Big Little Recipes

Matzo Brei Is Meant to Be Messed With

March 16, 2021

A Big Little Recipe has the smallest-possible ingredient list and big everything else: flavor, creativity, wow factor. That means five ingredients or fewer—not including water, salt, black pepper, and certain fats (like oil and butter), since we're guessing you have those covered. Psst, did you hear we’re coming out with a cookbook? We’re coming out with a cookbook!


Many associate matzo brei with Passover, aka Pesach, celebrating the Jewish Exodus from slavery into freedom. Which makes sense. Matzo brei’s main ingredient is indeed matzo, “our unleavened bread of affliction and redemption,” as Alana Newhouse puts it in The 100 Most Jewish Foods. But my grandma sees it differently.

To her, matzo brei isn’t just special-occasion food. It’s special, period, be it for breakfast or lunch or dinner, be it during Passover or many months past it, when matzo itself can be less than easy to find. She makes it all the time, “all the time!” she repeated. “It’s one of my favorite meals.” And me too.

Matzo brei has an ingredient list that seems too little to be true: matzo and egg, plus water, salt, and your fat of choice. Considering matzo’s reputation (cardboard is not an uncommon comparison) and water’s importance (in this case it’s very important), one might assume that the result is nothing to write home about.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“The first time I'd heard of Matzo Brei was in a Ruth Reichl book (Garlic and Sapphires, maybe?). Her recipe is scrambled- and delicious and addictive. I didn't even know that there is a scrambled vs. pancake debate. I'll have to try the pancake version. I am definitely buying matzo this week! Thank you for sharing! ”
— Mary K.
Comment

But I’m writing home about it. Because when you get to know matzo brei, it becomes the sort of thing you could wake up to every day, like a loved one, and not tire of. The sort of few-ingredient, few-minute wonder that your not-Jewish husband could observe from afar, steal a bite from your plate, followed by another bite, how dare he, then start whipping up each morning while the coffee brews without even asking if he’s doing it right, which he is, but wouldn’t it be nice if he at least pretended to need your guidance?

Photo by JAMES RANSOM. PROP STYLING BY MEGAN HEDGPETH. FOOD STYLING BY KATE BUCKENS.

Like any traditional dish, matzo brei’s details—the matzo to egg ratio, the soaking strategy, the cooking fat, just to name a few—defiantly differ by family. And even within my own family, every person has their own strong opinion.

My grandma crumbles a piece of matzo into a bowl, covers it in warm water, lets that hang out for a couple minutes, squeezes out the excess liquid, adds an egg, beats it up, pours everything into a skillet of sizzling olive oil, smooshes the batter into a thin layer, waits until it’s browned, flips, waits until the other side is browned, flips again if she feels like it, why not, then dumps it onto a plate, turns on Law & Order, and reaches for the salt.

My mom holds a piece of matzo under running water until it’s saturated, crumbles it into a bowl, adds an egg, beats it up, pours everything into a pan of foamy butter, flattens it into a pancake, waits until it’s browned, walks to the middle of the kitchen and, whoosh, sends the matzo brei soaring toward the ceiling, flipping midair like an olympic swimmer, landing in a splash of butter, and my family would hoot and holler like we just witnessed a miracle, which we did.

Me though? I am my grandma, I am my mom, and I am not.

Per tradition, I stick with pancake-style versus scramble-style, and seek out those browned, crispy, almost-fried edges. But from there, I go off the rails. If I can find it, I opt for whole-wheat matzo, for its wheaty, malty, richer taste. After showering a piece under the faucet, I add a splash of water with the eggs for bonus fluff. And instead of one egg, I crack two, which my mom scoffed at as “egg brei, not matzo brei.” But it is delicious, like an omelet that wants to be a pancake, or a pancake that wants to be an omelet.

Most importantly though, I forget about the butter. While I answer an email or unload the dishwasher or let this naked baby serenade me, the butter leisurely makes its way from solid to melted to browned. Such a small step takes the matzo brei from sitting on the bench to stealing the ball and sprinting down the field and shooting and scoring and the whole crowd leaps out of its seat and screams. Can you hear it too?

This post contains products independently chosen (and loved) by our editors and writers. As an Amazon Associate, Food52 earns an affiliate commission on qualifying purchases of the products we link to.
Preorder now

Put down those long grocery lists. Inspired by the award-winning column, our upcoming Big Little Recipes cookbook is minimalism at its best: few ingredients, tons of flavor.

