If you watched last Sunday's installment of HBO's 5-part mini-series Mildred Pierce and you are human, you will have been drawn into this heart-wrenching melodrama about an ambitious single mother with superior culinary skills and you will have also have been thinking about pie. (Read our interview with with Mildred Pierce propmaster Sandy Hamilton.) Prepare yourself for this week's episode: Mildred will open her new pie-and-chicken palace and for much of the hour fried chicken will be waved in your face and it will look so tantalizingly ready-for-consumption that you will not be able to push the idea of a piece of crispy, well-seasoned pan-fried bird out of your head. You will find yourself thinking, "How late is Pann's open?" "Where is the nearest Roscoe's House of Chicken and Waffles?" "Is Flossie's in Torrance too far of a drive?"
Or you will decide to fry chicken yourself. If that is the case, do not try to decipher and imitate Mildred's time-efficient way of making the dish, a refrigerating, flour-dredging, oven-baking system spelled out in James M. Cain's 1941 novel of the same name, a page-turner with long meticulously rendered passages regarding Mildred's dazzling cake, pie, waffle and chicken prep.
The drumsticks, breasts and thighs that make you crazy-hungry were cooked by Colin Flynn, the miniseries' chief food stylist and the man who went the extra mile to trigger your olfactory senses. Not only did he go off script and use his own recipe (turn the page) but during all those fried chicken scenes, Flynn is actually just off-camera in a small kitchen on the set, hunched over three hot plates and engaged in marathon frying sessions, something that is not so well suited to moviemaking. "Fried chicken doesn't stay attractive for very long, so I just kept replacing it and replacing it," says Flynn. "But it's really hard to cook on a stage. When they're rolling you can't make any noise. It's just difficult logistically."
Colin Flynn's Fried Chicken
From: Colin Flynn
1 4-pound chicken, cut in 8 pieces, thighs, drumsticks, breasts cut in half
3 cups buttermilk
4 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tablespoon fresh thyme , chopped
1 shallot, sliced
salt and pepper, to taste
Sriracha or your favorite hot sauce
canola oil for frying
3 cups flour
1. Have your butcher cut up a four pound chicken into 8 pieces, or do it yourself.
2. Pour the buttermilk in a large bowl, add garlic, thyme, shallot, salt, pepper and hot sauce. Taste it and make sure you have it as salty and spicy as you want the chicken to be. Add the chicken to the buttermilk and stick the bowl in your refrigerator for 12 hours, give or take a few.
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3. Remove chicken from the buttermilk and toss in a large bowl with your 3 cups flour, toss until evenly coated with flour.
4. Heat a couple inches of oil in a deep cast iron pan or Dutch oven to 370 degrees.
5. Remove the chicken from the flour, shake off excess and in 2 batches drop the chicken pieces carefully into the hot oil. Cook for 15-20 minutes, turning once. Put the pieces that you finish first on a rimmed baking in a warm, 200 degree oven while the second batch cooks.
6. Sprinkle the chicken with a bit more salt if you like and serve immediately.