If you’ve ever wanted another way to harness the transformative power of butter or schmaltz, you should make matzo brei. If you’re always on the lookout for quick, comforting meals, you should make matzo brei. If you’ve ever eaten scrambled eggs and thought, “These could be better,” you should make matzo brei. If you think anything made with matzo tastes bland and lean, you should make matzo brei.
I’ll stop there, since there are as many reasons to make matzo brei as there are ways to make it.
“Matzo brei” is Yiddish for “fried matzo.” (The “brei” conveniently rhymes with “fry.”) This simple Ashkenazi dish of eggs, matzo (unleavened flatbread made from flour and water), and fat is eaten during Passover, the Jewish holiday during which observers avoid eating leavened food. The requisite steps go something like this: Break sheets of matzo into pieces, soften them in liquid (water or milk), mix them with eggs, and then scramble everything in fat. Those details in between? They all depend on what you grew up with and what you’re used to.
My First Brei
The first brei I had was cooked on a hot plate in my friend’s college dorm room. She had sautéed some onion in butter before adding the egg-matzo mixture to the pan and folding it all together for a minute or two. The result was deeply savory, and its texture—with its tender pockets of egg‑coated matzo—was more substantial and satisfying than any plate of scrambled eggs I’d ever eaten
In the 20 years since then, I’ve made matzo brei countless times—always during Passover but also any time I’ve had a box of matzo to use up or wanted a heartier, more dynamic plate of eggs. Because one of the best things about fried matzo is that it’s infinitely customizable. You can cook it like a pancake in a single layer or stir it up like a scramble. You can make it sweet or savory and zhuzh it up with just about any condiment: hot sauce, maple syrup, jam, applesauce, sour cream, or ketchup. And the flavor is neutral, so it can easily be the foundation for more elaborate riffs. When I talked to legendary Jewish cookbook author Joan Nathan, the conversation turned into a brainstorm of possible mix-ins.
“I happen to really love chicken livers, so I would put them in,” Nathan said. “And then, of course, if you’re going to do chicken livers, you might as well do green and red onions with them.”
Other ideas for spiffing up the scramble that arose from my conversation with Nathan: sautéed mushrooms, crispy pastrami, smoked salmon, and peanut butter and bananas.
But you can’t have great matzo brei without nailing the building blocks, starting with the egg-to-matzo ratio. You can use as little as one egg per sheet, which sufficiently binds up the matzo shards, but I prefer my fried matzo to have a more substantial scrambled egg presence. Three eggs per two sheets, I found, is enough to thoroughly coat the matzo pieces without overwhelming them. As for the soaking liquid, water (many cooks rinse matzo under the faucet) and milk work perfectly well, but I realized that I could do without either one if I simply dunked the broken pieces right into the whisked eggs. It saves a step, and as long as I let them hydrate in the eggs for a few minutes, the matzo softens without turning soggy.
Meanwhile, matzo brei’s flavor is largely bound up in the fat and additional seasonings, which is why I always use nutty-tasting butter for a sweet scramble or schmaltz when I’m going for savory. And I’m generous with it—both for the flavor it delivers and to pay off the “brei” that the name promises.
Matzo: The Ultimate Jewish Foodway
There’s tremendous ritual and precision bound up in a sheet of matzo. Biblically, the unleavened flatbread, which Jews snack on year-round but eat ceremoniously during the weeklong Passover holiday, represents both the suffering of Jewish people during their enslavement in Egypt and their freedom from it. They fled the Pharaoh’s bondage so hastily, the Haggadah reminds us at each Seder, that there wasn’t time for their bread dough to rise, so it baked on their backs as they migrated through the desert.
“Recounting the exodus from slavery is the essential fulfillment of the Passover holiday,” said Danny Kaplan, vice president of operations at Streit’s Matzos, a New York–based company that has been producing matzo for more than 100 years. “Eating matzo is one of the tools or Mitzvot we are commanded to perform to help us remember the story.”
Matzo producers have long since mimicked the cracker-y, austere qualities of this “bread of affliction” by adhering to the strictest criteria. Every part of the process, from milling the flour to mixing, kneading, and baking the dough, is supervised by rabbis who ensure that each batch of matzo is produced in no more than 18 minutes. If any more time elapses, Kaplan explained, rabbis consider the dough chametz (Hebrew for “risen”) and unusable. Every piece must be perfectly flat and square; an imperfection could cause the dough to underbake.
“Our production line has a robotic system with an electronic eye that determines if each piece is good enough,” Kaplan said. “There’s a trap door for pieces that aren’t.”
And those are just the customs for everyday matzo; making the stuff that’s certified kosher for Passover is an even more rigid ritual that involves inspecting the wheat for sprouting and ridding the milling equipment of any conventional matzo flour.
But eating matzo is ritualistic in an unbridled, personal way, and the flatbread’s plainness is what allows it to function so seamlessly in the countless preparations that feature it. If you grew up eating commercial matzo, you’re probably allied with a particular brand and style, as well as a preferred schmear: butter, cream cheese, peanut butter, hummus, Nutella, guacamole, chopped liver. Matzo brei might be the Passover breakfast you look forward to every year or the lazy dinner you cook whenever you don’t feel like doing any real cooking. A few sheets can step in for the noodles in lasagna, the tortillas in chilaquiles (a favorite riff of late Los Angeles Times food critic, Jonathan Gold), and the ladyfingers in tiramisu, and matzo toffee can be shellacked (or not) with chocolate of any shade. It’s certainly not just for Passover.
“You can use it to make matzo brei, matzo pizza, and matzo balls for soup,” said Kaplan. “You can use it to replace challah, put peanut butter and jelly on it, and make peanut brittle out of it. That’s what makes it so versatile.” –Elizabeth Bomze
Onions are the other key to matzo brei with a savory backbone, so I usually start by chopping and sautéing a big handful in the fat until it’s soft and just shy of browned. (Alternatively, you can use caramelized onions.) Then I pour in the egg-matzo mixture, gently stirring and folding everything together over medium heat until the eggs are just cooked through and most of the scramble sets up into rustic, tender, two-bite clumps. That’s all there is to it, save for liberal doses of salt and pepper and sometimes a last-minute handful of fresh herbs (I like dill and chives). Be generous with the seasonings—the main ingredient in matzo brei is still matzo, after all.