Daisy Pullman King insists that Chicken Kapama isn't considered feast-day fare.
After you taste her family's version, though -- chicken braised in tomato sauce redolent with cinnamon, nutmeg, clove and allspice, plus an orange -- you might want to redefine "feast."
To many, Greek food is roast lamb and spanakopita, but that's usually prepared for holidays, she said. But the Chicken Kapama she grew up enjoying is "everyday fare," said King, a Cheektowaga homemaker who is The News' February Cook of the Month.
Watching King cook the dish in her cozy kitchen last week drove home her point. It's nothing complicated, to be sure -- besides browning the chicken, it requires pouring tomato sauce and other ingredients into a pot, squeezing an orange, stirring and waiting. You can even skip browning the chicken if you're in a hurry, King said.
But what comes out of that pot -- perfumed with exotic scents and tender to the fork -- will be no everyday dish for most of us. Its blend of aromatic spices will have you checking a map to see how close Greece is to India.
King said she learned her version of Chicken Kapama from her grandmother, Despina Pullman, who came from a town in Greece called Doliana, in the Arcadia region. (Before arrival at Ellis Island in 1912, the family name was Poulimenis.)
Here, King's grandparents operated Pullman's Chocolate Shop on Walden Avenue in Cheektowaga until they retired in 1968. King's mother died in 1973, but her father, George Pullman, a retired engineer, still makes the dish.
Today, King cooks for her husband, Bruce, an aircraft mechanic at Prior Aviation, and her daughter, Tina. "My husband is not Greek -- he's the epitome of WASPdom," King said. "Until he married me he didn't even know what garlic was. So he's a work in progress." That said, he can't get enough spanakopita, she noted.
She'll cook up Greek food for the King dinner table once or twice a month, she said. More often she'll make roast beef, chicken piccata, Italian sausage, brisket in the slow cooker or other American favorites.
That doesn't mean she's left her Greek heritage behind. In June, King usually makes a trip to her favorite spot for picking grape leaves, along a trail in Williamsville.
Those wild grape vines might be mere weeds to backyard gardeners, but to King and other Greek cooks, they're an irreplaceable ingredient for dolmades, or stuffed grape leaves.
"The ones in a jar are horrible," King said. "It's like chewing on grass."
She'll pick about 500 leaves, she said, which takes less time than you'd think. "I give most of them away" to other friends and family members who use them, she said.
She blanches the leaves to soften them, and freezes packets for future use. The ones she's working with are rolled around a filling of rice, ground beef, mint, dill and onion. Then the grape leaves are carefully layered in a large pot, with the roll's seam facing down.
She puts a plate over the top of the layers to keep them in place, and simmers them in beef broth with a little tomato sauce. She doesn't pour egg-lemon sauce over them at the table, just a squeeze of lemon.
That's standard Greek fare. Her chicken dish is a bit different.
There are actually two recipes for Chicken Kapama in the Greek cookbook published by the Hellenic Orthodox Church of the Annunciation on Delaware Avenue. Neither calls for an orange, peel and all, to be squeezed into, then simmered with, the sauce.
But the Pullmans would insist on it, King said. Perhaps it has something to do with their ancestral village, Doliana, which harbors lemon and orange groves.
Whatever its provenance, the orange adds both sweetness, from the juice, and a touch of bitterness, from the rind.
So where would a Chicken Kapama rookie be most likely to go wrong?
Not browning the butter enough for the pasta, King said. You want the butter's particulates the color of dark chocolate, "almost burnt," King said. "You get a nuttier flavor that way."
1 chicken, cut into pieces
1 large (29-ounce) can tomato sauce
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1/3 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 whole orange, washed and quartered
1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) butter, plus more for frying
1 pound perciatelli or bucatini pasta; can substitute spaghetti, or egg noodles
Grated romano cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
In a large Dutch oven over medium heat, fry chicken in butter until skin is browned. Remove chicken and set aside.
Add garlic to pan and saute briefly. Add tomato sauce and spices; mix well. Return chicken to pot.
Squeeze juice from the quartered orange into the sauce and then add the orange, peel and all. Simmer until chicken is tender, stirring occasionally, 90 minutes to two hours.
To serve: Cook pasta following package directions.
Meanwhile, put 4 tablespoons butter in a medium skillet, over medium high heat. Cook until butter is deeply dark brown, the color of chocolate.
Drain cooked pasta. Toss the pasta with several tablespoons of romano cheese. Pour browned butter over the pasta, then a few spoonfuls of the sauce. Toss pasta to coat.
Discard orange pieces. Serve the chicken on the side of the pasta, maybe with crusty bread.
Chicken can be made a day ahead and reheated over medium heat, stirring regularly.
(This also can be made in the slow cooker: After browning chicken and sauteing garlic, transfer to the crock, add tomato sauce, spices and orange, and cook on low for about 4 to 6 hours.)
>Daisy Pullman King
Dish: Chicken Kapama
Mouths to feed: 3
Go-to-instant meal: Pork Chops PlakiGuilty pleasure: Custard napoleon