You may have heard of wrapping meats in bacon to add fat and flavor to the meat. This is called barding. But, there is an even older technique for getting fat marbling into meat, which works great for very lean cuts of meat without a lot of natural marbling. This is called larding. A larding needle or “larder” is the instrument traditionally used for larding.
Larding is actually placing lard or other fat, or bacon, into the meat, laying it within the fibers of the meat in strips. There are two basic types of “needles” used to do this, depending on the size of the cut. Larding can add a lot of juiciness and flavor to an otherwise dry and bland piece of meat.
For larger roasts, larger larding needle like this 13-Inch Wood-Handle Larding Needle is used, called a lardoir in French. This instrument has a hollow tube of around 10 inches long, with a handle made out of wood or other material. The hollow tube is open down its length, forming a trough, to allow fatback to be placed in the tube, and there is a sliding piece inserted in the tube, with a small protrusion for the user to hold on to.
To use a lardoir style needle, the sliding piece is placed close to the handle and a strip of fatback is inserted down the length of the tube. The needle is then pushed into the piece of meat, going along the grain, using a twisting motion. Then, while holding on to the handle of the sliding piece to keep it near the edge of the meat, the needle is slowly pulled out of the meat. The slider stays in place while the tube is removed, causing the fat to be left behind as the needle is pulled out. The process is repeated until the desired amount of fat is placed within the meat.
For smaller cuts of meat, a smaller lard threading needle such as the Paderno World Cuisine Stainless Steel Larding Needle, more like a knitting needle is used. This method, instead of depositing the fat as the tube is removed, uses the needle to pull the fat through much like a sewing needle pulls thread through fabric.
These larding needles have a hinged piece on one end, sometimes equipped with little teeth. The strip of fatback is gripped by the hinged piece on one end of the tube while the sharp end is inserted through the meat through to the other side and then pulled through, pulling the fat through along with it.
The video below demonstrates this type of larding needle in use. Although the video is short and the demonstration is quick, you can see that it is actually a very simple and quick process.
What Type of Fat is Used for Larding?
Typically, fatback, which is like a large slab of bacon with all fat and no meat, is used for larding. Called the lard gras in French, this fat comes from just under the skin, so it is firmer and renders less easily than fat deeper down. You may be able to ask for fatback at your grocery store meat department. If not, it may be necessary to find a butcher or a higher-end specialty grocery store. Do not settle for salt pork. Make sure you are getting fatback.
To use the fatback, cut off the rind and then cut the fat into strips approximately 1/16 to 1/4 inches wide, and use these to insert into the needle. These strips of fat are called lardons or lardoons (lard à piquer).
Sometimes, depending on the recipe, the strips of fat are marinated overnight in flavorings like garlic, parsley and cognac, before being inserted into the meat. The fat is inserted in the meat every few inches or as desired. As the meat cooks the fat melts and internally bastes the meat. Any flavorings or seasonings added to the fat will season the meat from within.
The term lard refers to pork fat, and fatback, as above, is the form usually used. However, other beef suet can also be used, as well as bacon or prosciutto.
Larding is especially useful on game meats like venison, which are typically very low in fat and can be dry. Larding has also been traditionally used on game birds.
It is possible to insert other ingredients into a larder.
Alternatives to a Larding Needle
It may also be possible to make large holes or slits into the meat and manually insert pieces of fatback, bacon or other ingredients into the whole. As well, some cooks choose to cut slits into the meat and then insert the lardons into the slits. This method is quite inferior to larding with a needle, as the meat is mangled by the slitting and the fat is not really inside the meat.
Alternatively, small frozen triangles of fatback can be inserted into slits cut into the meat.