Best Recipe for Tuna Casserole

TUNA CASSEROLE RECIPE FROM SCRATCH IS ABOUT TO BECOME YOUR FAVORITE EASY CASSEROLE RECIPE!

This Tuna Casserole is the “Best tuna casserole EVER” and will have even the pickiest eater singing its praises! It’s the “grown up,” updated version made from scratch without any canned soups or mayo but every bit as creamy and 10X more flavorful! It’s made with pantry friendly ingredients, is customizable and prep ahead friendly – at dinnertime, just pop it in the oven to warm and bubbly perfection!

up close of a spoon scooping tuna noodle casserole to show how creamy it is


 

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Recipe for Tuna Casserole

Did you grow up on Tuna Casserole?!  Tuna Casserole was one of my go-to dinners I made as a college student because it was so quick, easy, economical, pantry friendly, reheated great and best of all, was a creamy, cheesy, comforting, carbohydrate hug. 

Updated comforting classic. There is something so satisfying, so comforting, so outrageously delicious about Tuna Noodle Casserole – and that is why it has been popular for over 70 years. Today, I bring you the “grown up” updated version made from scratch that is 1000X better than my college canned soup version and your old memories of Tuna Casserole. It is SO good, I was eating it at every chance I got and was sorely disappointed when the leftovers were gone.

Why You’ll Love Our Tuna Casserole Recipe!

  • No canned soups! Rather than relying on mystery canned “cream of soup,” this Tuna Casserole recipe is made with a simple, creamy white sauce made from scratch with flour, butter, chicken broth, milk and cornstarch.  This new and improved, from-scratch sauce is rich, irresistibly creamy, cheesy, comforting perfection. 
  • Flavor! Of course, even with its irresistibly creaminess, it’s easy for Tuna Noodle Casserole to fall into the bland and disappointing category – but not this Tuna Casserole recipe!  This Tuna Noodle Casserole recipe is seasoned to perfection with hints of Dijon and Worcestershire sauce, salty chicken bouillon, onion powder, garlic powder, parsley and both sharp cheddar and Gruyere AKA this isn’t your grandmother’s Tuna Casserole. 
  • Texture! This Tuna Casserole also hits all the right notes to create a symphony of comforting textures.  You have the bright, petite peas, the juicy tuna, the al dente noodles all blanketed in a luxuriously creamy sauce topped with crispy buttery panko.
  • Pantry friendly. Best of all, Tuna Casserole is one of the most pantry friendly recipes out there – everything (besides the milk, which you can even sub for evaporated milk) is non-perishable and can be kept for months at a time – even the protein!  This means you can stock up on the ingredients and be ready to make this back-pocket dinnertime ace at a moment’s notice or whenever the cravings strike – which will be frequent.  

WHAT IS TUNA NOODLE CASSEROLE?

Before we dive into this Tuna Casserole recipe, I wanted to share a little bit about my inspiration.  Tuna Noodle Casserole became extremely popular in America in the 1950s. This was era of “cream of soups” and casseroles galore. 

The first Tuna Noodle Casseroles were made by mixing egg noodles, canned drained tuna, condensed cream of mushroom or cream of celery soup, frozen peas, cheddar cheese and sliced mushrooms all together in a baking dish, then topping with crushed potato chips.  All of the ingredients were inexpensive, easy to find, and non-perishable so they didn’t require a trip to the grocery store.  

Today, there are countless variations of Tuna Casserole. While many recipes still use condensed soup, updated from scratch versions (like I’m sharing with you today), are made with a Mornay Sauce – a creamy béchamel sauce with shredded cheese.  This from scratch sauce is lusciously creamy without any mystery ingredients.

Tuna Casserole can also be made with various add-ins from peas, to corn to mushrooms- although peas will always remain my favorite. Finally, the crushed potato chip topping has been replaced by buttery bread crumbs, crushed cornflakes, crushed Ritz crackers and even crispy fried onions.

