Cajun Tuna Casserole

Tuna Casserole enlivened with a punch of Cajun flavors is quick and easy and about to become a new family favorite to satisfy you busy weekdays or any day comfort cravings with out all the guilt!

Tuna Casserole is getting a makeover!  This Tuna Noodle Casserole is loaded with flavor without all the guilt but tastes every bit as decadently delicious!  It’s a fabulous make ahead and bake later meal and makes fantastic leftovers!

This Cajun Tuna Casserole is sponsored by StarKist. All opinions are my own. 

A slice of Cajun Tuna Casserole on a spatula.

Tuna Noodle Casserole

You guys, I made you a casserole- TUNA Noodle Casserole!  But this isn’t your grandmother’s casserole.  Well, in truth, I can’t say that because I don’t know your grandmother.  But I am guessing her casseroles weren’t lightened up, or Cajun spiced, or topped with cheesy panko breadcrumbs.  Just a hunch.

But honestly, I did make my grandmother’s tuna casserole – or a version of it  – all the time in college.  It was my guilty pleasure that was so simple to throw together and its creamy, naughty goodness was nothing short of addicting… so addicting.

This from-scratch Tuna Casserole recipe, however, doesn’t contain any “cream of” soups and is wonderfully cream, flavorful and about to become a new family favorite!

Reasons to LOVE Easy Tuna Noodle Casserole

Not only Is Tuna Noodle Casserole pure comfort food, it is it is an easy family favorite.   Other reasons I love tuna casserole:

  • Memories.  It reminds me of weekday dinners growing up and my family gathered all together around the dinner able.  It can create new memories for your family too!
  • Modernized.  It blends the best of the past and modern flavors and ingredients to create a Tuna Casserole recipe everyone will love.
  • Pantry Friendly. When you’re wondering what’s for dinner – Tuna Noodle Casserole is the answer because most of the ingredients can be found in your freezer or pantry.
  • Economical. This easy Tuna Noodle Casserole can feed the whole family for a smart price.
  • Versatile.  You can add more cheese, swap cheeses, add veggies, different pasta etc. to suit your needs or supplies on hand.
  • Make ahead. Everyone loves a make ahead meal!  This Tuna Casserole can be made ahead and refrigerated or frozen.
  • From scratch. I know mystery canned soups can be convenient, but this Tuna Noodle Casserole is 100X better because it’s made from scratch – and you can taste the difference!
  • YUMMY! Everyone always loves Tuna Casserole!  It’s a weeknight dinner win every time.
A serving of Cajun Tuna Casserole on a white plate with a fork.

WHERE DOES TUNA CASSEROLE COME FROM?

Aren’t we glad Tuna Casserole is tuna casserole – we could all be eating sardine casserole!  Canned tuna was first produced in Australia in 1903 and quickly became popular.  It was the alternative to canned sardines.  Tuna now ranks second for the most consumed seafood product in the U.S., with 2.7 pounds consumed per person every year – hopefully of tuna casserole 😉.

With Australia spearheading the tuna canning empire, it makes sense to look there for tuna casserole beginnings.  Down under, they have a dish called Tuna Mornay.  It is tuna served with Mornay sauce, which is a béchamel with cheese.  They also add peas corn and wheat pasta – so essentially from scratch Tuna Noodle Casserole.

This Australian Tuna Mornay morphed into American Tuna Casserole in 1950’s with the advancement of canned and processed foods, specifically “cream of” soup as well as canned peas.  Their convenience and low cost won everyone over, and soon THIS modernized Tuna Noodle Casserole will win you over with its luscious creaminess, explosion of flavor and comforting layers of YUM!

What Tuna is Best?

