Marbling can best be described as the network of fat that runs through choice sections of meat. Not to be confused with the large deposits of fat that is often found around the perimeter a cut of meat, marbling is fat that is located throughout the cut. Usually appearing as a series of small white flecks in the cut of meat, marbling has two primary functions in making sure the meat is both tasty and tender.
Sometimes referred to graining, the fat in meat sections helps to provide the basis for keeping the finished product tender. As the marbled meat is cooked, the fat deposits dissolve and distribute throughout the meat. The end result is that the prepared meat is tender and moist, often very easy to cut, and has a texture that is considered very pleasing.
Along with helping maintain a desirable texture to the meat, marbling also works to ensure the taste of the prepared meat is pleasing the person dining on the finished product. As the meat cooks, the marbling dissolves into the texture of the meat, leaving it flavored with just the right amount of salty taste to make it appealing. Marbling is found in all the best cuts of steaks, and is one of the key factors in defining both the taste and the texture of a good cut of beef.
Meats that contain marbling are often prepared in a number of ways. Some prefer to bake or broil the meat, allowing the natural basting qualities of the marbling to work their magic. In other cases, pan-frying may be the preferred method of preparation. The flavor that is released from the marbling may be enhanced with a light dusting of various herbs and spices, or topped off with a blackening technique.
Since marbling is often lacking in cuts of meat that are of inferior quality, a process known is larding is often used to imitate the benefits of natural larding. Essentially, fat is manually injected into the lesser cut of meat, helping to give the inferior product at least some enhanced flavor. While this is often a workable situation for tight food budgets, just about everyone agrees that natural marbling is far superior in quality to any artificial process.