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Tuna casserole

Hi Chowhounds,

Lately I've been having a craving for tuna casserole - you know, the stuff made with canned tuna fish, some sort of noodles (egg, I believe), and a milk/cream sauce, usually topped with some sort of breadcrumbs.

Well, it's been years since I had the stuff, so I'm wondering: what wisdom can you impart on me? What's a good starting point for a recipe, and what should I be wary of or look out for?

Thanks for any guidance or tips.

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  1. This is my go-to recipe. I believe it was the recipe on the Velveeta box from, at least, 40 years ago. ymmv


    1 Reply
    1. re: grampart

      Awesome, thank you. I'll give it a look!

    2. This has been my favorite, it's one recipe that I follow closely though I leave out the mushrooms. We like it better baked and then reheated the next day after the noodles have soaked up some of the sauce.

      3 Replies
      1. re: gourmanda

        Do you happen to have a link to the recipe? I agree - noodle casseroles are usually better the second day, after the taste of the dish really comes together.

          1. re: gourmanda

            that really does look good to me.
            back in the day I know people put frozen veg in there, like carrots and peas but I prefer the more updated version with mushroom and a variety of cheeses (I know, no cheese with fish, whatever.....). lots of onions and garlic and lots of browned sauteed shrooms cooked in a plethora of butter. my best ever involved cream cheese, sour cream 1/2&1/2 plus.........probably still suffering with a fat heart because of it

      2. Cooks Country had an amazing one a few years ago that they don't want to share but here is a link to the recipe. Delicious and worth the extra trouble but there's nothing wrong with Velveeta either!

        4 Replies
        1. re: Berheenia

          I'm completely on the same page as far as velveeta...in fact, I've made my own in the past! Just melt down some cheese with a bit of water, blend or whisk in sodium citrate, and cool it down. That's how they made Velveeta in the first place - and it also intensifies cheesy flavor, so you can make something truly exceptional. Thanks for the link! I typically enjoy Cook's Country recipes.

          1. re: Symmetry

            And it has to have crumbled potato chips on top - no panko or buttered crumbs no matter how yummy they sound. :}

            1. re: Berheenia

              Got it. They are certainly oily enough to sub for butter, aren't they...

          2. re: Berheenia


            looks terrific, but for me, no bell pep&no peas. otherwise it's good one

          3. The only thing in old school tuna casserole recipes that still tastes the same is the egg noodles. Tuna these days is dry unless you pay a premium for imported tuna in olive oil. Cream of mushroom soup is paste in its modern form, and Velveeta tastes far less cheddary than it originally did.

            21 Replies
            1. re: greygarious

              I wasn't planning on using cream of mushroom soup, and I wasn't planning on buying processed cheese (I make it myself). Assuming I'm willing to spend on good tuna, got any tips?

              1. re: Symmetry

                I find most canned tuna to be so full of water, there's less and less tuna.
                I wouldn't recommend spending money on the good stuff packed in oil- save that for the antipasto platter.
                Think of it like cooking with wine- buy stuff that you'd drink, but don't mind dumping in a pan.
                My favorite is Kirkland- it's not all water and the chunks are solid.

                1. re: monavano

                  That's how I approach most ingredients, but I had no idea which brands of tuna were even worth buying. I don't eat the stuff often. Next time I head to Costco, I'll pick up a pallet.

                  1. re: Symmetry

                    I'm glad you're a member- Kirkland's tuna in water is really good.

                    1. re: Symmetry

                      See if your Costco has Wild Planet tuna. If so, it will likely cost a lot less than at the grocery store for high quality tuna without water.

                    2. re: monavano

                      Tuna in oil is so much more flavorful, and when drained you are not introducing that many cals. Julia C herself said tuna in water is yuck. Save the cals someplace else, and use oil packed tuna.

                      1. re: MazDee

                        what brand are you suggesting MazDee

                        1. re: MazDee

                          I appreciate your love of tuna in oil, but i will NEVER switch!
                          Water it is for me!

                      2. re: Symmetry

                        I understand that you don't want mushroom soup in your tuna casserole, but it's just not my old comfort food without cream of mushroom. The rest of the recipe includes chopped onion, sharp cheddar, Kirkland's tuna, as monavano suggests, egg noodles or any macaroni, and a little milk to loosen it up. Shredded cheddar on top, bake till good and bubbly. I like it when the onions are still a little crispy and fresh tasting. Can't do the peas... they get overcooked and taste like canned peas once the casserole is baked. So I just serve frozen peas, nuked a little, on the side.