The tuna you use does affect the end result of your tuna casserole – after all this is TUNA Casserole.  For best results, I recommend:

  • Solid White Albacore. Your tuna cans will be labeled either “solid white albacore” or “chunk light tuna.”  I recommend solid white albacore as it is exactly what it sounds like – more solid piece of tuna instead of smaller chunks.  It tastes far less “fishy” with a superior texture.  The solid white will naturally flake apart as it is stirred into your casserole into the perfect size pieces that will hold up better in your oven verses chunk light tuna which will dissolve into smaller pieces and not retain their structural integrity.
  • Pacific Albacore Tuna. 60% of all tuna that is caught and harvested comes from the Pacific Ocean.  Pacific albacore tuna caught along the U.S. Pacific coast recently received sustainability certification through the Marine Stewardship Council. Which means that they are not over harvesting and they are using ethical business practices.
  • Water Packed Tuna. Please use water-packed tuna as opposed to tuna packed in oil. The tuna is already juicy without the oil which can make it unappetizing, greasy, and of course add unnecessary calories.
  • Canned or fresh. You can use canned or cooked fresh tuna.  I am all about canned because it is one of the beauties of this dish that makes it SO easy!  If you choose to use fresh, make sure it is not overcooked because it is going back in the oven.  Flake fresh tuna into large bite size pieces.

WHAT NOODLES ARE BEST?

Egg noodles are the classic noodles used in Tuna Noodle Casserole recipes.  I like to use egg noodles because their fluffy, silky texture holds their form when baked and their texture is simply palate pleasing.  I have tried other pastas in this recipe and don’t liked them nearly as well.  There is a reason it is called Tuna NOODLE Casserole.

That being said, if you are in a bind and don’t have egg noodles stocked, you can still make this Tuna Casserole with any medium noodle you have such as cellentani, fusilli, rotini, or even tortellini.

WHAT IS TUNA CASSEROLE TOPPED WITH?

Tuna casserole can be topped with a number of topping but the important factor is that they add a contrasting CRUNCH to the creamy casserole.  Common topping includes panko, bread crumbs, crushed Ritz crackers, crushed potato chips, crushed cornflakes, or canned fried onions.

I have topped my Tuna Noodle Casserole with panko for its delightful crunch and it is easy to keep stocked without becoming stale, but feel free to top your casserole with YOUR favorite topping!

HOW DO YOU MAKE CHEESY TUNA NOODLE CASSEROLE RECIPE?

This Tuna Noodle Casserole recipe contains:

  • ½ cup Parmesan cheese
  • ½ cup Mozzarella cheese
  • 1 cup cheddar cheese

If you would like an even cheesier casserole than add an addition one cup 1 cup sharp cheddar cheese.  You can also swap the Parmesan and mozzarella for cheddar cheese if that’s all you have on hand.

If you don’t like want cheesy Tuna Casserole, then simply omit the cheese completely.  No substitutions are needed.

A plate of Cajun Tuna Casserole with a fork taking a bite.

How to Make Tuna Casserole

  • Simply melt 1 tablespoon butter in 1 tablespoon olive oil (only 1 tablespoon butter and NO cream for this whole casserole!) and saute onions, red and green bell peppers, garlic and red pepper flakes for some texture and spice…
Showing how to make Cajun Tuna Casserole by cooking vegetables in a pan.
  • Sprinkle in some flour and cook for 2 minutes…
Showing how to make Cajun Tuna Casserole by cooking vegetables in a pan and stirring in spices.
  • Whisked in your chicken broth and lowfat milk to create a creamy base sauce followed by Cajun seasoning for a creamy Cajun infused sauce…
Showing how to make Cajun Tuna Casserole by cooking vegetables in a pan and adding chicken broth. .
  • Then stir in your bacon, tuna, tomatoes and peas…
Showing how to make Cajun Tuna Casserole by adding Starkist solid white albacore tuna.
  • Followed by both mozzarella and Parmesan cheese for multidimensional flavors…
Showing how to make Cajun Tuna Casserole by adding cheese in the pan.
  • Fold in your pasta into the creamy, cheesiness…
Showing how to make Cajun Tuna Casserole by adding the past to the sauce.
  • Pour half of the pasta into a baking dish and sprinkle with cheddar cheese then top with remaining pasta..
Showing how to make Cajun Tuna Casserole by adding the pasta to a casserole dish.
  • Finally, top with a mixture of panko breadcrumbs and cheddar cheese and bake until golden and bubbly.
Showing how to make Cajun Tuna Casserole by covering the dish with shredded cheese.

