When Gretchen Wilson has a family gathering, the dinners are not only home-cooked but sometimes home-caught as well: For a recent fish fry, the catfish were reeled in—by her brother Josh Malter and uncle Vern Heuer—from a pond on Wilson’s nearly 400-acre rustic Lebanon, Tenn., spread. “It’s important to me to have family around and to be grounded in one place,” says Wilson. “We need real wide open spaces. We’re loud and rowdy. We’re sort of like All in the Family fighting with each other, but at the end of the day, we all get together on the back deck and have a beer around the pool.” When it comes to preparing the meal, everyone pitches in. In the kitchen Wilson, 34, gets help preparing the vegetables, baking the rolls and serving up a pitcher of sweet tea. Out on the back deck Josh fries the fish, supervised by Uncle Vern. Even Wilson’s daughter Grace, 7, does her part by putting ice in everyone’s glasses. “The good thing about having this much family around? We don’t have to hire outside help,” says Vern, who got squeals from Grace when he added fried frogs’ legs to the menu. “My goal is to make enough money and invest it so if my singing career went away tomorrow, I could keep this place and this lifestyle,” says Wilson. “This is who I am out here, and I’ve never been happier.”
UNCLE VERN’S FRIED CATFISH
5 pounds catfish fillets, preferably freshly caught
3 cups water
1/8 cup salt
3 cups milk
1 13 oz. bag yellow Andy’s Fish Breading (available at supermarkets or andysseasoning.com) Vegetable or canola oil for frying
1. Cut fillets into strips and soak in salted water for 15 minutes. Drain, remove fish and pat dry.
2. Mix milk and beaten egg. Add fish and soak for 15 minutes.
3. Put fish breading into a large Ziploc bag. Add fish, no more than 10 pieces at a time, seal and shake to coat. Place on platter until ready to fry.
4. Heat oil in deep fryer or cast iron skillet. Add fish, fry until golden brown and edges begin to curl. Remove and drain on paper towels. Serve with tartar sauce.