Fried Catfish & Spaghetti, Fish Yassa, and so forth: Four Dishes at Saltbox Seafood Joint for Black History Month

The acclaimed Saltbox Seafood Joint in Durham, NC announces that for the second year, Chef Ricky Moore will introduce a dish each Wednesday in February in celebration Black History Month. Here’s what Chef has to say about his food:
“I created this menu in celebration of Black History Month, said Moore. “And by that, I mean the Pan-African global influence of the Atlantic Slave Trade — specifically where slaves landed in the New World. These dishes tell the story of how they influenced and interacted with the food and culture of these places. These dishes speak to the global influence African food has had on our food culture in the Americas, not just the United States. I’ve chosen to feature dishes that I’ve eaten in the regions where they originated and experienced them prepared by someone’s native hands (and that I’ve also made myself). And I’ve chosen seafood dishes specifically. At Saltbox Seafood Joint, we celebrate the fish and seafood of the North Carolina coast so it was important to stay within those boundaries and honor these dishes the Saltbox Seafood way.”

Wednesday, February 2nd – Fried Catfish & Spaghetti

This dish’s origins are in the Mississippi Delta and it traveled North during The Great Migration–the decades-long movement of millions of African Americans from the American South to other parts of the U.S. But it’s not a dish that is recognized in the Soul Food cannon nationwide. Rather, it’s specific to the major cities that run north along the Mississippi River and beyond including Memphis, St. Louis, Chicago, Detroit, and Milwaukee. I discovered it when I was living in Chicago and teaching at the Washburne Culinary Institute located on the South Side. The spaghetti is the side dish to the fried catfish (much like here in North Carolina we serve coleslaw as a side). The spaghetti is often overcooked and served with a tomato or meat sauce. My version will cook the spaghetti properly, of course, and also play around with the flavors found in dirty rice using the “holy trinity” aromatic base of onion, green pepper and celery. 

Wednesday, February 9th – Bake & Shark

This is a popular street and beach food dish that you will find all over Trinidad and Tobago. A lot of African slaves ended up in the Caribbean and this dish was originally developed by African fishermen. But like all Trinidadian food it has a lot of other influences including South Asian (Indian) and Amerindian flavors and ingredients. It’s essentially a stuffed pocket sandwich. The “bake” refers to the bread which is similar in shape to a pita but is made from a fry bread dough that is more like a donut dough minus the sugar that is deep fried. The bread is then cut open and stuffed with fried shark and lots of garnishes including lettuce, tomato, slices of starred pineapple, and two kinds of sauces, spicy cilantro and tangy tamarind. The “shark” is cut into pieces or small fillets, battered and fried. The first time I experienced this sandwich was at Richard’s Bake & Shark, a famous beach side spot on Maracas Bay in Trinidad. My version will stick pretty close to the classic using local North Carolina fish like a Smooth Dog Shark or Dogfish. I’ll season my fish with a light paste of salt, pepper, pureed garlic and parsley and I definitely grill the pineapple for extra smokey flavor.

Wednesday, February 16th – Senegalese Fish Yassa

The origin of this dish is Chicken Yassa, a traditional Senegalese dish of chicken smothered in a caramelized onion sauce seasoned with mustard, lemon juice and a bit of heat from fresh chiles served over rice. Popular across West Africa it’s origins are from the Casamance region of Senegal and can be found in Senegalese restaurants around the world. The dish also reflects the area’s history as a former French colony, since it’s known both as poulet yassa (in French) and yassa ganaar (in Wolof). When exploring West African restaurants in New York City, I encountered a spot that made a yassa with a whole fish, which is what I am riffing on for my version. This dish depends on what’s at market, so I’ll likely be using rockfish or monkfish, served along with local rice from Kay Rice located in Craven County, where I grew up. Most of its flavor comes from the large amount of caramelized onion, which provides considerable depth of flavor and color. It also gets a nice tang that helps round out and cut through the richness and sweetness of the onions with the addition of lemon juice and a little mustard. A majority of the slaves who landed in South Carolina were from West Africa which I think most likely explains why when you order fried fish in South Carolina it’s served with a mustard sauce. It all goes back to yassa!

Wednesday February 23rd – Moqueca Baiana

Moqueca is a fish stew and one of the classics of Brazilian cuisine. There are two versions, one is found in the North and the other in the South, each influenced by the cooking habits/influence of each region. In the North, Moqueca Baiana, has elements of the African culture, while in the Southeast Moqueca Capixaba, is heavily influenced by the Portuguese and Spanish. Both include garlic, tomatoes, cilantro, onions, salt and olive oil. The difference is that the Moqueca Baiana also calls for dende oil and coconut milk – ingredients that are not part of the capixaba version. Dende oil (also called palm oil) is indigenout to Africa and is commonly used for frying and for imparting a dark dark reddish color. The key element of this dish is the rich decadent broth, that comes from the dende oil and the rich coconut. My version will use a variety of fish and shellfish, whatever I think looks good that day, and will be garnished with a chiffonade of collard greens cooked in olive oil, garlic and salt.

ABOUT CHEF RICKY MOORE
Ricky Moore, the Chef/Owner of Saltbox Seafood Joint, draws inspiration from his Eastern North Carolina culinary background, as well as from culinary experiences across the globe.  Moore was introduced to German cooking at a young age as a “Military Brat,” growing up in Germany, and from his German Mother-in-law, and served as a cook in the US Army for a decade before attending and graduating from the esteemed Culinary Institute of America.  Kitchen stints in some of the world’s most prestigious kitchens across the globe followed – including Le Tarbouche, IndeBleu, Vidalia, Lespinasse, Equinox, Agraria (now called Founding Farmers) in Washington, DC, and Frontera Grill, Charlie Trotter’s, and Tru in Chicago.  Moore also served as Executive chef and Instructor at the Parrot Cage Restaurant in the Washburne Culinary Institute, and Executive Chef of South Water Kitchen. Moore’s tenure at two-star Michelin-rated Apicius in Paris with Jean-Pierre Vigato, Le Cerf in Alsace with Michel Husser, and Le Violin d’Ingres in Paris with Christian Constant, Daniel in New York City, and Cuisine of India in Toronto with Shishir Sharma, further polished his culinary technique, perspective and ambition to own restaurants of his own. Moore opened Saltbox Seafood Joint® in 2012, and a second location in 2017. In 2019, UNC Press published Moore’s first cookbook – Saltbox Seafood Joint Cookbook. Moore lives in Chapel Hill with his family for whom he cooks regularly, passing on the foodways and traditions of his coastal heritage.

Check out Ricky Moore in today’s ZAGAT:
20 Black Professionals On The State Of The Restaurant Industry (zagat.com)
(news courtesy of JNKPublicRelations)

Fish collars at Saltbox – courtesy of JNKPublicRelations

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