Readers have clamored for Joan Nathan's recipe for gefilte fish since seeing her very good-natured putting up with Jeff Goldberg's and my invasion of her pre-seder gefiltathon, pictures of which she held up on a Martha Stewart show segment. There she made the fish in a bundt pan--a loaf, or more elegantly a pate, that she could cut and serve Martha with two colors of horseradish.
But, as Joan said on that show and her friends enthusiastically demonstrated when Anup Kaphle, our videographer, and I arrived last Tuesday morning, it's much more fun when you pat the dough into a quenelle shape. Something that the beautiful and talented Pamela Reeves kept urging me to do, thrusting raw fish-onion dough into my hands. But I wussily wanted the gloves another of her fellows was sensibly wearing, and besides, if I'd worked the dough one fraction too enthusiastically I would have ruined the texture and the taste she had so carefully prepared (more wuss, and though I resisted the urge to name-drop, I did give Reeves a tip I'd gotten once when working with Julia Child: get fish out of your fingers by washing them with toothpaste).
By far the hardest and most important step of this recipe is the first: finding the fish. The one time I attempted gefilte fish, influenced pre-Nathan-books by Mimi Sheraton, I haunted the classic Brookline Jewish fishmonger Wulf's for weeks in advance, ordering the fish, and as I recall I filleted and skinned it at home so that I'd have the heads and bones. Crazy. The thing to do is find a fish man like Joan's Charles of the Giant, who apparently delivered a perfect blending of beautifully filleted and ground fish ("When he knows it's for Joan Nathan..." one of the Fish Shticks, as Goldberg and I named the participants, said in hushed tones). Then the rest is just, as Goldberg kept pointing out, smelly.