This has always been one of my favorite Sunday morning breakfasts. Growing up in South Florida, I always had access to decent bagels, but visiting New York to see my family every year, I got to get GOOD bagels. What makes a good bagel? What makes a great bagel? What is lox? What is nova? Let's discuss the finer points of bagels, and while we're are at it, we'll even talk about Montreal bagels.
I'm going to start local. Here in the foothills of North Carolina there are a couple of places to get bagels, but only one place that's worth it: Boone Bagelry. The nice people that run this great little bagel joint are from my old stomping grounds, Broward County, Florida (I'll give them a pass - I grew up in Margate and they are from Coral Springs so that's close enough). The bagels are fresh, the lox is good, the selection is decent, and the prices are reasonable for the quality and quantity of what you get. I've been up here for 15 years and they have been up here the whole time, under the same ownership. They must be doing something right.
The bagels at Boone Bagelry are as good as the ones I grew up with in South Florida. It seemed that in Margate you couldn't turn the corner without running into another bagel shop.
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See what I mean? But if the bagels in Florida are as good as the ones up here in North Carolina, what sets the ones in New York apart? What makes a good bagel? What makes it chewy and gives it just that perfect consistency? One word... Water. Why does water matter. Well, it has to do with how you make a bagel. Water is used in the dough, and water is used in the cooking process. Before a bagel is baked or broiled, it is boiled. According to the owners of the Brooklyn Water Bagel Company of Delray Beach, FL (See below picture and credit) their bagels are 50% water. Serious Eats had a fantastic write up of them and I can't begin to do it justice, click on the link below.
There are two recipes, in my opinion for making a bagel:
- Car Keys
- Drive to Boone Bagelry
- 4 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 (.25 ounce) packages active dry yeast
- 1 1/2 cups warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
- 3 tablespoons white sugar
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 tablespoon white sugar
- In large bowl, combine 1-1/2 cups flour and yeast. Mix water, 3 tablespoons sugar and salt together, and add to the dry ingredients. Beat with a mixer for half a minute at a low speed, scraping the sides of the bowl clean. Beat at a higher speed for 3 minutes. Then, by hand, mix in enough flour to make a moderately stiff dough.
- Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic (8-10 minutes). Cover, let rest for 15 minutes.
- Cut into 12 portions, shape into smooth balls. Poke a hole in the center with your finger, and gently enlarge the hole while working the bagel into a uniform shape. Cover, let rise 20 minutes.
- Meanwhile, start a gallon of water boiling. Put 1 tablespoon of sugar in it, mix it around a bit. Reduce to simmering. (some recipes call for adding barley to the water)
- When the bagels are ready, put 4 or 5 bagels into the water, and cook 7 minutes, turning once. Drain them. Place on a greased baking sheet, and bake at 375 degrees F (190 degrees C) for 30 to 35 minutes. Remove from oven, eat hot or cold.
- Broiling option: For a glossier surface, place raised bagels on an ungreased baking sheet prior to boiling them. Broil them five inches from heat for 1 to 1-1/2 minutes on each side. Then put them into the hot water to be boiled as above. Note: do not bake broiled bagels as long as non-broiled ones, 25 minutes should be long enough(1)
Is the pizza in New York the best? It WILL definitely be argued in a future post, even down to the borough, but that's a matter of personal opinion.
But are the best bagels from New York? Absolutely.
Recently there has been a new voice in bagels, and it speaks French. Montreal bagels are a different variety of the classic. These bagels are a little smaller, sweeter and denser. They have a larger hole and they are baked in a wood-fired oven which give them a light-and-dark surface color. (2) The dough contains malt and egg and there is no salt, plus the water it is boiled in has honey added to it. Many parts of Canada and the United States are familiar with these bagels, but if you know New York bagels, you've probably never heard of Montreal bagels. (This is just another reason for me to beg my wife to let me build a brick oven.)
Once you have a bagel, you need something to go on the bagel (If you give a mouse a cookie...). There are literally hundreds of toppings you could put on a bagel, but here are the six I hear most often:
- lox, nova, or smoked salmon
- cream cheese
- chopped chicken liver
If I have good bagels, I WANT good Smoked Salmon, but what's the difference between Nova and Lox and Smoked Salmon?Smoked Salmon is basically the parent product. While it is typically the fillet, it is any piece of the salmon that has been cured and then either hot or cold smoked. It can be considered a delicacy, even though most major supermarkets carry it throughout the year at a moderately high price.
Lox, or Belly Lox, is the fillet that has been cured and very thinly sliced. The major difference between regular and belly lox in that while both come from the same fish, the flesh on both sides of the stomach of the salmon has a wider graining of fat, is less salty tasting and thus is more desirable and more expensive.
For those who preferred even less salt, Nova Scotia lox was the choice for a premium price. Nova lox (or simply "Nova"), is cured with a milder brine and then cold-smoked. The name dates from a time when much of the salmon in New York City came from Nova Scotia. (3)
Wow, I have expensive taste. But I also like to do things myself. So, let's say I want to cold smoke my own salmon fillet. This means I'm going to want to build my own smoker box. But before you smoke your salmon, your going to want to brine it. You could use any brine you'd like, but here's one I recommend.
Brine for Smoked Salmon
- 1 gallon water
- 1 cup kosher salt
- 1 cup white sugar
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons lemon pepper
- 1 (3 ounce) package dry crab and shrimp seasoning mix (Old Bay is good)
- 2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
- 4 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
- 4 lemons, sliced and crushed
- 2 oranges, sliced and crushed
- 1 lime, sliced and crushed
- 1 large yellow onion, sliced
- 2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
Pour the water into a food safe bucket. Stir in the kosher salt, white sugar, brown sugar, lemon pepper, parsley and seasoning mix. Add the garlic, hot pepper sauce, vinegar, lemons, oranges, lime and onion. Soak your salmon in this brine for 12 to 36 hours. Cover with ice and add additional ice as needed every 6-8 hours.
The great people over at SmokerCooking.com have a great method for building and using one. (I am only putting down the highlights of their method here, please go to their site for more information.)
Simply put you need only three items to build a cold smoker: one NEW NEVER USED small inexpensive soldering iron (you don't want any nasty lead in your food do you), one small bag of flavored smoker pellets, and one small tin can, with the lid still partially attached. Place the apparatus in your grill or smoker, being careful not to damage the cord and smoke your fish. Here's their video on the subject:
Again the people at SmokerCooking are the experts on this, check out their website!
I hope I've inspired you to go out and get some bagels and lox. I know in writing this, I've discussed this with Alex and I've been informed by Alex that I am buying bagels and cream cheese and smoked salmon this weekend. There are worse things for a teenage daughter to ask for.
Until next time, I wish you Peace, Love, and Hollandaise sauce!