What A Larding Needle Is Used For
A larding needle was a fairly common utensil in the kitchen a generation or two back. You won't find one in most households today, at least in the United States, but you will find them in most chefs’ kitchens.
A larding needle is used to insert fat or lard into meat when cooking, both to add flavor and to keep the meat moist, especially when cooking a roast, where the meat often tends to dry out. Unlike basting, where juice is added to the outside surface of the meat being cooked, larding adds moisture to the inside.
When we make certain appetizers we often insert a bit of fresh bacon before putting the appetizer in the oven or on the grill. While we probably wouldn't use a larding needle for this, the principle is the same. We are effectively larding the appetizer, keeping it moist, and at the same time imparting the flavor of the bacon to the food.
Two Types - One type of larding needle is used specifically with bacon in mind, as it allows a strip of bacon to literally be threaded through a cut of meat. This type of needle is shaped so as to cut a slit, while at the same time holding the bacon strip so it can be threaded into and through the slit. The other common type of larding needle is a hollow tube, sharp enough on the end to penetrate the meat. The tube is filled with fat, usually lard, which is then injected into the cut of meat.
Once upon a time, lard was commonly found in most kitchens, in the refrigerator or icebox if the lard were fresh, or in a can on the pantry shelf if it had been hydrogenated, as fresh lard does not keep well unless refrigerated. Over the years, lard fell out of favor, one reason being pig fat was considered unhealthy. There was some truth in this as the hydrogenating process often introduced trans fats into the lard, and trans fats as we know are not good for our health. Fresh lard however is quite healthy, and considered healthier than butter. Fresh lard will keep a reasonable amount of time when kept under refrigeration.
Healthier Than One Thinks - Many do not distinguish between fresh and processed lard, so reject both in favor of hydrogenated vegetable oils which, ironically, are less healthy that processed lard, and much less healthy than fresh lard. Consequently we don't see nearly as much lard purchased for household use these days, which is a shame, as fresh lard is odorless and can add greatly to many different dishes, both meats and pastries, and is liberally used in preparing many Mexican dishes.
The Needle Went The Way Of The Lard - In any event, as lard disappeared, so did the larding needle, and many if not most cooks nowadays don't even have an idea of what a larding need is or what it is used for.
Some cooks may hesitate to use a larding needle for fear that the meat will end up tasting fatty or greasy. When properly done, larding should never give such a result. One of the secrets to using the larding needle is to use it in a manner such that the lard is distributed more or less evenly, and is not allowed to accumulate in a small area or volume. If this were to happen though, the meat still would probably not turn out to be greasy, nor would the taste be bad, though it will be much better when larding is done properly.
A larding needle is not particularly expensive, and whether you get one designed to thread bacon though a roast, or one to inject lard into the meat, or both, one suggestion is to look for a brass rather than a steel needle. Some users believe the brass needle is much easier to work with.