Tuna Casserole
This Tuna Casserole Recipe is the BEST ever without any canned soups or mayo! Just tuna and bright peas enveloped in the most flavorful rich, creamy cheese sauce all topped with golden crispy panko. This Tuna Noodle Casserole is made with pantry friendly ingredients and is easy to customize – swap the noodles, swap the veggies, swap the cheese, etc. for whatever you have on hand. This Tuna Casserole recipe is also quick and easy to make and you can prep it entirely ahead of time and bake until warm and bubbly at dinner time!
Servings Prep Time
6-8 servings 15minutes
Cook Time
45minutes
Servings Prep Time
6-8 servings 15minutes
Cook Time
45minutes
Tuna Casserole
Ingredients
Noodles
  • 16oz. wide egg noodles
Sauce
  • 3tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1/3cup all-purpose flour
  • 3cups milk
  • 2cups low sodium chicken broth
  • 1 1/2tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 1/2teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 1/2teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 2teaspoons chicken bouillon
  • 1 1/4teaspoon salt
  • 1tsp EACH onion powder, garlic powder, dried parsley
  • 1/4teaspoon pepper
  • 2cups freshly grated sharp cheddar cheesedivided (or more to taste)
  • 3oz. freshly grated Gruyere cheese(1 packed cup)
  • 1/2cup sour cream
  • 2cans (7 oz. each) solid white albacore tunadrained
  • 2cups frozen petite peasthawed
Panko Topping
  • 3/4cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 1tablespoon melted butter
  • 1tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Instructions
  1. NOODLES: Cook the egg noodles in salted water until barely al dente, about 2 minutes less than packaging instructions. Reserve 1 cup pasta water, drain, rinse until cold and set aside.
  2. PANKO: Meanwhile, melt 1 tablespoon butter in 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat in a nonstick skillet. Add panko and stir to coat. Continue cooking until crumbs become golden brown. Transfer to a plate; set aside.
  3. CASSEROLE: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly spray a 9×13 pan with nonstick cooking spray.
  4. SAUCE: Melt butter with olive oil in a very large skillet or Dutch over medium heat (something that can fit all ingredients). Whisk in flour then cook, while stirring for 2 minutes. Turn heat to low then gradually whisk in milk and 1 ½ cups chicken broth. Whisk cornstarch with remaining chicken broth and add to skillet followed by Dijon, Worcestershire sauce, chicken bouillon and all spices/seasonings.
  5. Bring sauce to a boil, whisking constantly then reduce heat to a simmer, whisking often until thickened. Remove from heat and whisk in 1 cup cheddar until melted followed by Gruyere cheese until melted. Whisk in sour cream until blended.
  6. COMBINE: Add the tuna and peas and stir to combine. Stir in the noodles until evenly combined. Transfer to prepared baking dish and top with remaining 1 cup cheddar cheese followed by panko.
  7. BAKE: Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, uncover and bake an addition 10-15 minutes or until hot and bubbly and cheese is melted; serve piping hot. Season with freshly cracked salt and pepper to taste (I like more salt).
Recipe Notes

Topping Variations  

There is really no right or wrong way to top Tuna Noodle Casserole as long as the topping is buttery and crunchy.  Here are a few more popular topping ideas:

  • Ritz crackers:  melt 1 tablespoon butter in a medium saucepan.  Add ½ cup crushed Ritz and stir to combine.  Sprinkle mixture over the casserole and bake as instructed.
  • Potato chips:  crumble desired amount of potato chips, preferable flavored potato chips such as salt-and-vinegar, onion or jalapeno, and top the casserole before baking.
  • Cornflakes:  combine 1-2 cups crushed cornflakes with 1-2 tablespoons melted butter and stir to combine; top casserole with crushed cornflakes before baking.
  • Fried onions:  sprinkle the casserole with 1 1/3 cups canned Crispy Fried Onions the last 5 minutes of baking or make your own like I do in my Green Bean Casserole.  

TIPS AND TRICKS

  • Saucy pasta.  If you want an even saucier casserole, you can reduce the egg noodles to 12 oz.
  • Gruyere substitute.  Gruyere is the consummate melting cheese and is sweet, slightly salty, creamy, nutty – in short, it is AMAZING and elevates this Tuna Noodle Casserole recipe. If you need to substitute it, replace the 1 cup Gruyere with 1/2 cup finely, freshly Parmesan instead. 
  • Don’t overcook pasta!   Egg Noodles are thinner than other noodles so it is critical to not overcook them, especially because the noodles will continue cooking in the oven. I recommend testing your pasta about 2 or 3 minutes before the box recommends – pasta should be al dente– meaning it should still be a little firm in the center/ have a “bite” to it.
  • Stop pasta from cooking.  Strain and rinse your pasta with cold water to prevent it from continuing to cook.
  • Prevent pasta from clumping.  If you’re not using the cooked pasta right away, toss it with a little olive oil.  This will prevent it from sticking together.
  • Flake the tuna into large chunks.  The tuna will continue to separate as you toss to combine it with the pasta and sauce, so don’t flake it apart too much before combining or it will turn into mush.
  • Cook flour for two minutes.  Two minutes can seem like a long time but don’t cut it short – you want to make sure to cook out the raw flour taste.
  • Simmer sauce until thick.  The sauce should seem a little on the thick side because it will thin out once baked with the tuna and peas.
  • Thin sauce if needed.  The sauce can become too thick if its simmered at too high of heat or for too long.  But don’t worry, it’s SO easy to fix!  Simply stir in a little milk or chicken broth until it reaches desired consistency.
  • More cheese. The sauce in the Tuna Casserole recipe is more cream than cheesy so feel free to add extra cheese for a cheesier casserole.

