TUNA CASSEROLE RECIPE FROM SCRATCH IS ABOUT TO BECOME YOUR FAVORITE EASY CASSEROLE RECIPE!
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!
TUNA CASSEROLE RECIPE
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.
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!
WHAT GOES IN TUNA CASSEROLE RECIPE?
- 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.
- 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.
Do I have to use Gruyere?
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 1/2 cup finely, freshly Parmesan instead.
Do I have to use bouillon?
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 CASSEROLE
Tuna Casserole is easy to make without any chopping! Here’s how with step by step photos and instructions:
Step 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.
Step 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.
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.
Step 3 – Combine: Add the tuna and peas and stir to combine. Stir in the noodles until evenly combined.
Step 4 – Add Topping: Transfer to prepared baking dish and top with remaining 1 cup cheddar cheese followed by panko.
Step 5 – 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.
HOW TO MAKE EXTRA CRISPY PANKO TOPPING
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.
First, melt butter in olive oil over medium heat in a skillet. Add panko and stir to coat. 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.
What else can I top Tuna Noodle Casserole With?
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 FOR TUNA CASSEROLE RECIPE
- 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.
CAN I PREPARE TUNA NOODLE CASSEROLE AHEAD OF TIME?
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 DO YOU REHEAT TUNA CASSEROLE RECIPE?
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 TUNA NOODLE 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.
WHAT SHOULD I SERVE WITH TUNA CASSEROLE RECIPE?
- Wedge Salad with Blue Cheese Ranch
- Cucumber Tomato Salad
- Strawberry Avocado Broccoli Salad
- Roasted Parmesan Broccoli
- Roasted Parmesan Asparagus
- Sautéed Brussels Sprouts with Garlic, Lemon, Butter
- Strawberry Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette
- Fruit Salad with Honey Lime Vinaigrette
- Winter Fruit Salad with Honey Lime Poppy Seed Vinaigrette
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