Preorder now

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Rachel Phipps
    Rachel Phipps
  • Mary Kay
    Mary Kay
  • Hnitza
    Hnitza
  • Linda
    Linda
  • crsinbos
    crsinbos
Emma is the food editor at Food52. Before this, she worked a lot of odd jobs, all at the same time. Think: stir-frying noodles on the fly, baking dozens of pastries at 3 a.m., and writing about the history of pie in North Carolina. Now she lives in New Jersey with her husband and their cat, Butter. Stay tuned every Tuesday for Emma's award-winning column, Big Little Recipes (also the cookbook in October 2021!). And see what she's up to on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.

21 Comments

Rachel P. March 22, 2021
I can't believe no one else has said this. Hot sauce, always a generous amount of hot sauce. I've published my recipe with homemade hot sauce (https://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/matzo_brei_68846) but in reality I pretty much reach for the Tabasco every single time. So, so good.
 
Mary K. March 18, 2021
This is so interesting! And delicious! The first time I'd heard of Matzo Brei was in a Ruth Reichl book (Garlic and Sapphires, maybe?). Her recipe is scrambled- and delicious and addictive. I didn't even know that there is a scrambled vs. pancake debate. I'll have to try the pancake version. I am definitely buying matzo this week! Thank you for sharing!
 
Hnitza March 17, 2021
When the batter is in the pan i add yellow cheese with truffles ,fennel and whatever you like.mostly eaten with homemade strawberry jam.(my grandma comes from Bulgaria and we call matza bray Burmelikos..
 
Linda March 16, 2021
I add vanilla and cinnamon. Like French toast. This is Sunday brunch.
 
crsinbos March 16, 2021
I make it just like your grandmother and serve with strawberry preserves.
 
dietjessg March 16, 2021
In my house, fried matzoh is wet matzoh cooked in butter. And matzoh brei is the wet matzoh, eggs, and cocked in butter. While I love eggs, I prefer fried matzoh...served with a hefty spoonful of creamy full-fat cottage cheese and some cinnamon sugar in top. YUM! I can’t wait for Pesach (Passover) to begin! I only eat matzoh during the holiday, and dream about it for the other 357 days of the year.
 
Liz March 16, 2021
In my house, we called it fried matzoh. Run under faucet, break into pieces, 1 egg per piece of matzoh (but always made enough for whole family at once) and cooked in hot pan like scrambled eggs. Top with sprinkle of sugar and eat. I make it a throughout the year, and make fun of my husband for putting maple syrup on it- that's not how it's done!
 
Jan S. March 16, 2021
While there is argument in my family regarding scrambled vs pancake style, everyone is in agreement on the ingredients.
One egg to one piece of plain matzo ratio, crumbled in a bowl. Add warm milk and let it soak, covered for a bit. Add the eggs, plenty of salt and pepper, then cook in a good amount of butter until just cooked through. I grew up with this style and have now to passed it down to my kids.
 
Bonnie P. March 16, 2021
How about a little sour cream and a thin sheet of lox? Love that pan for cooking "egg-things"!
 
Debbie S. March 16, 2021
Loved the history!
 
Jennalynn March 16, 2021
There is no water in my family's Matzo Brei.
Beat the eggs. crumble in the matzo.
We also add in onion and maybe even diced peppers.
Pancake style, not scramble and it has tons of crispy bits because it's not mushy to begin with.
 
Judith M. March 16, 2021
scrambled, always, and chopped, browned onion if I feel ambitious - the bet part is butter added to the dish once it's plated. Like matzo itself, matzo Brei is about the butter. Browning it also sounds like a great idea.
 
Elissa F. March 16, 2021
We break up the matzoh into pieces (ONLY egg and onion matzoh will do) into a bowl, cover with water then immediately drain. The ratio is one egg per two pieces of matzoh, combine and add some salt. Add to a hot frying pan with melted butter, scramble until it is JUST cooked - it should still look a bit shiny and wet in places, and serve hot. Delicious!
 
Jill T. March 16, 2021
Cinnamon!!!!!
MY Grandma is rolling over!
 
Helaine March 16, 2021
What pan are you using in your videos?
 
Author Comment
Emma L. March 16, 2021
Five Two's 10-inch nonstick skillet! https://food52.com/shop/products/7701-five-two-essential-cookware
 
jane F. March 16, 2021
Lots of pepper and sour cream on the side
 
Tonicorwin March 16, 2021
Forgot! Yehuda makes an amazing toasted onion gluten free matzo - THE BEST
 
Ruth March 16, 2021
Funny. I didn't even know there was a recipe. Personally, I think the whole dish hinges on having enough salt and pepper. Everything else is negotiable.
 
Tonicorwin March 16, 2021
We like crispy - two pieces of matzo - in a strainer under water, not soaked, and one egg - extra ingredients sometimes added scallions or chives, shredded cheddr and always chopped parsley - served with syrup and sour cream or yoghurt
 
Ray W. March 16, 2021
Cinnamon sugar with grape jelly.