DO YOU BAKE TUNA NOODLE CASSEROLE COVERED OR UNCOVERED?

Tuna casserole should be baked uncovered so the crunchy topping -whether it be breadcrumbs, panko, Ritz, etc. can bet crispy.  If your topping is getting too golden before the casserole is heated through, then you can cover then uncover the last few minutes of baking to crisp up.

Tuna Casserole Recipe Variations

  • You can add any veggies your heart desires. I personally LOVE the texture of peas in Tuna Casserole, so I wouldn’t skip them, but rather you can add additional veggies such as corn, green beans, zucchini, carrots, etc.
  • You can swap the mozzarella and Parmesan for sharp cheddar or get fancy with gruyere.
  • You can mix up the toppings with fried onions, crushed potato chips, Ritz, etc.. I just don’t recommend plain breadcrumbs because they don’t bake up nearly as crunchy.
  • If you don’t have tuna, try using shredded chicken!
  • Make sure to cook the egg noodles al dente, which means they still have a little bite to them. This will ensure you avoid mushy noodles because they will continue to bake in the oven.

HOW LONG IS LEFTOVER TUNA CASSEROLE GOOD FOR?

Leftover Tuna Noodle Casserole should be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.  When properly stored, it is good for last 3-5 days.

What Do I serve with TUNA NOODLE CASSEROLE RECIPE?

Tuna Casserole is a wonderfully comforting main dish that pairs beautifully with:

CAN I MAKE TUNA CASSEROLE AHEAD OF TIME?

Yes!  Dinner just got easier with Tuna Casserole you can pull out of the refrigerator and bake!

To make ahead:

  1. Assemble Tuna Casserole up to the point of adding the panko topping. You will want to add the panko just before baking or it will become soggy if refrigerated.
  2. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 3 days.
  3. Remove casserole from the refrigerator 20-30 minutes to bring to room temperature so it cooks evenly.
  4. Sprinkle evenly with panko topping.
  5. Bake for 35-40 minutes (an additional 5 to 10 minutes to the total cooking time) or until warm and bubbly.

HOW TO FREEZE TUNA CASSEROLE

Tuna Casserole can be frozen before or after it is baked BUT baked, frozen casserole does not hold up as well as the topping gets soggy and the noodles can get soft and even mushy.  For best results, freeze unbaked frozen casserole.

To freeze unbaked Tuna Casserole:

  1. Assemble tuna casserole but omit panko topping.
  2. Wrap a couple times in plastic wrap and then foil so it is very well sealed.
  3. Label and freeze for up to 6 months.
  4. When ready to use, defrost completely in the refrigerator, this may take up to 48 hours.
  5. Remove casserole from the refrigerator 20-30 minutes to bring to room temperature so it cooks evenly.
  6. Top with panko topping.
  7. Bake for 35-40 minutes (an additional 5 to 10 minutes to the total cooking time) or until warm and bubbly.

To freeze Baked Tuna Casserole:

  1. Let tuna casserole completely.
  2. Wrap a couple times in plastic wrap and then foil so it is very well sealed.
  3. Label and freeze for up to 6 months.
  4. When ready to use, defrost completely in the refrigerator, this may take up to 48 hours.
  5. Remove casserole from the refrigerator 20-30 minutes to bring to room temperature so it cooks evenly.
  6. Bake for 35-40 minutes (an additional 5 to 10 minutes to the total cooking time) or until warm and bubbly.
Close up view of Showing how to make Cajun Tuna Casserole on a spatula.

Is Tuna Casserole Good For you?

To keep this Tuna Noodle Casserole Recipe lightened up, I used only 1 tablespoon butter and zero cream. I’ve also stuck with a minimal amount of cheese but feel free to amp up the cheese to fulfill your cheesy desires.  Personally I don’t think it really needs it because of all the amazing textures going on, but then again – more cheese can never be a bad thing.

And of course the star of Tuna Casserole is the TUNA!  StarKist® Albacore Tuna is certified by the American Heart Association® and is a good source of essential nutrients: such as omega-3 fatty acids, selenium and Vitamin D.

