MS. REBECCA SHEIR
Welcome back to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir. And this week we're taking a break from our usual thematic approach to the show, and, instead, we're bringing you a hodgepodge of stories about this, that, and everything in between, really, here in D.C. region. In just a bit, we'll meet a woman who credits her Persian roots for making her a champion of a highly competitive sport you may remember from middle school, and we'll go head to head with her on the court.
MS. REBECCA SHEIR
But first, to get ourselves ready for that challenge, we probably should fuel up, right? Which brings us to a new restaurant in D.C.'s Penn Quarter neighborhood. All right, here we are at Nopa. Nopa Kitchen and Bar. And helping us to get our carbo load on is Nopa's executive chef Greg McCarty.
MR. GREG MCCARTY
How are you?
Hi. How are you?
I'm well, thanks. Nice to see you.
Good to see you. And pastry chef Jemil Gadea.
Jemil, this is Rebecca. Rebecca, this is Jemil.
Hi, nice to meet you. Nopa opened in May, but just started serving brunch this week. And the menu features a type of treat you don't see much of in the District. A crispy, crusty, chewy, doughy roll known as a bialy. For people who don't know what a bialy is, can you describe it?
It's from Poland: Bialystok. And it's very similar to a bagel, I find. It doesn't have the traditional hole that goes all the way through in the center. It's got, you know, the onions and poppy seed in the center. Sometimes it comes with toast with garlic, as well, which we've played around with. The onions with the fresh thyme and poppy seeds just won over.
Now, chef Greg McCarty is fairly new in town.
Just moved from New York to open Nopa Kitchen and Bar.
And back in Manhattan, he was pretty much a bialy fiend.
A bialy was my pick, and if I couldn't get down to Kossar's on the Lower East Side, I went to Tal Bagels on the Upper East Side, where my apartment was, and got them there.
But once he moved to Washington, he wanted bialys here, and ever the culinary adventurer, he wanted to make them himself. And that's where pastry chef Jemil Gadea comes in.
Did you know much about bialys before baking them here?
MS. JEMIL GADEA
No. I've never actually even been to New York and eaten the proper, like, you know, talking to Chef about making bialys, and oh my God, that's such a New York thing. Everybody in the restaurant was excited about it. And I was like, oh my God, now I gotta really -- pressure's on. I gotta nail this.
First step, says Greg McCarty, was to give his pastry chef a firsthand taste of those New York bialys.
I FedEx'd a bunch from Kossar's in New York, on the Lower East Side, so we could try to mimic them as best we could.
The key was to capture that same crusty on the outside, chewy on the inside je ne sais quoi that makes a bialy, well, a bialy.
Because, let's be honest, a bialy is about history, so we wanted to pay respect.
But at the same time, McCarty says, they were also trying to make their bialys very much their own.
We played around with leeks, I said we played around with garlic, and we played around with a lot of different flavorings. We also wanted some of that onion and herb flavor to go throughout the bialy, whereas sometimes a lot of bialys that you get, it's just in the center, you get the onion filling. I thought it would be great if we could have a little bit of the onion filling dispersed throughout the bialy itself.
So, Jemil Gadea would tinker together one recipe.
Every day, just constantly, Chef, what do you think? Ok, Chef, what do you think? Chef, what do you think?
And then another.
It's not right. It's not right. It's not right. It's not right.
Until finally, says Chef Greg McCarty...
We're probably 99% of the way there. You're never gonna reach perfection, but it's pretty close.
The recipe Jemil Gadea eventually lit upon is actually pretty simple, though, like a bialy, with its onions and poppy seeds, it's also filled with nuance.
So, we start out with our pre-ferment, which, we use a natural starter, and just build that up to a poolish. Poolish refers to the typical type of starter from Poland, so it's equal parts water, flour and starter.
You mix those three together.
Leave it to ferment for four hours.
And once the mixture has developed a nice volume and lightness, you add in...
The rest of the flour.
A little bit of salt.
And a little bit of poppy seeds, a little bit of sweated onions and chives.
Then you mix all that together. After a few minutes, you remove the dough from the mixer, portion out however many bialys you want to make.
And start the shaping process, which, it is a process. Just kind of like, stretching pizza dough. It's tough to do it all in one shot. You're gonna do it a little bit, and then let it rest for five, ten minutes, stretch it a little bit more. Otherwise, what happens when you put them in the oven, all that beautiful onion and poppy seed filling just gets swallowed up. The center just disappears.
After the stretching, you dab on that filling, and then you bake the bialys in the oven. Though, traditionally, says Greg McCarty, you use an actual bialy oven, which Nopa doesn't have.
We don't have, you know, 100% of the tools that you need, but with our cast iron pans and the ovens we do have, we come pretty close.
And, again, it's all part of the Nopa crew putting their own spin on things, while paying respect to the past. And as a D.C. newcomer, McCarty says it's been a delicious nod to his own past back in New York.
You know, because everybody wants a little piece of home, no matter where you are.
To see photos of Nopa's bialy, and to get your hands on a recipe for the doughy treat, visit our website, metroconnection.org.
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