Pork Belly is the stuff of mouthwatering legends; a meat so decadent and flavourful and the bearer of crackle. Beak & Sons Smoky Maple Pork Belly is the perfect combination of succulent pork belly coated in a smoky caramalised maple syrup glaze, slow cooked so it's meltingly tender and full of flavour. Simply heat then carve the belly joint into bite-sized cubes or chunky slices, and grill the skin for crunchy crackling.
Pork belly has always out me off, just the mere name of it has been enough to have me feeling like it was one of the last things I wanted to try, however getting it to review was a good opportunity to perhaps change my mind on the matter. The packaging stands out and it's good to have an example of the product on the packaging, so if it's not a dish you have made before, you at least know what you're aiming for. This packet, however, doesn't tell you how much meat you are getting for your buck, a detail that would put me off purchasing it as I like to be able to work out how good a deal something is.
The back gave instructions for both oven and microwave cooking, I opted for the oven and followed the instructions, I found that drying the top of the rind was near impossible, so I did the best I could but it was still quite sticky and damp. Given the fat on the meat, the olive and canola oils already in this, I was concerned about adding even more, but did as I was told. The meat finished but there was no level of crackling to be had, so I put that in for longer but still got no crackling at all, much to miss tens dissapointment. The meat did not cut easily and I was left with meat reminiscent of pulled pork instead I'd nice slices.
The amount of oil that went down the drain was enough to put me off eating any but I persisted and dished everyone up some. My two girls each tried some and agreed with each other that they didn't like it at all. My son had a small taste, declared it yum and the had some more before deciding the flavour was too much. Despite the maple only making up 1% of the dish, I found it to be the strongest flavour and whilst that was nice for the first few bites, it ended up being overwhelming and I found I couldn't eat my whole serving. I ended up finding just a small amount in a dish worked best, but this means reheating or eating within a short timeframe, which wouldn't work for me with this meat.
This dish didn't hit the right notes for my fam so I cannot see us purchasing this in the future.
I'll just say upfront here that I misread the packet in the rosemary and garlic lamb product, and thought it said I had six 150g servings in the pack. But alas that is six servings per kg; the packaging itself has a sticker on the front that says 4 servings, so presumably, the product should have been around 600g, not 900g, which may explain why it looked small.
But now we are talking about the pork belly. Now, unlike the beef brisket and rosemary & garlic products,
which have stickers added to the packet that says "serves 4", the pork belly has no such thing. And without actually weighing the product there is no way to really know how many servings it is meant to be. Compared to the rosemary and garlic product, this one does seem like a larger portion, but this could possibly come down to the rind taking up that additional space, and the portion not being quite as girthy. This product definitely has a larger surface area to volume ratio.
The packaging is a nice glossy design, with a black background that makes the images of the food really pop. I like that all of these products come in the same size box as it makes it much easier for stacking and storage. As with the other products in the range, inside the cardboard box, the meat comes in a vacuum-sealed pack to maintain freshness and prevent any leakages prior to use.
The plastic pack looked to have an easy tear cut in it, but the pack was also sealed below the tab, so I ended up slicing the pack open with a knife. Interestingly, this product does come with microwave instructions, and in hindsight that might have been the better option for me. The oven in the flat is very old and doesn't work the best, but it cooked the rosemary and garlic lamb so well that I was willing to try the pork belly there too.
The heating directions for this product are a little more complicated if you are cooking in the oven, which is why I would recommend the microwave next time. The directions specify to pat the rind dry before adding 1 tsp of oil and some salt. The sauce was really thick, however, and was very difficult to remove. I ended up using a knife to scrape the sauce off first, but even then the rind was moist and sticky; definitely not dry, but I carried on regardless.
I let the pork belly cook for 30 minutes as specified, but when I removed it from the oven, the rind was still soft and sticky. I cut the rind off and placed it back in the oven for another 10 minutes, but it still did not reach any level of crackling. I can only surmise that the grill option on my oven is faulty, as the difficulty in achieving the end product was much more difficult than any of the other products in the range.
The pork itself flattened out a lot during the cooking process as the fat began to gelatinize. This, in turn, made it rather difficult to slice, and I ended up just shredding it with a couple of forks instead, and ate it alongside a kumara mash. Flavour-wise, the meat was tasty but the smoky flavour made it quite sweet. I ended up having to mix it with the mash quite a bit to balance out the flavours better (which is very rare, I usually eat one ingredient at a time like a fussy eater).
