A Matzo Brei with Zip & Pep (A.K.A. Potato Chips & Caramelized Onions)

March 28, 2018

When I started working in a bakery, there were a lot of learning curves: how to sleep in the afternoon and wake in the middle of the night, crimp pie shells and slash baguettes, roll biscuits, and, take a deep breath, flip a Spanish tortilla. This recipe was a customer and staff favorite, and finicky to a T—browned but yellow, firm but tender, oily but not greasy, and, most crucially, not all over the kitchen floor. That was the hard part.

Despite sharing the same name, Spanish tortilla is nothing like its Mexican counterpart. In fact, it’s a lot like the Italian frittata—a thick, skillet-encompassing egg dish, loaded with mix-ins. The key differences: Frittatas can include any ingredients, while Spanish tortillas specifically contain potatoes and onions sautéed in olive oil. Frittatas start on the stove and finish in the oven, whereas Spanish tortillas are all about the flip.

This is sort of tricky. In the past, we’ve even weaseled our way out of it (two examples, above!). But at the bakery, no dice. It was kitchen initiation: Sauté potatoes and onions. Combine with beaten eggs. Pour into a puddle of splattering olive oil. Swirl the pan dramatically. Wait a few minutes. Now, what are you waiting for, c’mon, let’s do the dang thing. If you’re a righty: Hold the skillet in your left hand. Maybe the handle is hot, so a towel or oven mitt will come, hehe, in handy. Top with a plate—a slightly curved one is best. Put your right hand on top of the plate. Flip the egg concoction onto the plate, then slide it back into the pan, starting from the left, scooching to the right. Get it back on the heat and swirl, swirl, swirl. Now give yourself a big hug.

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At first, this didn’t go, you know, great. Some tortillas fell apart (undercooked). Some stuck (not enough oil). Some sloshed (too much oil), burning this forearm, that wrist, leaving little, pink marks that faded into littler, pale scars. But, onward. If you do anything enough, you’ll get the hang of it. The good news is, you don’t have to make a tortilla a day to practice. Grab a skillet and plate, then mimic the motions. This will feel sort of silly, but fake it till you make it, right? When it’s the real deal, be confident. You know how people say that animals can smell fear? Spanish tortillas can, too.

Spanish tortilla? Matzo brei? Same thing? Photo by Julia Gartland

Then again, this here isn’t a classic Spanish tortilla. There are eggs and potatoes and onions. And, yes, you still have to flip it. (You can do it! I know you can.) But the prep is streamlined, and the spirit is Jewish, thanks to two pantry ingredients:

First, the potatoes. A few years back, over at Serious Eats, J. Kenji López-Alt said something wild: “I made a Spanish tortilla out of salt-and-vinegar potato chips.” He got the idea from Spanish chef José Andrés. Instead of sautéing potatoes—the most time-consuming step in Spanish tortilla-making—you just open a bag. Talk about an all that and a bag of chips idea, am I right? (Anyone, anyone?) While I expected that you would need to use thicker, ridged chips to get ahead of any shattering, the classic ones are surprisingly sturdy, wilting just enough in the egg mixture while still lending extra crunch.

So I started to wonder: What if we added another crunchy, salty nosh from the cabinet? Say, matzo? Depending on how far you zoom out, all skillet-based egg dishes are cut from the same cloth. A quiche is a crusted frittata. A frittata is a free-spirited Spanish tortilla. A Spanish tortilla is a potato-and-onion matzo brei. This Jewish matzo-and-egg pancake is a staple during Passover, when leavened grains are off-limits. I remember, when I was little, my mom would make a giant one, then stand in the middle of the kitchen, swing the pan upward, send the matzo brei up, up, up, flying toward the ceiling, hurling into space, somersaulting back to Earth, and—incredible! every time!—landing right smack dab in the skillet. See? It’s all about confidence.

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Emma was the food editor at Food52. She created the award-winning column, Big Little Recipes, and turned it into a cookbook in 2021. These days, she's a senior editor at Bon Appétit, leading digital cooking coverage. Say hello on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.

1 Comment

Nancy March 28, 2018
Sounds like a crispier crunchier version of an old favorite. On my list to make next week!