Passover lasts an entire week. A very, very long pizza-less and pasta-free week. Fortunately, bubbes have come to the rescue. Over many generations, some pretty inventive grandmas and great-grandmas have come up with Passover-friendly dishes to sustain their hungry families and friends during that week — recipes that are inexpensive, made with easy-to-find ingredients, and don't require much work. Matzo brei is exactly that. It remains a staple breakfast and lunch food, and it's been around so long for one other reason: it tastes great.
What Is Matzo Brei?
For Jews of Eastern European or Russian descent, matzo brei defines the homeyness of Passover. Matzo brei (pronounced Mah-tzo-bry; rhymes with "fry") is simply matzo — the holiday's famously unleavened cracker — that has been soaked, softened, and fried in egg.
During Passover, Jews refrain from eating leavened foods, including bread, which makes matzo a hot commodity. Jews from different regions have different traditions, so prohibitions can vary significantly, but for most families of Eastern Europe and Russian descent, they include refraining from wheat, barley, spelt, oats, rye, legumes, rice, and even corn. These prohibitions last beyond the holiday's large feast, the Seder, which encompasses a variety of ritual foods, prayers, and a veritable multitude of heritage dishes.
Customize Your Matzo Brei
One big pancake or lots of small bits? Water or egg to soak? Sweet or salty matzo? The short answer to all of these questions is that it's up to you. Every family has their own way of making matzo brei, so there's no hard-and-fast rule on any of these variables. Here are a few pointers for making matzo brei the way you want it.
- Matzo brei pancake vs. matzo brei scramble: Some families pour the entire matzo-egg mixture into the oiled pan, lower the heat, and flip it over halfway through the cooking, so you get a large, pan-sized whole that can be divided up into wedges. With this method just be sure to cook the middle all the way through. It's a bit tricky to get the center to set, so scrambling is my suggested way to go, especially if you're a first-timer. Give it a whirl around the pan the same way you would scrambled eggs. The variation in size makes it interesting to eat.
- Team eggs: Many recipes instruct soaking the matzo in water or running it under water until it is very soft, adding it to the eggs for a super-quick dunk, and then pouring it into the pan. Not mine, and (I hope) not yours from now on. Allow me, ladies and gentleman of the matzo brei-cooking public, to state my case. Eggs are liquidy. They are packed with taste and nutrients. Just like I do when making French toast, I use eggs to soak my matzo. You do have to soak it for a while, it's true, but the egg infiltrates every pore of the matzo and infuses it with a delicate, rich flavor. You'll find that it cooks like a dream, too, enabling the matzo to keep its integrity and not fall apart, but becomes soft and pliable and ready to crisp up from the buttery heat of the pan.
What Kind of Matzo Should You Use?
Obviously you can use anything you like, but I prefer egg matzo. Egg matzo is made from egg in addition to the flour and water and grows softer when soaked than the standard variety. Matzo brei works just fine with gluten-free, spelt, or plain varieties. I would, however, avoid the shmura matzo. I use it at the Seder, but honestly, it really tastes like cardboard — and no amount of egg or soaking can save it.
Flavor Your Matzo Brei
So now you've got a steaming plate of matzo brei in front of you and it's time to bring on the flavor. I like it with mounds of cinnamon sugar. My mom likes it with maple syrup or cane syrup. Love jam? Give your matzo brei a healthy dollop. Some folks love it salty, and if you're like my great uncle, you're digging in with ketchup.
How To Make Creamy, Crunchy Matzo Brei
Makes 4 servings
What You Need
tablespoons unsalted butter
Jam for serving
Wire whisk or fork
Mixing spoon or silicone spatula
10 to 12 inch skillet
Make the egg batter: Crack the eggs into a large bowl; add the milk, salt, and sugar, if using; and whisk very well to combine.
Break the matzo: Break one sheet of matzo into 1/2-inch pieces or smaller, letting any tiny pieces fall into the bowl of egg batter. Repeat with the remaining matzo, 1 sheet at a time.
Soak the matzo mixture: Mix well and let stand for 10 to 12 minutes so that the matzo absorbs the egg mixture. Mix well again. The matzo should be soft and pliable.
Cook the matzo brei: Heat a 10- to 12-inch skillet over moderately high heat, add the butter, and let it melt. When the butter has melted and the foam subsides, swirl the butter in the pan to coat. Add half of the matzo mixture and cook, stirring gently and occasionally, as you would when making scrambled eggs. Cook for about 3 minutes, breaking it up into smaller and larger chunks, until the matzo mixture has begun to brown lightly. Transfer to a platter, cover and keep warm. Add the remaining matzo to the pan and cook the same way. Serve immediately.