There is one right way to make matzo brei
The first time I ate matzo brei outside my house, I was shocked and dismayed. What my high school friend Rachel scrambled up was not, I repeat not, matzo brei. It was as stunning as the first time I went out for Chinese food with a Christian friend's family and everyone ordered individual entrees: There's another way to do this?
Matzo brei, for the gentiles, is a Passover concoction of matzo soaked in eggs and fried. “Brei” rhymes with “fry.” It makes a good breakfast and an excellent breakfast-for-dinner.
During Passover, to remember the suffering of the Jews when they were enslaved in Egypt, one avoids not only leavened actual bread but foods made with wheat flour and several other grains. Orthodox Jews, the most observant, also don’t eat rice, corn and legumes; Reform and Conservative Judaism ended those restrictions only a few years ago.
If you are not a meat-and-potatoes person, it can be a rough eight days. I clung to deliciousness wherever I could. Which included matzo brei made the way I'd always known: large pieces of matzo, not very eggy, cooked until crisp, lavishly peppered and served with jam.
Whether they realize it or not, all Jews who like to cook and eat roam the world with a quiet internal mantra: There is only one way to make matzo brei — MINE.
I am no different. Today, I will tell you how to make matzo brei the right way.
Southern Jews, go right ahead and @ me (with your personal recipe). If this were your column, you’d be telling people how to make matzo brei YOUR right way.
(That said, I am agnostic on "matzo" versus "matzoh" versus "matzah.")
Let’s get Talmudic here and share an exegesis alongside the instructions. All matzo brei can be charted on two axes:
- Is it replacing French toast, or scrambled eggs?
- Is it savory, sweet or both?
See illustration on a home economics Post-it on my hometown synagogue’s cookbook.
And now see the sweet spot:
Proper matzo brei is not bits of matzo embedded in scrambled eggs, which is what Rachel made. My conviction is strengthened by my general dislike for scrambled eggs unless they are sandwiched between biscuit halves with bacon (not sorry) or wrapped in a tortilla with hot sauce.
Matzo brei is a carb. The role of the egg is not to dominate but to permeate the matzo, juice up the dryness and create chewy edges. Think bread pudding, not frittata.
Then, the axis of sweetness. There are those who serve matzo brei with sour cream. There are those who skip the black pepper and serve it with syrup. Both of these misguided decisions make me quote Tom Lehrer, that famous secular Jewish purveyor of New Testament humor, “I know that there are some people who do not love their fellow human beings, and I hate people like that.”
Matzo brei is the salted caramel of Jewish holiday breakfasts. It must marry sweet and savory: lots of black pepper plus jam. Don’t ask me why jam and not syrup or a sprinkle of sugar or other such beyond-the-pale ideas. That’s the way my parents did it and therefore it is correct.
I don’t keep Passover anymore, but I do pick up a box of matzo to make matzo brei.
Matzo Brei (The Right Way)
Late note from my mother: Matzo sheets are smaller than they used to be.
- 2 sheets of matzo per person plus one sheet extra
- As many eggs as you have sheets of matzo, minus at least one (e.g., for 8 sheets, I’d scale back to 6 eggs)
- Neutral vegetable oil if you keep kosher, butter if you do not
- Black pepper
Break the eggs into a large, flat bowl, like a pasta bowl, or similar receptacle. Salt and pepper, and mix with a fork. Add a bit of water, roughly the volume of one egg.
Run each sheet of matzo under the tap. Break into quarters. Let soak in the egg 15-20 minutes.
Heat butter or oil in a frying pan, nonstick preferred. Place the matzo in the pan, topping with any leftover egg/water mixture. Sauté, turning and shuffling matzo around to thoroughly cook/dry and break it up a bit. It is done, in my opinion, when the brei is completely dry and the corners are chewy.
Top with copious amounts of black pepper and serve with jam.
Now that I have set Jewish Southern Kitchen readers a-roar, I offer a completely uncontroversial recipe. Everyone loves this.
Chocolate Matzo Toffee
Adapted from Cathy Lewis Dreilinger
Makes about 2 pounds candy
- 1/2 pound matzo (more or less)
- 1 cup butter or margarine
- 1 cup packed dark brown sugar
- 1 12-ounce bag chocolate chips, preferably dark/bittersweet
- 1 cup chopped walnuts
Heat oven to 450 degrees. Line a jelly roll pan with parchment and grease the parchment. Fit matzo in one layer, covering entire pan. Minor overlap is OK. You may need more or less than half a pound.
Melt butter with brown sugar. Boil until mixture coats a spoon (start checking after 3 minutes). Pour and spread over matzo. Bake 4 minutes, then remove from oven.
Sprinkle chocolate chips on top. Bake 1 minute.
Remove from oven and spread melted chocolate to cover as completely as possible. Sprinkle with nuts.
Refrigerate until completely cool. Break into pieces. Store, refrigerated, in covered tin.
Danielle Dreilinger is an American South storytelling reporter and the author of the book "The Secret History of Home Economics." You can reach her at email@example.com or 919-236-3141.