The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover – Butter Prawn

This is probably Peter Greenaway’s most famous (or infamous) film, which first shocked audiences at the 1989 Cannes Film Festival and then on both sides of the Atlantic. A gang leader (Michael Gambon), accompanied by his wife (Helen Mirren) and his associates, entertains himself every night in a fancy French restaurant that he has recently bought. Having tired of her sadistic, boorish husband, the wife finds herself a lover (Alan Howard) and makes love to him in the restaurant’s coziest places with the silent permission of the cook (Richard Bohringer). Though less cerebral than Greenaway’s other films, featuring deadly passions reminiscent of Jacobean revenge tragedies of the early 17th century, the picture still offers the director’s usual ironic and paradoxical comments on the relations between eating and sex, love and death. The film is at once funny and horrific, and those who are not used to Greenaway’s peculiar style might be even disgusted or shocked; however, one might mention Sacha Vierny’s brilliant camerawork, Jean-Paul Gaultier’s gaudily stylized costumes, and Michael Nyman’s somber, pulsating music, which will haunt the viewer long after the film’s end.

Throughout the movie violence is connected with food. From the start on, ‘flesh’ is always present in the movie. Flesh as the opposite of the mind in one way or another. Every place is crammed with ‘flesh’: the trucks on the parking lot, all sorts of game in the kitchen and the ‘still lives’ in the restaurant.

The first thing that comes in mind from flesh is chicken or fish. Let’s check out the recipe for Butter Prawn, it’s easy to cook and delicious.


1 lb large prawns
Oil for deep frying
3 tablespoons butter
6 bird’s eye chilies (chopped)
3 sprigs of curry leaves (use only the leaves)
3 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon Chinese cooking wine (rice wine preferred)
6 tablespoons of grated coconut (dry fried until golden brown)


Leave the prawn heads and shells on but chop off the eyes part. Slit down the back to remove the veins. Pat dry. Heat oil and deep fry the prawns. Drain and set aside.

Melt the butter, add bird’s eye chilies, curry leaves, garlic, salt and fry for 2 minutes or until fragrant. Add prawns, sugar, soy sauce, wine, and grated coconut. Cook over high heat for 1-2 minutes, stirring frequently. Serve immediately.


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