I’ve never been to Saltbox Seafood Joint in Durham, North Carolina, but after spending time with the proprietor-chef’s new cookbook, I’m planning a road trip.
Ricky Moore grew up fishing on the Neuse and Trent rivers of New Bern, near the North Carolina coast. Cooking in army kitchens led him to enroll in the Culinary Institute of America. He built an impressive career as a chef in some of Washington, D.C.’s top restaurants, interspersed with stints in Chicago and Paris, before returning to his roots to open his own place.
His business plan was simple: Do one thing really well. He decided what that “one thing” would be when his wife asked him where she could get a good fish sandwich. He didn’t have an answer. But he could make her one.
Combining his coastal culinary heritage with his classical training, he perfected that sandwich, and in 2012 started serving them from the window of a tiny concession stand on the fringes of Durham. He cultivated relationships with local purveyors, added daily menu specials, and eventually opened a sit-down location with a marquee advertising “Croaker Season” or whatever’s freshest that day.
Cleanly designed and compact, “Saltbox Seafood Joint Cookbook” (UNC Press, $25) echoes Moore’s simple but refined sensibilities. He offers a primer on local fish varieties with line illustrations of each, and formulas for the stocks, sauces, seasonings and dredges that can be applied to other fish cuts if your market doesn’t carry dogfish or sugar toads.
You’ll find instructions and cultural context for fish muddle, washpot stew, and a whole chapter of fish-and-grits combos. For a more cheffy presentation, try Whole Roasted Fish on the Bone with Salsa Verde as well as Monkfish Chowder with Sea Beans and Dill. I can vouch that his recipe for Stewed Clams and Country Sausage, inspired by the Spanish Portuguese dish cataplana, is a winner.
As for whether that fish sandwich lives up to the hype, I’ll report back after my road trip to Durham.
Susan Puckett is a cookbook author and former food editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow her at susanpuckett.com.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.