Southern Stories: Chef Ricky Moore’s Carolina Calling Card

James Beard award-winning chef, Ricky Moore, carries a lifelong love of local seafood to the table.

Chef Ricky Moore's RITZ® Cracker–Crusted Bluefish Cakes
Story and recipe by Chef Ricky Moore

WHEN I OPENED SALTBOX SEAFOOD JOINT 10 years ago in Durham, North Carolina, my mission and vision were clear: to source the freshest local seafood from North Carolina fisher people and prepare it with integrity in a manner that celebrates the regionality of our coastal cooking. Contrary to popular belief, not all fish and seafood in North Carolina is prepared Calabash-style-battered, fried, and served with a side of hush puppies and coleslaw. North Carolina’s coastal cooking is as diverse as the species that run in our waters and the communities that inhabit our shorelines, inlets, bays, and riverbeds.

Chef Ricky Moore leaning in a doorway in a chef's apronLocal seafood is my gospel and always has been. This is why, after decades of cooking all manners of cuisines in restaurants across the country and globe, it was such an honor to be named Best Chef Southeast by the James Beard Foundation, the ultimate recognition for honoring my culinary heritage and the place I call home. My mother’s side of the family came from a community called Riverdale, situated in North Carolina between New Bern and Havelock. My father was from Harlowe, North Carolina, halfway between Beaufort and New Bern. You crossed waters whichever way you went. Coming from New Bern proper, I grew up along the Neuse and Trent rivers and spent a lot of my childhood fishing those waters.

During the summer, all of the cousins would gather at my grandmother Lottie Mae’s house. Once a week or so, we’d set off on very informal fishing excursions with bamboo fishing poles fitted with standard bits of bait. We’d haul our catch home for our aunts and grandmothers to do the extra-messy job of scaling, gutting, and cleaning. (They never trusted us kids to do it.) And when we couldn’t make it out on the water, there was a gentleman who drove around selling freshly caught fish in his pickup truck that he had outfitted with a wood and galvanized tin storage setup and a big metal scale. All the fish was stored on ice—it seemed so special. We would make our selection; he would weigh it and wrap it for us to take back to the house.

RITZ® Cracker–Crusted Bluefish CakesWhether we caught the fish ourselves or sourced it from the traveling fishmonger, the preparation at home was always the same—either pan-fried or stewed, depending on the size of the catch, and served simply with boiled potatoes or some other vegetable. And you could be sure if any fish was leftover that it would be served the next day for breakfast in the form of a fish cake, alongside grits and eggs, homemade apple butter on biscuits, and fried salt pork. In fact, growing up, we ate a lot of fish cakes for breakfast. They were the perfect example of the economy of the kitchen—turning leftovers and scraps into something new and delicious that could also feed the entire family. But they are by no means just for breakfast.

The recipe I share here for RITZ® Cracker–Crusted Bluefish Cakes would also make a fine appetizer, main course, or even a sandwich tucked inside a roll with lots of yellow mustard. The key to this recipe is not how it’s served but choosing the correct fish for the job. These cakes are best when made with an oily fish like trout, salmon, mackerel, or, when they are in season, bluefish or mullet, preferably sourced from a local fishmonger. But if you have a hankering and you’re without access to good quality fresh fish, then, when all else fails, canned salmon or mackerel will work, too. If canned fish was good enough for my grandma Lottie Mae, it’s good enough for me.

RITZ® Cracker–Crusted Bluefish Cakes
Makes 4 servings
  • 8 ounces russet potatoes, peeled and cut into large pieces
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • ½ cup finely chopped yellow onion
  • ½ cup finely chopped green bell pepper
  • 1 pound bluefish fillets, skinned* 4 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • Kosher salt and ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 3 large eggs, well beaten
  • 2 cups RITZ® cracker crumbs
  • 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the potatoes, and cook for 15 minutes. Drain, and mash the potatoes until smooth.
  2. In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onions and green peppers; sauté until soft. Turn off the heat and transfer the vegetables to a large bowl. Wipe the skillet clean.
  3. Return the skillet to medium heat, and add the whole bluefish along with enough water to come halfway up the fish. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat, cover, and simmer until fish is cooked through, about 5 minutes. Carefully transfer the cooked fish onto a plate. When fish is cool enough to handle, use the tines of a fork to flake the fish into large chunks. As you work, be sure to remove any bones.
  4. Add the fish to the bowl with the onions and peppers. Stir in the mashed potatoes, parsley, and mustard. Season the fish mixture with salt and black pepper, and shape it into 4 large patties (6 ounces, about palm size) or 8 smaller ones (3 ounces).
  5. Pour flour onto a small plate. In a separate shallow dish, add eggs. On a separate plate, add cracker crumbs. Gently coat the patties with the flour, dusting off any excess, and then dip them in the eggs. Finally, dip the patties in the cracker crumbs, flipping to coat both sides. Place the patties on a baking sheet, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
  6. In a large skillet, heat oil over medium heat. When the oil shimmers, add the patties, and fry gently, about 5 minutes per side. Carefully remove the cakes from the skillet, and let drain on paper towels. Serve immediately.

*You can substitute trout, mackerel (King or Spanish), mullet, or drum; as a rule, Chef Ricky Moore suggests using a rich, oily fish when preparing fish cakes or patties because it aids in adding moisture.


Ricky Moore is the chef and owner of Saltbox Seafood Joint in Durham, North Carolina. Find out more at


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