I'm disappointed by how the meal turned out, but I can't help but think it was my dodgy oven that screwed this up, so I'd definitely be interested to try it again following the microwave directions instead. You can tell by how the fat started to melt away that the product had been well cooked during the pre-cooking process, so I definitely think the issue was on my end.
I was trying to find out how many people this box was meant to serve but I could not find any information other than a suggestion of 150g per person - so I had to guess when organising a meal for four people and hope that I had estimated correctly. It turned out to be perfect: the meat and sauce is quite rich, so it goes a long way. I prepared it exactly as instructed on the packet. I had wanted to microwave it for speed but then we would have missed out on the crackling, so I used the oven. The top was still soft when it had heated through, so I sliced off the crackling and put it back under the grill to crisp. A warning - this was a VERY quick process. I rubbed in salt and oil as suggested, and the result was that the perfect result was reached in under two minutes - at the end, it went from sizzling to full crisp blisters in just a few seconds. Had I not been watching it I might have ended up with charcoal!
Everyone found the texture and flavour was delicious, and the crackling just finished it off. I served it on a bed of Basmati rice with sides of mashed kumara and plain butter beans. I wanted to keep the extras plain because there was a lot of very rich sauce included and I did not want any of it to go to waste. The combination worked well as any extra greasy liquid was absorbed by the other ingredients, enhancing their flavour in the process. I think the price is reasonable given that the contents were sufficient for four hungry people, although I imagine that the bottomless and fast-growing teenagers in our family might manage a second helping if they were permitted.
I was impressed by the long shelf life (as long as the product is kept refrigerated). For us, that means that it can travel in a chilly bin when we are going away for a couple of days: this can sometimes cause problems with fresh meat as it tends to leak! Because the belly pork is sealed, the potential for leakage is nil so the product can travel safely with the bread and other perishables in the chilly bin. And since we all like belly pork, there is no risk of a child objecting to an unfamiliar food. The maple flavour itself is very palatable, making a good alternative to the apple sauce we would often serve with pork. This is a meat that lends itself to sweet additives; in fact, when I eat plain pork these days, I feel that I have been cheated!
I am going to purchase another pack of this product as I am keen to try it in a home-made pork bun. I think it would go nicely chopped small and then packed into the middle of a bun for steaming. The cooked buns could be frozen for a quick meal another time. Pork buns are another food item we all enjoy, and they could be a useful food to take on a trip away - if they were allowed to thaw en route, they could be quickly reheated in a microwave. Unfortunately, there were no leftovers this time round so that particular experiment will have to wait for another day.
I freely admit that I am not the number one fan of pork belly. I find it can be a bit fatty for my tastes when cooked in certain ways. I knew that because these were slow-cooked sous-vide style, the meat would be tender and would handle being reheated by microwave - though it's certainly not the best way to reheat delicious, tender pork!
I decided to try this two ways, firstly as a chunky meat, so I took half of the portion and chopped it into largish hunks, heated them up along with some rice, veges, and some freshly chopped onion fried in garlic butter and chilli flakes. When combined with the rice, the veges were really nice, then topped with the hunks of meat, drizzled with some of the sauce, and topped with freshly-ground black pepper. That was a delightful meal and took less than 10 minutes from start to finished. (sic)
The second way was as a pulled pork. I wasn't too sure about how well it would pan out - pulled pork is usually made from less fatty cuts of meat - but I was determined to try it. I also decided to thicken the sauce a bit by pouring it into a small saucepan and simmering it for a bit to thicken it. This gave me the most amazing gravy, rather than the thin sauce you get if you do nothing but reheat the package. I order to heat the meat without it being 'buffered' by the sauce, I boiled some potatoes in the bottom half of a steamer set I have, taking the opportunity to steam some veges, and I popped the bag of meat in the top section with the rootcrops so that it was being reheated, semi-sous-vide style, in the steamer section.
The final meal - smashed potatoes, steamed brocolli and carrots, shredded pork with the gravy stirred through, on a toasted bun and topped by a perfectly poached egg... It really showed me how versatile this meat actually is. Whil it didn't shred down to the traditional stringiness of pulled pork, it was so tender it willingly broke down into small bits that did the job just fine. I think if I did this again, I would reheat it the same way, but I would then give it a quick fry to just give it that little bit of crispiness on the skin.
Overall, this was one of the more interesting heat'n'eat meats I have tried in recent years, and while the flavour of the sauce wasn't high on my list of desirable flavours - I have realised that there are some versions of 'smoky' that don't work for me - the meat was cooked perfectly and tasted great on its own. With most of the 'smoky' flavour in the sauce, it's a simple matter to tone-down the taste by using a different sauce.
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