Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Matzo brei: The treat that comes but once a year.

Matzo brei prepared properly, aka hard, on the left, and that other way, to the right.

     The electric company ended Passover early this year. Well, at least in one tweet yesterday, claiming the holiday ended Monday night — 24 hours ahead of when the holiday actually ends. Eight days. It's a wonder the lights stay on at all. 
     A forgivable lapse — though one they did not correct themselves, even when I politely pointed the error out to them. Few corporations do; they tend to blunder on instead. 
     Not a failing that can be written off to ComEd being a gentile company — Jews have a way of rushing their own holidays, whether convening sundown at mid-afternoon on Yom Kippur. Or returning to bread a few days before Passover officially ends. Tuesday night. One misses bread. 
    Myself, I actually need that full eight days, for a reason I've never seen committed to print, so this might be a first. The full eight days are required to get your matzo brei in. 
    Allow me to explain. Matzo brei is a traditional dish of eggs and matzo — not to be confused with egg matzo, which is matzo baked with egg in it. Matzo brei — also called "egg matzo" — is a breakfast dish.   It isn't intrinsically heavy, but is so good, you tend to eat a lot. I do, anyway. So while you are tempted the first few mornings of Passover, the idea is dismissed — everyone's too full from the night before (there are two Seders, on consecutive nights; don't ask why; it's complicated) and, besides, there are all those leftovers to eat.
     But — and this is a rule of my own — you only eat matzo brei during Passover, because otherwise the foodstuff would escape into the rest of the year and a) lose its specialness and b) you'd eat it continually, the way I do Bays Raisin and Cinnamon English Muffins. (although, they never lose their specialness, because they're so super special, and since I haven't had any the week of Passover, when I do, Wednesday morning — pay attention, ComEd! — they'll be doubly extra special). 
      Suddenly Tuesday and Wednesday — impossible, due to the Seders the night before — slip into Thursday and Friday. The matzo brei doesn't get eaten then because preparing it is a production and after the ordeal of preparing for the Seder one craves normal, eat-and-run life. The canyon floor was rushing up. Finally Sunday we dove in and had our matzo brei.
     Although — and this is why I'm writing this — this year my wife and I parted ways when it came to matzo brei preparation. Matzo brei is prepared by wetting matzo in water, mixing it with scrambled eggs then frying it. And my wife likes hers well-soaked in water, so it's soft. Which I suppose is fitting under strict literal interpretation: matzo brei translates out as "matzo porridge." 
    Me, I like the matzo just kissed by the water, so it's hard, or hardish. A quick rinse, then broken into the eggs, stirred a bit, then into the hot pan.
     In past years, we've compromised by eating matzo brei twice — one made her way, aka  wrong. And once my way, preserving the dish's delightful tactile firmness. But this year we decided just to each prepare our own meal. Which struck me as slightly dubious, like couples having separate bank accounts or taking separate vacations. We're sort of joined at the hip, my wife and I, and preparing separate meals, not our style.  Generally.
     But I only eat the stuff once a year, and want matzo brei the way God intended, aka, my way. As did my wife.  Although we did not  — Israelis and Palestinians take note — kill each other over it. We made accommodations to our divergent claims on reality.
     We didn't consult beforehand — my wife just set out two cast iron pans — and I noticed differences. I used three pieces of matzo while she used six, which took me aback. When I inquired, she said she planned on having extra to take to work Monday, another practice I'd never consider —you don't reheat matzo brei, but consume it all, immediately after being prepared. She used vegetable oil. And I used butter because, as Napoleon said, if you're going to take Vienna, take Vienna.  One doesn't skimp on a meal you eat once a year. With lots of sugar. Though she uses salt. Which is also wrong. 
      We each did sample one anothers preparation — I found hers soft.  She tried mine and did not remark upon it. Being polite, no doubt. Frankly, she could have spat it into a napkin. I didn't care. This is my annual matzo brei.
      As we ate, we discussed that. She mentioned that we could, you know, enjoy matzo brei at other times of the year. "We have turkey when it isn't Thanksgiving," she argued. Yes, well, that's turkey, and this is matzo brei. Once a year. No more. To do otherwise would be crazy.

Three matzos + two eggs = one plate of delicious matzo brei as God intended.


  1. Your wife's way is the correct way, with one egg per sheet of matzo!

  2. You put a smile on my face (to respond otherwise would be wrong) -- in the midst of all of the news, thanks for this

  3. Delightful display of Bickerson comedy. You need a disclaimer, however, that no feelings were hurt during the creation of the dispute.