RECIPE VARIATIONS

You can adapt this Tuna Noodle Casserole however you like!  You can play around with the add-ins or even swap the tuna for a different protein to make a different casserole all together. Here are a few ideas:

  • Veggies: You can swap the peas for corn or other veggies such as broccoli, asparagus, zucchini, bell peppers, carrots, celery, etc. You will want to steam, roast or boil the veggies before adding to the pasta.  An easy method is to add them to the boiling pasta the last couple minutes of cooking like I do with asparagus in my BLT Pasta Salad.
  • Cheeses: You can mix up the cheeses with any other favorite melting cheeses to create a different flavor profile:  mozzarella, Asiago, Gouda, smoked cheddar, Monterrey, Pepper Jack, Havarti, Colby etc. Or just add more cheese – yum!
  • Add ins:  Sun-dried tomatoes, artichokes, green chiles, pimientos, pickled jalapenos, roasted bell peppers, etc. add a fun variety.
  • Seasonings: You can swap some of the seasonings out for Cajun spices to mix things up.
  • Skip the protein.  You can instantly turn this Tuna Casserole into an easy pasta casserole side by omitting the protein.
  • Swap protein:  You can use the Tuna Casserole as a base to make other casseroles as well by swapping the tuna for ground beef, Italian sausage, ground turkey, shredded chicken, ham, bacon, etc.
  • Make it gluten-free.  To make this Tuna Noodle Casserole gluten free, use your favorite gluten free pasta and gluten free flour.

HOW TO PREP AHEAD 

Absolutely!  Tuna Noodle Casserole is the perfect casserole to assemble ahead of time – just take care the noodles are cooked al dente so the don’t soak up too much sauce. You can also make the sauce ahead and/or pasta ahead of time. Here’s a breakdown of your options:

1. ASSEMBLE AND REFRIGERATE: 

  • Take care that your noodles are cooked al dente and are rinsed in cold water so they don’t keep cooking.
  • Take care the sauce isn’t too thick as it will thicken more sitting in the refrigerator.
  • Assemble the casserole according to recipe instructions up to the point of baking. Cover casserole with foil and refrigerate.
  • When ready to bake, let Tuna Casserole sit on the counter for 30 minutes before baking.
  • Bake at 350 degrees F for 40 minutes, uncover and bake an addition 10-15 minutes or until hot and bubbly and cheese is melted.

2. MAKE MORNAY SAUCE IN ADVANCE:

  • You can make the Mornay sauce up to 3 days in advance.
  • Refrigerate sauce in an airtight container.
  • Gently heat in a large skillet before using, adding additional milk as needed to thin to desired consistency.

3. COOK NOODLES IN ADVANCE:

  • You can cook the pasta al dente up to 5 days ahead of time.
  • Rinse noodles with cool water.
  • Toss with a drizzle of oil to prevent them from sticking together.
  • Transfer to an airtight container or freezer bag and squeeze out excess air.
  • Store in the refrigerator until ready to use.

HOW TO REHEAT 

  • To reheat Tuna Casserole in the oven, cover the casserole with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until hot and bubbly.

  • You can also reheat individual servings of Tuna Noodle Casserole in the microwave with excellent results.  I sometimes add a splash of milk to the casserole before reheating and then mix it in so it emerges just as creamy as the first day.

How to FREEZE 

This Tuna Noodle Casserole is super convenient to double when making so you can serve one for dinner now and have one for later. It is best frozen before it is baked.

  • Make and assemble according to directions up to the point of baking taking care the noodles are on the firmer side of al dente. You can add the panko if you want the casserole 100% assembled OR for crispier panko, toast and add right before baking.
  • Let Tuna Casserole cool completely (not from baking but from the warm sauce).
  • Wrap casserole securely with plastic wrap, then with aluminum foil.
  • Label and freeze for up to 3 months.
  • When ready to eat, defrost casserole in the refrigerator for 24-48 hours until completely thawed.
  • Let casserole stand at room temperature for 30 minutes before baking.
  • Bake at 350 degrees F for 40 minutes, uncover, and bake an addition 10-15 minutes or until hot and bubbly and cheese is melted.