Tried a pork loin that had been well marinated. Cooked it at 140 for 3 hours. Was very tender and did not have any character and no taste of marinade. Next try was chicken tenders. Cooked at 140 for almost 2 hours. Used it for Orange Chicken. It was very tender and kind of like eating tofu with orange sauce. Third try was a marbled beef chuck roast. Put salt, pepper and onion powder on before vacuum bagging it. Cooked for 48 hours at 135. Seared in oil in cast iron pan on all sides. Was very tender but not falling apart. Did not taste like a roast. My wife thinks I wasted money on sous vide. Everything I read raves about everything cooked this way, but we have not experienced that.. What am I doing wrong?
Sous vide is a great method for getting tender meat but it doesn't impart flavor to anything. Marinades only go so far adding flavor, you need your meat to have flavor in the first place. Other than from marinade flavor in cooked meat comes from:
- The quality of the meat: good quality meat comes from good breeds that have been raised well and given quality feed
- The cut: the more work the meat does on the animal the more flavor it has. A tenderloin is tender to begin with because it just fills a gap and doesn't move, but it isn't going to taste the same a shoulder. A working cut has a much stronger flavor and the connective tissues break down into gelatin which adds flavor and a luscious mouth feel. My personal opinion is that there's no point in slow cooking tender cuts, I always go for the beef shin (leg), chuck, or rump (round). Chicken breast, especially your standard cheap store brands, has very little flavor, I prefer dark meat, or if I'm cooking breast I go for quality free range birds
- Maillard reactions and caramelization: When cooking at high temperatures you get flavors from maillard reactions and the caramelization of sugars, slow cooking does not add these, so you need to brown before or after (you appear to have done this with your beef which is good), before is better for slow cooking in my opinion as you get the flavors from the browning throughout the meat
The simple truth is you won't get a tasty result in cooking unless you start with good ingredients, and this is especially true in sous vide cooking, or any slow cooking method really. Sous vide is not a magic bullet which transforms mediocre steak into amazing steak, it's got to be amazing steak in the first place. Good restaurants use the best quality meats they can get their hands on, so if you want to get similar results you will too.
Chicken should be noticeably firmer than tofu after cooking to 140 degrees, but it will be quite soft (and a little bit slimy) at 135 degrees. You may need to calibrate your equipment to make sure you're getting the right temperature.
It's possible your food simply needs more salt (or other flavors) added after cooking. I prefer not to add a lot of flavor before cooking, especially if it's going to cook for a long time. If you are going to add flavor first, keep it simple and avoid adding oil. (Oil absorbs some of the flavor, but it doesn't penetrate the meat very well.)
Starting with good quality meats helps a lot, too.