Food and Drink

Here’s How to Cook Up an Impressive Feast From Your Apartment

Roast meats, BBQ seafood, pizzas and all!

If you’d asked me this question a month ago, I would’ve said cook a roast, make a big dish of prawn pasta, whip up some ceviche — all dishes that can be prepared in a small space. But, with the festive season just past and the holiday season just getting started, what about a proper big feast?

I currently live in a one-bedroom apartment with my boyfriend, in Melbourne’s beloved inner-north suburb of Fitzroy. Our living space and kitchen is open plan and pretty spacious, but the appliances are limited.

When planning our Christmas lunch — our first year of hosting, we’ve truly graduated to adulthood — what I really wanted was a barbecue or outdoor grill. Because it is really an Australian Christmas without some BBQ skewers? Although we do have a balcony, it’s not big enough for a barbecue, and also wouldn’t be super safe, given its limited airflow.

So I went on a hunt. And that’s when I found the Roccbox. It all started with a Matty Matheson video.

I have a habit of watching Matty Matheson videos when I’m feeling a bit down because he’s entertaining, his food always makes me hungry and super inspired to try out new things in the kitchen.

A few weeks before Christmas, I sat down and watched a video of him making Vietnamese Clams with Peanuts, in what looked like a mini outdoor oven.

The oven is called a Roccbox and it’s made by UK company Gozney, whose speciality lies specifically in pizza ovens. They’re pretty epic. They make one for your countertop, two for outside and one that is restaurant-grade.

Immediately my mind started racing. Growing up in an Italian family, I know that pizza isn’t the only thing you can cook in a pizza oven, it’s just the tip of the iceberg. You can make steaks, roast meats, vegetables, seafood… and with a small and compact oven like the Roccbox, we’d be able to do all this from our apartment balcony!

Having an outdoor kitchen space is life-changing, and you don’t need that big of a space to do it. If you have an appliance that doesn’t produce too much smoke and an area that is fully aerated, then you can make the magic happen.

I can say with confidence, that we made that Vietnamese Vongele courtesy of Matty Matheson to perfection. Instead of roasting them in a conventional oven (which works too, but you can’t do as much as the flavour isn’t as good) you just stick them into your pizza oven — we’ve got the Roccbox from Gozney but there are other brands too — and they come out pretty bloody delicious.

We also made heaps of different pizza — it would be rude not to — which was easy to prepare, quick to cook and produced more food than I could’ve ever dreamt was possible from two people out of a small apartment.

Roccbox is the first mini pizza oven to get to 500 degrees, which means you can literally cook an entire pizza in 60 seconds. It sounds too dreamy to be true, right? The pizza oven that my dad built and sits proudly in the backyard of our family home can cook pizza in under a minute, but it takes hours and hours to heat up. The Roccbox is powered by gas, which means it only takes minutes to heat up and seconds to cook.

If you were to do a roast, or cook meats and veggies in the Roccbox — or any other mini outdoor oven — obviously, it would take a little longer. Our vongole took about five minutes to cook, and steaks would probably take a few minutes and a few flips (like you would cook a steak on the barbecue) but with that added delicious smokey flavour that comes from cooking in a pizza oven.

So I guess my overall advice is if you’re wanting to cook a feast out of your apartment (and you’re not doing a potluck), find yourself a nifty outdoor appliance to help you out. It doesn’t have to be the Roccbox or a mini pizza oven, you could get yourself a hibachi grill or a mini weber q or hot plate, but just something that allows you to cook high volume foods at a high temp.

Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t knock out an impressive feast from a one-bedroom apartment. We fed a family of five plus multiple friends and visitors in the days that followed, all thanks to a mini pizza oven.

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Food and Drink

Why Makrut Lime Makes a Star Ingredient in Cocktails

The Southeast Asian citrus is intensely aromatic and pairs with rum, gin, tequila, and more.

