Gravy Boats, by Matthew White
Ahhh graaaavy…be still my heart! No really, this stuff clogs arteries and causes heart attacks, and yet…it calls out to me. The word “gravy” has lots of connotations, and has even inspired a few phrases. “The rest is just GRAVY” is one, meaning you’ve got the basics, but somehow extra profits or benefits exceeded expectations.
Of course it’s a very American thing; in Europe they have sauces. To be clear, a sauce is just a more elegant version of gravy. Gravy is something you have on meatloaf and mashed potatoes. But let’s not leave out chicken-fried steak, turkey or pot roast. Come to think of it, there’s hardly an American comfort food that comes without gravy.
You have basic brown gravy made from the drippings of turkey or beef. White gravy, which is chicken-based and resembles wallpaper paste — and sometimes tastes like it, too. Then there’s red-eye gravy, made from bacon or ham drippings and coffee. This is ladled onto biscuits for breakfast. That’s sort of a Southern thing.
But it’s the presentation of gravy that I love. Enter, the gravy boat. Yes, a boat full of gravy! They most common have a handle and a pitcher spout. They are long and low, which means the spout can be brought down close to what needs to be doused, minimizing splatters. This elongated, low-slung pitcher-shaped vessel usually has an under-plate. Sometimes it’s even attached, which helps protect the tablecloth.
There are more elegant examples, like little tureens complete with a ladle. But I would say these are for sauces, not gravy. There are also gravy boats with handles on both sides and a spout at each end. But for safety, a ladle is recommended here.
The classic American gravy boat is made of ironstone, and provides just enough elegance to make comfort food feel a bit more up-town. In a real, old-time diner or classic American restaurant of the past, a hefty gravy boat would be brought to the table, so you yourself could do the honors.
Fried chicken and mashed potatoes came with white gravy, meatloaf and mashed potatoes came with brown. Notice that mashed potatoes seem to be a constant, and why not? Gravy is the perfect complement to potatoes. But of course let’s not leave out rice. Salisbury steak with rice and mushroom gravy can be pretty darn tasty.
Most places these days have made the gravy boat a near-extinct bit of tabletop crockery. They no longer allow you to drown your plate with gravy, as they have done that for you. While we can all envision the perfect scoop of mashed potatoes, complete with a crater-shaped indentation, perfectly filled to the brim with gravy, I have to admit I am a bit old-school.
Bring me my dinner, and that fabulous, hefty, piping-hot gravy boat, and let me go to town.