A gravy boat is a type of pitcher or elongated dish designed for the purpose of serving gravy. They are often seen on the table during the holiday season, when cooks make gravy to accompany turkey, goose, mashed potatoes, and other traditional winter dishes. They range from the simple to the lavishly decorated, and they can be made in a wide variety of materials to coordinate with an assortment of service sets. Many families include a gravy boat with other pieces of heirloom china and silver, passing it down from generation to generation.
The gravy boat is somewhat unique in the crockery world, because it is designed for a very specific purpose and ill-suited to others. Most people have one languishing in their cupboards waiting for its moment of glory, although in the past, it was set out more frequently, especially in the Southern United States, where gravy is a common accompaniment to the evening meal. Some old fashioned diners and restaurants in that part of the United States still offer a gravy boat with certain meals.
Most gravy boats are made from clay or china and shaped like long, deep dishes with a handle at one end and a spout at the other. These also usually have an accompanying bottom plate to collect spilled gravy, although some versions are a solid cast, instead of having two parts. Some have a two handled design and are meant to hold a gravy spoon or ladle, while others are shaped like small upright jugs from which the gravy can be poured. Silver companies may cast gravy boats to accompany complete service sets, although these are rare.
The gravy boat is usually brought out with the meat course, because gravy is traditionally made with the pourings from the turkey, goose, lamb, or other meat that has been prepared. Like other small condiment dishes, the gravy boat is often passed around the table, although at formal dinners, a waiter may carry it from diner to diner, in which case a ladle design is typically used.
Gravy itself is a type of thickened sauce made with drippings from a roasted meat dish and thickened with flour. Gravy traditionally begins with a roux, a mix of a fat such as lard or butter with flour, to which liquid is added. Some gravies integrate small pieces of meat, as in giblet gravy or bacon gravy, to add texture and flavor. If not mixed slowly enough, the gravy may become chunky as a result of small flour formations, in which case it should be forced through a sieve to break up the lumps.