Today, I bring you the best of the old combined with the best of the new to bring you the BEST Tuna Casserole recipe!

side view of a 9x13 of tuna casserole recipe with cripsy panko showing how golden the panko i s

Tuna Casserole Ingredients

  • Tuna:  Use high-quality solid white albacore tuna. It boasts far superior flavor and a less fishy taste as well as superior texture to skipjack/light tuna which translates into far superior Tuna Noodle Casserole! Solid white albacore also has three times the amount of omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Egg noodles: Are a must for Tuna Noodle Casserole!  Egg noodles are made with a higher proportion of eggs to flour than traditional pasta.  The resulting noodles are softer, fluffier, lighter and almost buttery. They are slightly chewy and their wavy texture is perfect to cradle the creamy sauce. Egg noodles cook up perfectly every time and hold their form and texture well when baked.   
  • Homemade Cream of Chicken Soup:  For this Tuna Casserole recipe, I adapted my homemade cream of chicken soup from my Chicken Divan recipe because it is epic. It starts with a roux then you whisk in milk and chicken broth whisked with cornstarch to create a wonderfully thick sauce.  You want the sauce to seem a little on the thick side because it will thin out some in the oven.  To this luscious sauce, we stir in chicken bouillon, Dijon, Worcestershire sauce onion powder, garlic powder, dried parsley and pepper.  It is velvety, seasoned bliss.
top view of creamy mornay sauce for tuna casserole n a blue saucepan
  • Peas:  Only use frozen, thawed petite peas please! Canned peas are mushy and defeat the purpose of adding the texture popping peas.
  • Cheese.  I use freshly grated cheddar for it is sharp richness and Gruyere for its nutty saltiness and its gorgeous melting ability.  Gruyere can be found with the specialty cheese (usually by the deli) in your grocery store.  Please only use freshly grated cheeses because the pre-shredded varieties don’t melt nearly as well because they are coated with anti-clumping chemicals.
  • Sour Cream.  Sour cream is a must in my book for the slightly tangy classic Tuna Noodle Casserole taste.  I use ½ cup but you are welcome to use even more.  Full fat sour cream melts easier than nonfat, but you can certainly use nonfat with this knowledge.  For full disclosure, I have not tried this Tuna Casserole recipe with Greek Yogurt.
  • Panko.  Don’t skip the panko crunch, it is one of my favorite parts!  Panko is a style of Japanese bread crumbs that is fluffier and bakes up much crispier than bread crumbs.  It is located with the other breadcrumbs at the grocery store.  I used Italian style panko (meaning it is seasoned with Italian seasoning), but you can use plain panko as well. If you don’t have/want to use panko, see my section on other topping options.
showing how to make panko topping for Tuna Casserole recipe in a skillet

Do I have to use gruyere in my tuna casserole?

Gruyere is the consummate melting cheese and one of my favorite cheeses to use in casseroles such as Au Gratin Potatoes, Scalloped Sweet Potatoes and Frittata recipes just to name a few and of course, it’s the star of French Onion Soup. Gruyere cheese is sweet, slightly salty, creamy, nutty – in short, it is AMAZING and elevates this Tuna Noodle Casserole recipe. It boasts enough flavor to cut through the richness of the sauce and melts seamlessly for additional luxurious creaminess.  That being said, I understand most of us don’t keep Gruyere on hand, so you can substitute it with ½ cup finely, freshly Parmesan instead. 

Do I have to use bouillon in my tuna casserole?

Please do not skip the bouillon!  It is the secret ingredient that adds tons of flavor. It is essentially dehydrated vegetables, meat stock, a small portion of fat, salt, and seasonings AKA it is salt with flavor!  You can use chicken bouillon, bouillon powder or better than bouillon – all in equal amounts.  If you are using bouillon cubes, just mash them up a bit before you add them to the sauce – don’t dissolve in water first. 

