish. SALTBOX SEAFOOD JOINT serves collars from Tuna, Amberjack, Swordfish, Grouper, Tilefish and on fish that exceed 3 pounds of more.
HOW DO YOU BUTCHER?
Using a sharp fillet knife, remove the collar by cutting behind the gill plate of the pectoral fins into the flesh. Once you get to the spine, just pull on the collar to snap it off. Repeat the same procedure on the other side.
HOW DO YOU COOK THEM?
Collars have a higher fat content lending them to be great for smoking, grilled or broiled (finished with a glaze), stewing and braising. The meat is sweet, tender and full of rich flavor.
4 collars from Amberjack
1/3 cup olive oil
2 teaspoon sea salt
2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
2 small bunches of fresh thyme
1 to 4 garlic cloves, sliced thin
Put the collars in heavy duty freezer bags and add all the remaining ingredients save the lemon wedges. Seal the bags and shake them around to coat the collars well. Marinate in the fridge at least 1 hour and up to overnight.
Get your grill nice and hot and clean the grates. Arrange the collars skin side up in one layer so they don’t touch. Grill over high heat with the grill cover open until charred a little, about 5 minutes or so. Turn and do the same to the other side. If the meat’s not cooked through (it will start to flake), give it a little more time.
Serve hot with lemon wedges and a bowl to toss the various bits of bone and fin.
Visit Ricky and his team at SALTBOX SEAFOOD JOINT Tuesday through Saturday 11AM - 7PM, or until the fish runs out. For daily specials and seasonal features, give SALTBOX a follow.