Hard acts to follow

Richard E Grant achieved an enduring place in filmgoers' affections with his memorable performance in Withnail And I, since when he has worked with Francis Coppola, Robert Altman and Martin Scorsese. As Grant says, "Inevitably, my choices for this 'desert island meal' read like a menu-ography, confirming the importance that food has in life, in that it reminds one of the best times and contradicts the belief that you can never go back. Close your eyes, get your nose down to the plate, breathe in, then taste - time concertinas more acutely than 1,000 photo albums or endless home videos can ever deliver."

All recipes serve six.

White crab meat, chilli, lime, lemon, garlic, basil, olive oil and thin pasta

Very colourful, and wholly appropriate to a larger-than-life character such as Mr Grant, for whom this pasta plate has great resonance: 'My introduction to this dish came at the Ivy, in Santa Monica, with Steve Martin during the making of LA Story - there's nothing quite like eating seafood with a view of the ocean and a sidelong gander at various movie stars eating alongside. Every waiter seemed to be a new best friend, and their every offer of food a literal audition piece, with more detailed descriptions than most cookbooks offer in the index. Nothing they say sinks in, as every corpuscle is trying to suppress laughter at the daftness of a grown human listing 75 ingredients per dish. Steve whispered, "try the crab", but I felt oddly guilty stopping Charlton or Chuck, or whatever the waiter was called, to order something so simple.'

1 large live crab, or two small ones

2 red chillies, chopped very fine (seeds removed, if you prefer)

1 lemon, juiced

1 lime, juiced

2 cloves garlic, crushed and chopped fine

1 big handful fresh basil, picked

4-5 tbsp very good olive oil

600-800g tagliatelle

Sea salt and black pepper

Season a big pan of water with enough salt and sugar to taste of sweetened sea-water, and bring to the boil. Flip the crab (or crabs) upside down, lift up the slender triangular flap on its underside, place a sharp skewer on the spot revealed and drive it home, thereby killing the crab instantly and with minimal distress. Drop the crab into the boiling water, return it to the boil and cook for 12-15 minutes. If time allows, leave the crab to cool in the water, or transfer it to a tray to cool.

Crack the shell and legs, remove the white meat, taking care to omit as much shell and cartilage as possible. Save the brown meat for another use (it is especially delicious when mixed with a little softened butter, spiked with a drop or two of Tabasco and a pinch each of mace, salt and pepper, then left in the fridge to set before being eaten spread on hot buttered toast).

When you're ready to eat, place a big pan of salted water on the stove and bring to a boil. Wash the basil lightly. Place the crab meat, chilli, citrus juices, sea salt, plenty of milled pepper, olive oil, garlic and ripped basil leaves in a large bowl and toss together gently. Boil the pasta and, when cooked, drain well and tip into the bowl. Mix thoroughly, and eat swiftly.

Two dozen barbecued prawns in their shells, lemons, a bed of salad, and Portuguese bread rolls

There is nothing like the hands-on, down-and-dirty eating of crustacea - it sure beats the hell out of some pink muck dolloped on unlucky prawns sitting on some dull lettuce in a horrid glass. As Grant knows only too well: 'Lourenco Marques, now Maputo, in Mozambique was the Indian Ocean port of call for monthly weekend visits when I was growing up in neighbouring Swaziland. Part Graham Greene to two parts Ernest Hemingway with a dash of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, this former Portuguese colony was as exotic as it was chaotic and falling to bits. The roads were an endless series of potholes and flat tyres, marathon bouts of "I spy with my little eye", swerving to avoid the odd tortoise and spotting monkeys in the bush with the reward of a swim in the bath-warm sea and a plate piled with prawns at the other end of it. Adults opted for piri-piri flavoured prawns, which by all accounts induced a "ring of fire below deck" the following day.

'Our plates were piled high with the delicious "crawlers", which sat atop a bed of salad or rice and were accompanied by Portuguese bread rolls that looked like miniature cushions and were perfect for mopping up the lemon juice and barbecue sauce-skid left on the plate. No cutlery was required - which for children meant a truly finger-licking good time, and neither sight nor sound of Colonel Saunders. It was all washed down with ice-cold Coca-Cola in a bottle, which, if you plopped a tiny stone into it, frothed up and required immediate slurp-attendance followed by a guaranteed burp. All this was overlaid with an indelible soundtrack of fado music.'

At least 12 fresh tiger prawns in their shells per person


1 bowl cut lemons

1 basket bread rolls, Portuguese if possible

1 bowl dressed salad leaves

Light the coals in the barbecue and leave to settle until they are embers. Set six or so prawns on each skewer and lay them on the grill. Brush with a little olive oil if you wish. Once the side exposed to the heat has turned a blackened white and orange, turn and cook the other side. Continue thus until all are done, then pile them all on a big dish. Juice liberally with lemon, and set to with a vengeance.

Lychee sorbet

Mr Grant must forgive my use of tinned fruit for a sorbet that he loves made from the fresh variety. However, the vast majority of such produce imported to these isles is so poor that they are but a base note compared to their true nature.

'I can still remember eating fresh lychees atop a lychee sorbet. Alongside the sound of cicadas, ripe lychees signalled Christmas in the subtropics. I know of no more delicious or delicate a flavoured fruit than this. Picking them from the tree in clusters and peeling off their crusty skins to reveal the pearly flesh beneath was like unwrapping the perfect Christmas parcel.

'Their unique perfume is concentrated and intensified when made into sorbet. (I dumbly tasted eau de cologne once, assuming that something that smelled that good would taste so, too.) Lychees sate this desire to inhale and taste, without the expense and inconvenience of choking on a bottle of Chanel No 5.

'English Christmas pudding is wonderfully cooled by fresh lychee and its sorbet (as an alternative to brandy butter), with the added bonus that it induces the illusion that it is palate-cleansing, thus enabling the intake of at least four extra portions. Indeed, it's worth doing at least once a month, especially as puddings are practically given away in the January sales.

'Having eaten Rick Stein's Christmas pudding once during the filming of Twelfth Night, in Padstow five years ago, I've stockpiled by mail order ever since. For, like a certain Mr You-know-who, Mr Stein bakes exceedingly good puds. The moistest, most delicious and fruitiest in the land - unlike my prose.'

2 567g tins lychees

1 lemon, juiced

100g icing sugar

12 fresh lychees, if available

Check through the lychees for the presence of any stones. Place the fruit, their juice, the lemon juice and sugar into a blender, and render the ingredients to a homogeneous fluid. Pass through a fine sieve, then tip into an ice-cream machine and churn according to the manufacturer's instructions (for those not in possession of this piece of equipment, pour the mix into a suitable tray, and freeze, stirring every half-hour or so, until set). Carefully peel the fresh lychees - you don't want them to turn to mush on you - and remove the stone and the surrounding membrane. Scoop the sorbet into some frozen glasses, and place the fresh lychees on top

Jeremy Lee is chef at Blue Print Café, Butlers Wharf, London SE1.

Thanks to guardian.co.uk who have provided this article. View the original here.


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