My father, like all dads of the 1950s, mastered a couple of pieces of cooking equipment and had his special dishes that he produced on holidays, and on demand.
With the aid of a charcoal kettle grill in the back yard, he made the world's best lamb chops. In the electric frying pan, on Sunday mornings, he would make Spit in the Ocean, or another weird concoction that involved slices of bologna or salami floating in a sea of scrambled eggs. If that dish had a name, I've repressed it.
Every year in the Spring, my father did his best work, with a straight-sided covered sauté pan, a large melamine mixing bowl ... and his hands. Spring meant Passover, which meant matzoh, which meant matzoh brei. We ate this only once a year. And my dad was the matzoh brei king.
Matzoh (also spelled matzah, or matzo) is unleavened bread, made from wheat flour and water. By tradition and by definition, it's not allowed to ferment; in fact, from the time the water is added to the flour, it must be completely cooked in no more than 18 minutes. The result is a cracker-like consistency and, as you can imagine from something with only two ingredients, virtually no taste. Oh, there are flavored matzohs, enhanced with egg or onion or sesame — there's even chocolate-covered matzoh — but to us those were not "real" matzoh, and we never ate them at home.
Store-bought was our everyday, but for special occasions like Passover, my parents would seek out the more elusive shmura matzoh, which is a kind of artisan product: hand-made, and wood-fired.
Available year-round in my local supermarket, matzoh makes a fine alternative in lasagna, meatloaf, pudding, or chocolate crunch. I can grind the matzoh to make a coating for lamb chops, though they will never taste as good as my dad's, but after years of practice, my matzoh brei is every bit as delicious as his.
By the way, this post goes out to my Cousin Martin, who reminded me that matzoh is an all-the-time pantry item, not just a seasonal substitute for bread in a tuna-with-Miracle Whip sandwich.
Pronounced MAT-ZAH BRY, this egg dish resembles a frittata or tortilla Española: eggs, something starchy to give body, and salt. My father used to say that his secret was "in the wrist." Now that I make this for my family, I know he was right. I like this just as it comes from the pan, often with sea salt on top, but Ted gives it the pancake treatment (maple syrup). Serves 6.
6 sheets of plain store-bought matzoh, from the box
Lots of kosher salt
2 Tbsp butter
Place the matzoh in a large bowl, break it up into chunks, and fill the bowl with lukewarm water. Let the matzoh soak for 2-3 minutes, until it's soft but not disintegrating. Now for some wrist action: grab clumps of the soft matzoh, and squeeze out as much water as humanly possible. Place into another bowl. Repeat until all the matzoh is drained, and you have a bowl full of matzoh clumps. In another bowl, or in a large measuring cup, whisk the eggs with 2 tablespoons of water until thoroughly mixed. Pour into the bowl with the matzoh. Add some salt (start with a heaping teaspoon). Stir everything together.
In a straight-sided sauté pan over low heat, melt the butter, making sure to coat the bottom and sides of the pan. Pour in the matzoh mixture, and level with a spatula. Cover, and cook for 10 minutes or so, checking every now and then to make sure the mixture is not sticking. When the bottom is brown, either (very bravely) flip the entire matzoh brei over in one piece, or do what I do and cut it into quarters. Flip each quarter back into the pan, and cook, uncovered, for 5 minutes or until the bottom is lightly browned and the eggs are set. Cut into wedges, sprinkle with salt (believe me, it will be needed!) and serve.
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