Bring On the Matzo Brei
‘Tis the season to enjoy the iconic Jewish flatbread in its crispy, craveable, fritter form.
Friday night marks the beginning of Passover, and while my family will celebrate with a huge seder meal (there'll be 33 guests this year!), I really relish the morning after: We've wiped the dishes of horseradish, shaken the tablecloths of matzo crumbs, and a Manischewitz hangover feels like Moses parting my skull. There's nothing like a crispy, custardy matzo fritter, slathered in butter, jam, and maple syrup to revive and comfort a houseful of weary Israelites.
Growing up, my mom was always the balabusta (Yiddish expression for a good homemaker), but my dad, who worked at an Israeli restaurant after college, picked up this recipe, and it's become one of his signatures. Let's be clear: Matzo brei isn't an Israeli food; it's Ashkenazi. European Jews are known for grinding up bland things and cooking them to make them taste better (see also: gefilte fish, latkes, matzo balls). My dad is one of those Jews. He starts with one sheet of matzo per person (there are usually overnight guests to feed) and crumbles them into quarter-sized pieces in a stainless-steel bowl. The sound of those brittle chips chiming the metal is so nostalgic—someone has to ASMR record it for me.
Then he runs the bowl of matzo under warm water while stirring with his hands, just to moisten. He adds one egg per sheet of matzo (cracked on the side of that bowl, of course), a generous sprinkling of sugar, a few pinches of salt, a splash of vanilla extract (sometimes almond), and tosses so everything is evenly coated with custard.
There are people who eat this dish savory with salt and pepper. There are people who scramble the matzo brei in the pan. We are a sweet, pancake-style household. Cooking with a little sugar helps the 'brei caramelize, and a pancake shape ensures crisp outside and a soft, steamy inside.
And since "brei" means "fried" in Yiddish, the sizzling is very important. We use butter with a little vegetable oil to keep it from burning. Melt two tablespoons of butter in a small omelet pan before adding the 'brei batter. If the pan is hot enough (burner set to medium-high) the matzo won't soak up the grease, it'll just get the jagged edges all nutty and crunchy.
The flip is tricky. Dad tosses it in mid-air (which takes courage and conviction, says Julia Child), so I get why the scrambled version scores points. (You could also always just use a spatula, so no excuses.) But this flip is always part of the show: Hebrew hibachi if you will. The butter sometimes spatters, the burner hisses; often a piece of airborne matzo will land on a far-flung part of the counter (Mom hates this).
We slice it pizza-style for sharing while another fresh one's crisping in the pan. I'm a fan of a little black pepper and a drizzle of maple syrup for that sweet, slightly spiced combo. Jam and more butter are always at arm's reach. It's always so good we forget we'll be bored of matzo by the end of Passover. Even if it's not your custom to eat matzo for seven days, you're going to love matzo in its most craveable, soul-satisfying form.