StarKist® Albacore Tuna is a flavorful way to make any meal deliciously healthier and a super simple low fat option to fill you up while protecting your heart without slaving away over the stove.

Here are more nutritional benefits of tuna, values taken from 1 can of Tuna that I recommend in the recipe:

  • 12 grams Protein
  • 150 mg Potassium
  • 35% DV of Niacin
  • 10% DV of Vitamin B12
  • 6% DV of Vitamin B6

My Cajun Bacon Tuna Pasta Bake with StarKist® Albacore Tuna can help you still maintain healthy eating amid the bustling school nights because all the ingredients are whipped together in one pot then poured into a casserole dish to bake so its both simple and delicious.

Can Pregnant Woman Eat Tuna Casserole?

Pregnant and nursing women may eat up to 12 ounces a week of LIGHT canned tuna and up to 6 ounces a week of FRESH or canned WHITE (not light) tuna, as albacore tuna has more mercury than light tuna.  This means, pregnant women can safely eat a serving of canned light tuna every three or four days and a serving of canned albacore tuna every nine-to-14 days, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Cajun Tuna Casserole on a plate and on a fork over the plate.

3 Cheese Cajun Bacon Tuna Pasta Bake.  Lightened up and heart healthy never tasted so good.

15 MINUTE PREP Cajun Bacon Tuna Pasta Bake (aka tuna casserole) is cheesy, flavorful and perfect for those busy nights WITHOUT all the guilt!

Cajun Bacon Tuna Pasta Bake

Servings: 6
Total Time: 45 mins
Prep Time: 15 mins
Cook Time: 30 mins

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Ingredients

  • 12 oz rotini cooked al dente (don’t overcook!)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/2 red onion , chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper , chopped
  • 1 green pepper , chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4-1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/4 cups chicken broth, divided
  • 1 1/2 cups milk (I use lowfat)
  • 2-4 teaspoons Cajun seasoning
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 6 pieces cooked turkey bacon crumbled, or regular
  • 1 10 oz. can diced tomatoes with green chilies, drained
  • 1/2 cup petite frozen peas, thawed
  • 1 5.0 oz. can can StarKist® Albacore Tuna , drained
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup Mozzarella cheese
  • 1/2 cup sour cream (optional)
  • 3/4 cups (+ 3 tablespoons) cheddar cheese , divided
  • 1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 375F degrees.
  • Melt butter in olive oil over medium-low heat in a large skillet. Add red onions and sauté 2 minutes. Add red and green bell peppers and saute 1 minute. Add garlic, red pepper flakes and saute 30 seconds. Sprinkle in flour and cook while stirring for 3 minutes, or until raw flour smell is gone.
  • Turn heat to low and slowly whisk in 2 cups chicken broth, then milk, stirring constantly until smooth. Turn heat to medium high and bring to a simmer. Stir in Cajun seasoning, salt and pepper and continue to simmer until slightly thickened, stirring occasionally. Stir in bacon, tomatoes, peas and tuna until combined and heated through.
  • Remove from heat and stir in Parmesan and mozzarella cheese until melted. Stir in pasta until well coated, adding an additional 1/4+ chicken broth if sauce has become too thick. For an even creamier pasta, stir in ½ cup sour cream (optional). Pour half of pasta into a 9×13 baking dish. Top with ¾ cup cheddar cheese (or more for extra cheesiness) then remaining pasta.
  • Stir 3 tablespoons cheddar cheese (or more for extra cheesiness) and ¼ panko breadcrumbs together and sprinkle over top of pasta. Lightly spray the top with nonstick baking spray and bake for 30 minutes or until cheese is melted then broil until panko is golden.

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2 Comments

  1. Maggie says

    Tuna noodle casserole was one of my absolute favorites growing up. To this day, I still love the smell of that fishy, cheesy bake in the oven. This will be such an excellent twist on a old classic for my family!

    • Jen says

      Thank you so much Maggie! I love how you mentioned the fishy smell! Years ago I brought a tuna casserole to work and reheated in the microwave- the whole office smelled of tuna)! But I wouldn’t have changed a thing 🙂

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