How to Make Tuna Noodle Casserole

Tuna Casserole is easy to make without any chopping! Here’s how with step by step photos and instructions:

  1. Cook 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. Make 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.
showing how to make Tuna Casserole recipe by whisking seasonings into milk and chicken broth to make Mornay sauce

Bring sauce to a boil, whisking constantly then reduce heat to a simmer, whisking often until thickened.

showing how to make Tuna Casserole recipe by simmering Mornay sauce 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.  

showing how to make Tuna Casserole recipe by stirring cheddar cheese into Mornay sauce
showing how to make Tuna Casserole by stirring in sour cream
  1. Combine: Add the tuna and peas and stir to combine.  Stir in the noodles until evenly combined.
showing how to make Tuna Noodle Casserole by adding tuna and peas to the Mornay sauce
showing how to make Tuna Noodle Casserole by stirring noodles into sauce
  1. Add Topping:  Transfer to prepared baking dish and top with remaining 1 cup cheddar cheese followed by panko.
  1. 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.
top view of Tuna Noodle  Casserole in a 9x13 pan topped with crispy  panko

How to Make Crispy Panko Topping for Tuna Noodle Casserole

You are welcome to add the panko directly to the top of your Tuna Casserole without browning first and bake per instructions and then broil, but the end result will always leave you wanting crispier panko.

To get the ULITMATE buttery, crispy panko topping, I use the technique I use in my Million Dollar Macaroni and Cheese – because it is million dollar delicious.

  1. First, melt butter in olive oil over medium heat in a skillet.
  2. Add panko and stir to coat.
  3. Continue cooking until crumbs become golden brown.

This will give you the most spectacular crispy panko once baked on top of your Tuna Noodle Casserole.

Tuna Casserole Recipe Tips

  • 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.

TUNA NOODLE 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.

Other Tuna Noodle Casserole Recipe Topping Options

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 ⅓ cups canned Crispy Fried Onions the last 5 minutes of baking or make your own like I do in my Green Bean Casserole.  
showing how to serve Tuna  Casserole recipe by adding to a plate and garnishing with parsley

Make Ahead Recipe for Tuna Noodle Casserole

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.

What to Serve with this Tuna Noodle Casserole Recipe

We love this Tuna Casserole with a big salad and Garlic Parmesan Butter Breadsticks or Soft and Fluffy Dinner Rolls.  It is also delicious with any of the following sides:

How to store this Recipe for Tuna Casserole

How to Freeze Tuna Casserole

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. You can add the panko if you want the casserole 100% assembled OR for crispier panko, toast and add it 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.

How to Reheat Tuna Casserole?

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.

Tuna Casserole Recipe Tools

  • Rectangular Baking Dish:   I love my Le Creuset Stoneware which is a unique clay mixture that creates a very dense material when fired ultimately creates a non-porous dish that maintains even temperatures, prevents scorching, resists odors, chipping, cracking, and staining.  Note my photos are of an older version.   This less expensive Modern Classics 9×13 is also extremely quality.
  • Deep Saucepan:  this Le Creuset  Braiser is one of my favorite pans!   It is deep and wide which allows you to combine all of the ingredients in one pan. This deep Stainless Steel Saucepan is also wonderful for this purpose.
  • Pasta Pot and Strainer:  I LOVE this pasta pot with a removable strainer and use it every time I make pasta!   The set allows you to simply lift out the strainer when the pasta is done cooking.  The stainless steel also does not discolor, react with food or alter flavors.
  • Cheese grater: I use this kitchen tool constantly because FRESHLY grated cheese as opposed to bagged shredded cheese is always the way to go!  Using freshly grated cheese also saves money, tastes better, and MELTS better.

Tuna Noodle Casserole Recipe FAQs

Why is my tuna casserole so dry?

Tuna casserole can become dry due to overbaking or using an insufficient amount of sauce. To prevent dryness, it’s essential to monitor the baking time closely, every oven is different! Take care to simmer the sauce so it’s thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. If it’s too thick, it won’t sufficiently cover the noodles. To thin the sauce while simmering, add additional milk to thin.