Photo courtesy of Fish Cheeks
Photo courtesy of Fish Cheeks
Photo courtesy of Fish Cheeks

I grew up with a makrut lime tree in my backyard, admiring the double leaves and dimpled citrus fruit that frequently made their way into our family dinners. Makrut limes, which are sometimes referred to kaffir limes (although the term is controversial and has been widely retired), are native to Southeast Asia, but somehow my mom willed a tree to grow in our Southern California home with great success.

To me, makrut meant savoury Thai food: steamed fish curry wrapped in banana leaves and sprinkled with chiffonade makrut, simmering tom kha gai with floating bits of the hand-torn citrus leaves, and glistening green curry accentuated by the plant’s aroma.

But to others, makrut is an ideal ingredient in cocktails and other drinks. Such is the case for Fish Cheeks, a Thai restaurant in Manhattan known for its seafood dishes and eclectic, complementary cocktail menu. Beverage director Beau Fontano knew he had to include makrut in his creations, especially because the ingredient is so prominent on the food menu. Makrut lime finds its way in several drinks, most notably as a garnish atop the Thank You Kha, a riff on the acidic coconut stew tom kha gai, and the Manao Mao, a rum-based drink that uses makrut lime bitters.

“I don’t love using the word tiki, but if you think of those tiki rum cocktails, makrut definitely works well in those,” Fontano says. “But I also love it in martinis-there’s something really clean about it. And with makrut lime, if you’re just using the leaves, you can do a lot of rapid infusions.”

Fontano only uses the leaves, because the rinds and juice of makrut limes are famously bitter. “Regular lime has a little bit more sugar content, so that’s why it’s much more approachable in cocktails. Makrut limes tend to be more dry,” he explains. “But when you use the leaves in cocktails, you just smack it to wake it up a little bit and it gets that nice citrusy, refreshing aroma which is really fun.”

The leaves are cut fresh, so each drink has the scent of makrut lime leaves wafting off of them. “I’m sure at one point I will get around to it and try to figure out how to use the juice,” he laughs.

Further north at Paper Tiger in Portland, Maine, makrut lime leaves are also prevalent in a cocktail called Something Scandalous, a tequila-based drink intended to be, in the words of bartender Nick Reevy, “crushed easily.”

Paper Tiger
Paper Tiger
Paper Tiger

“I went with tequila, specifically, because in Maine it’s 80 degrees and humid pretty much all summer,” Reevy explains. “So I made something you kick back easily. Agave has a really nice softness that elevates the makrut lime, and the main flavour in that drink is the Thai basil.”

The drink is an alluring shade of green and is rounded out by cinnamon syrup and falernum. “Makrut lime is really herbal and bright in a way no other citrus is,” Reevy adds. “It’s interchangeable with other limes, but it just adds this whole other depth of flavour.”Makrut lime has even made its way into hard seltzer, albeit a limited edition drop from Lunar. Founder Kevin Wong knew he wanted to add another citrus drink to his rotation as he witnessed the successes of hard lemonades, but already had a yuzu iteration. Makrut lime seemed like a natural follow-up.

Photo courtesy of Lunar
Photo courtesy of Lunar
Photo courtesy of Lunar

“It has a very intense citrus fragrance, almost perfumey or soapy,” Wong ponders. “Like I could see Le Labo putting out a makrut lime fragrance. It has such a commanding presence and body.”

To tamper down some of the boldness of the makrut lime, the hard seltzer uses makrut lime leaf extract, lime juice, and cane sugar. The aromatics of the lime are present without too much bitterness; instead, the seltzer is grassy, acidic, and dry. Wong recommends pairing the can with spicy foods, especially Szechuan dry pot.

The makrut lime seltzer is currently sold out, and Wong is unsure whether or not another batch is in the works. “I feel like makrut lime is the greatest secret unknown to the Western world,” he says. “It’s in medicine, candy, herbal drinks, cosmetics and aromatherapy. I think we did the seltzer too early, and I don’t know if the world is ready for us to bring it back yet. Maybe in a couple of years.”

But judging by the growing popularity of makrut lime in beverage menus, the comeback might be sooner than he expects.

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Kat Thompson is a senior staff writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @katthompsonn.

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