    By the way, isn't matzo supposed to taste bad or if not bad, at least not delicious?

    1. God no. There's no accounting for taste. Edie hard-boils egg. I have eaten, perhaps, one hard boiled egg in my life. I despise them. It isn't an issue that needs thrashing out. Matzo doesn't taste bad, or good. It doesn't taste at all. It's like a saltine, a vehicle to put something upon.

    2. Neil, up until today, I have been a great admirer. However, you've drawn a line I can't ignore. I get the hard-boiled egg thing, but deviled eggs? My family begs me to bring them every time we have a gathering. As an elder, I've become the hors d'oeuvres guy at parties. Spinach croissants, chicken cheese balls, etc. But none are more requested that my deviled eggs. Don't be surprised if, one day in the near future, I show up at your doorstep with a platter of them. It'll change your life. I love the humor of Matzo Brei today. Hope everything went well with your dad yesterday.

    3. You poor thing. One's enough -- you're hooked for life. But only one at a time, on special occasions, made by dedicated wives, mothers, aunts, and sisters, to be consumed in toto, no nibbling.

      I suppose Jewel sells a dozen wrapped in plastic; no good -- you can only dare the devil so far.


    4. How about deviled eggs.? Exception to the rule? Or do you despise them all the more for the plebian seasoning?

  4. what a delightful little piece. i married into one of the tribes and had never heard of this dish (German Jews might be the explanation). i may have to try it out of season as a test run to see if it goes into my rotation for next year.

  5. My German wife makes matzo, mostly for me. It's thicker and less crumbly than the commercial stuff. For years, I bought the salted kind, or the "egg" kind, and would put brown mustard on it...and slices of...wait for it...SPAM. Yes, you read that right. Probably the most un-Kosher thing you could eat on a slab of matzo.

    Wasn't allowed to eat Spam as a kid. My father wouldn't allow it in the house. Ate far too much of it in the Army, during WWII. I didn't eat it until I was probably close to forty. And I fell in love with the stuff. Go figure.

    Finally, my doctor told me to stop. Too much salt, and too high in cholesterol. So I don't do the Spam-and-matzo thing anymore. Some folks would say: "What the hell kind of a Jew ARE you, anyhow?" The kind that makes his own rules, I guess. And breaks others. I am what I am.

  6. I'm with your missus. Two matzos made medium soft in water, two eggs. I make one big pancake in a 7" pan. I skip the sugar, but put maple syrup on top. I know, quintescentially goyish, but mighty tasty!

  7. What? No talk of condiments? Well now that it's on your mind, I use maple syrup, thanks for asking. I have friends who also top it with jam or powdered sugar, and one who shall remain nameless that thinks ketchup is OK...which it's not. Also, I season with salt and LOTS of black pepper...but never sugar. And they don't give James Beard Awards to just anybody.

    1. Funny you mention maple syrup — Edie did float that idea during our conversation which, hard though it may be to believe, was even more wide-ranging than what I've set down here (I began to feel like I was going on and on).

  8. Great take on the Matzo Brei, but that china is a feast itself.

  9. I opted out of commenting on the deli post last week, but this will make up for that. Back when we lived in East Lakeview, we'd enjoy The Bagel (on Broadway) frequently. (Though there was good competition from diners like Stella's across the street and The Melrose a couple blocks north of those two.)

    Anyway, one of the things I'd sometimes get was their Fried Matzos. They can be ordered plain, or with onions or salami, or salami and onions. I believe I'd usually go for the latter, and top them with maple syrup. (Uh, currently I see that priced on their menu at a gob-smacking $19.25 -- the competing Steinberg versions offer quite a handsome savings compared to that, no doubt.)

    So that would essentially combine Grizz's savory Spam flavor with the syrup referenced by Rick W. and Gale Gand. "They don't give James Beard Awards to just anybody," but Ms. Gand is likely cooking for herself. At a place like The Bagel, salt need not be added -- you practically get your daily dose by walking in the door, though any possible deficiency is more than made up for by the salami.

    All that being said, the version served at The Bagel is even more pancake-like than the Mrs. Steinberg creation pictured above. I like crunchy, though, so I wonder if I might like Neil's better, if I were to try it. Regardless, the Bagel rendition that NS would surely disdain was swell. Unrelatedly, another favorite there was the Hoppel Poppel omelette: "Diced Frankfurter or salami, potato, green pepper & onion." Clearly no need to salt that, either!


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