How do you thicken tuna casserole?

Tuna casserole is thickened by making a roux out of butter, olive oil and flour, then whisking in milk and chicken broth. The sauce is simmered until thickened to desired consistency. The sauce will reduce and thicken as it simmers, so for a thicker sauce, simply simmer longer.

How do you know when a casserole is done?

Knowing when a casserole is done depends on the specific recipe and ingredients, but here are some general guidelines:
Bubbling Edges: Look for bubbling around the edges of the casserole. This suggests that the ingredients are heated through, and the sauce or liquids are simmering.
Internal Temperature: Check the internal temperature of the casserole using a food thermometer. It should reach a safe temperature for consumption, typically 165°F (74°C) for most casseroles containing meats or dairy.
Fork or Knife Test: Insert a fork or knife into the center of the casserole and pull it slightly to the side. If the ingredients are hot, and the fork comes out relatively clean, the casserole is likely done.
Set Texture: The casserole should have a set or firm texture, especially if it contains ingredients like eggs or starches. A custard-like consistency should be achieved in casseroles with creamy or custard elements.
Cooking Time: Follow the recommended cooking time in the recipe. Keep in mind that individual ovens may vary, so use the suggested time as a guide and adjust as needed.

up close of Tuna Casserole in the pan to show how creamy it is

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Best Recipe for Tuna Noodle 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: 6 -8 servings
Total Time: 1 hour
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes

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Ingredients

Noodles

  • 16 oz. wide egg noodles

Sauce

  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 cups milk
  • 2 cups low sodium chicken broth
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 teaspoons chicken bouillon
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tsp EACH onion powder, garlic powder, dried parsley
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 cups freshly grated sharp cheddar cheese divided (or more to taste)
  • 3 oz. freshly grated Gruyere cheese (1 packed cup)
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 2 cans (7 oz. each) solid white albacore tuna drained
  • 2 cups frozen petite peas thawed

Panko Topping

  • 3/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 1 tablespoon melted butter
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

Instructions

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • CASSEROLE: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly spray a 9×13 pan with nonstick cooking spray.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • COMBINE: Add the tuna and peas and stir to combine. Stir in the noodles until evenly combined. Stir in some of the reserved pasta water IF the sauce has become too thick. Transfer to prepared baking dish and top with remaining 1 cup cheddar cheese followed by panko.
  • 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).

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 ⅓ 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 ½ cup finely, freshly grated Parmesan (like powder) 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.

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46 Comments

  1. Carol F. says

    Without a doubt this is the best tuna casserole I have ever made! It certainly lives up to its name “Worlds best Tuna Casserole”! My family loves it. I made it exactly as the recipe states and you are right about the chicken bouillon – it adds another dimension. Thanks for a great recipe. I also like the salad options you have listed that might go well with the dish.

    • Jen says

      Thank you so much, Carol! I am thrilled you and your family love the tuna casserole and I am so pleased that you agree with the chicken bouillon adding another dimension – YAY!! Thank you for the positive review, I hope you are having a wonderful week!

  2. B says

    Question. The 2 tablespoons of olive oil says divided. Yet I don’t see where it was used divided. The olive oil used in the Panko topping is separate from the rest of the ingredients. In the instructions for the sauce it sells melt the butter with the olive oil. I’m assuming that’s all of the olive oil. I’m making this right now and that’s what I’m gonna do. Was that a typo?

    • Jen says

      Thanks for catching that! My apologies, it should not be divided, but 2 tablespoons melted with the butter for the sauce. I’ll correct it right now.

  3. B says

    This casserole’s was great! Very creamy. The only thing I did different was to add some celery, red pepper, red onion and an extra can of tuna since we like lots of it in this casserole. Definitely a keeper!

    • Jen says

      Yum! I’m glad it was easily customizable! Happy to hear it will be a repeat!

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