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In an unassuming seafood joint just off Mangum Street in downtown Durham, chef Ricky Moore serves up fresh local seafood with a gourmet flair. At first glance, you wouldn’t suspect the modest kitchen contained a talented, globally-trained chef. But at first bite, you’d have no doubt someone special was crafting that food.
“I’ve been blessed to have people who travel from near and far to eat at this little itty bitty place,” says Ricky who has made SALTBOX SEAFOOD JOINT into a foodie destination.
Ricky’s passion for food began early, but it took a stint in the military, training at the Culinary Institute of America and years of global traveling before he found his true calling in SALTBOX.
Ricky grew up in a family of excellent home cooks. “Indirectly I was always into food. My parents and grandparents were all good cooks. We grew up eating country cooking. Some folks define it as southern food or soul food. For us it was country cooking, and that laid a foundation. I didn’t even know I was going to be a chef.”
He discovered his passion for food in a home economics class at New Bern High School. Laughingly he says, “You got to eat an additional meal throughout the day and all the girls were in that class! That is kind of how it started.”
After high school, Ricky deferred college at ECU for the Army which he says was a good thing. “I got to travel around and reconnect with food. I went to Korea and Germany and Hawaii and Africa. It was cool to eat what people were eating.”
He continues, “I started to cook for the General’s Mess… and I got bit by the bug. I wanted to study it in depth. After I got out of the military, I went to CIA, The Culinary Institute of America.”
Since CIA, Ricky’s worked in kitchens around the world learning how to craft to many styles of food including French, Italian, Lebanese, and Indian.
In his 25+ year career, Ricky has reached a moment of maturity as a chef — knowing what’s too much and what’s too little. He says, “A favorite artist’s quotes is ‘simplicity is complexity resolved.’ For me, that’s how I approach food. I approach food in such a way that I restrain myself and unlearn how to be overly complicated.”
It was his wife, Norma, who planted the seed for SALTBOX SEAFOOD JOINT back in 2012 when she asked, “Hey, where can you get a good fish sandwich around here?”
The rest is history. SALTBOX will celebrate its fourth anniversary in October. For Ricky, the secret to success is simple — “Cooking good food out of the window. That’s it. Make people feel welcome. Show your appreciation. And say thank you. Live and die by what you deliver: seasonal seafood freshly cooked. Good fish, that’s the hook.”
Though simplicity is his currency these days, Ricky’s imagination is never far from his training as a chef, and this week he brings his A-game with a Seafood Stew designed especially for the Bit & Grain family.
“For me, this dish represents a lot of what I am as a chef, in terms of flavor creation, flavor building, and maturity in terms of how to approach a dish,” he says.
The stew is part homage to coastal North Carolina, part love-letter to summer. Ricky says, “For any town or city close by the water they have some sort of fish stew. For me, rockfish stew, was the stew growing up. I enjoy fish cooked in broth – particularly shellfish. I like the idea of shellfish and its flavor culminating together with other things,” says Ricky. He reflects, “For me the summertime dish growing up was succotash – corn, butter beans, speckled beans, tomatoes, and okra.”
A base of cauliflower puree, shellfish stock, crab roe butter, garnished with crabs and clams, and accentuated with tarragon and chives, produces a heavenly, mouthwatering aroma.
Ricky says, “Flavor first, aesthetics second — is my personal philosophy. People eat with their eyes but in addition to that, people need to eat with their noses. Food should smell good too. It’s an important component.”
This week’s stew delivers on all three.
Recipe by Ricky Moore, Chef and Owner of SALTBOX SEAFOOD JOINT, 2016
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons chopped garlic (about 2 cloves)
2 cups chopped leeks (white parts only, from 2 or 3 leeks)
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1 large head cauliflower, chopped
7 cups clam broth or vegetable broth (plus 1/2 cup to thin out the cauliflower cream if needed)
¼ cup diced salt pork
¼ cup diced celery
¼ cup minced shallots
4 whole blue crabs, cleaned and cut in half
1 cup white wine
¾ cup cherry tomatoes, cut in quarters
1 cup okra, cut in half lengthwise
3 tablespoons roughly chopped tarragon
Salt, pepper and Texas Pete to taste
Serves 4 to 6
In a large saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat and sauté the garlic, leeks, and 1/4 teaspoon of salt for about 3 minutes, until the vegetables are soft. Add the cauliflower and sauté for another minute.
Add the clam broth, increase the heat to high, and bring just to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for 20 minutes, until the cauliflower is completely tender.
Remove the saucepan from the heat and allow the cauliflower mixture to cool slightly.
Pour the cauliflower mixture into your blender in batches and blend on high for about 1 minute, until smooth and creamy. Set aside.
In a very hot pan season the okra with salt and pepper and char the okra until it browned on all side. Remove from the pan and set aside.
In a large cast iron skillet over medium heat saute salt pork and render out the fat, add celery and shallots and cook for 2 minutes.
Add crabs and clams to the skillet and saute on high heat for 3 minutes, deglaze with wine and reduce by half.
Add cauliflower cream and simmer for 10 minutes covered until crabs have turned orange and the clams have opened up completely.
Adjust cauliflower cream consistently if necessary (it should be the consistency of half and half), add tomato, tarragon and season with salt, pepper and Texas Pete.
To serve, ladle the stew into warm bowls and garnish with charred okra halves
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, give SALTBOX a follow on Facebook.
CHECK BACK NEXT WEEK FOR A BRAND NEW PIECE OF RICKY'S STORY ACCOMPANIED BY A DELICIOUS SEAFOOD DISH
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