                        1. re: kitchengardengal

                          Oh, don't get me wrong - I absolutely intend on using mushroom soup! But canned goo with mushroom on the label doesn't cut the mustard in my house.

                          Otherwise, I'd toss in frozen peas unlike you, but I don't consider it tuna casserole without peas. I don't see a way around overcooking them, unfortunately...add while they're still frozen, perhaps, and adjust for the water they'll shed?

                          1. re: Symmetry

                            I add them frozen and extra water isn't a problem.

                            1. re: Symmetry

                              I grew up on the mushroom soup version too, but found it much more compatible with my adult taste buds to make a nice quick mushroom/shallot/sherry based bechamel and use that instead. A little soy and worcestershire and lots of ground black pepper round out the flavors and really bring the mushroom soup vibe to the whole thing.

                          2. re: Symmetry

                            my idea Symmetry, no matter what comments follow, tuna isn't what it used to be, that said, Costco is where I buy mine. and I don't even like Costco but their Kirkland Albacore tuna in the package deal is good quality unless you travel to Barcelona or Madrid or Roma to get the good stuff.

                            1. re: iL Divo

                              The canned Bumble Bee filet of tuna that I get at BJs is really good, but I'm one of those "If it's not on sale for 89 cents, forget about it". Maybe a habit I should break.

                              That said, I never can resist picking up a couple of those glass jars of tuna you find in the Italian markets, but...not to sound like a snob!...I would never use them for tuna casserole ;-)

                              1. re: coll

                                Right, same with wine-I'm not splashing a $30 bottle in my pan!

                                1. re: coll

                                  "not to sound like a snob!...I would never use them for tuna casserole....."

                                  ^^^^^ ..... nor would I.
                                  it'd be a waste of a great stand alone product

                                2. re: iL Divo

                                  I've learned that I have an exceptionally good brand of tuna available to me - it's canned without any sort of oil or water, and it's cooked in the can. It's incredibly moist, and the flavor is divine (or so they say). It's called Raincoast Trading albacore.

                                    1. re: iL Divo

                                      Here in Oregon, anywhere - Wal-Mart, Market of Choice, Whole Foods, Fred Meyer, Safeway...it's everywhere.

                                      Elsewhere, probably not at all. Well, outside of the PNW, at least.

                                      1. re: Symmetry

                                        thanks for the info, on our way up to Seattle we'll stop and look for it when we need to stock up on food for the MH
                                        any idea if the price is typical of other tuna's or if it's considerably higher priced as imported tuna in olive oil?

                                        1. re: iL Divo

                                          Where I am, regular whole tuna in water ranges from $0.89 to $1.30something, and olive oil ranges from $1.87 to $6.50something. This stuff is in the middle of the upscale: $4.50 for a 4.44oz tin (which is as much tuna as the other brands, after draining). It's not as much as the fancy Italian brands, though.

                            2. Tuna casserole is such comfort food. I don't know if this will help since I don't use exact proportions but this is what I do for it:

                              Start boiling water, cooking egg noodles, making sure to slightly undercook the noodles. Heat up butter/oil on stove, add chopped mushrooms, celery, red bell peppers and saute. Add a few heaping tablespoons of flour and toast. Add some white wine until it somewhat evaporates. Add room temp or heated milk (heated takes less time to thicken) and chicken stock. When thickened, add some cream if I have it in the house. Add frozen peas and drained tuna (check out Costco--they have good tuna at decent prices). Pour into buttered casserole dish. Top w/ butter, bread crumbs (panko is good) and cheese if you want. Bake 350 for about half an hour.

                              7 Replies
                              1. re: chowser

                                That's what I was looking for! I don't care too much about exact quantities (and if you had given them to me, they would've been adjusted anyhow) but the technique is what I'm after.

                                When you say top with butter, what do you mean? Whole chunks? Brushed on melted butter?

                                1. re: Symmetry

                                  I top with butter at the very end- place chunks on top of bread crumbs and brown under broiler.

                                  1. re: Symmetry

                                    Sorry it wasn't clear--I mix butter and breadcrumbs together somewhat and top the casserole. I also dot w/ butter if it doesn't look like enough.

                                    1. re: chowser

                                      Ah, alright. Sounds like there are a few methods of incorporating butter in the topping, but yours fits more closely with what I'm used to.

                                  2. re: chowser

                                    I've done it like this before, and loved it. Only I'd use tuna in olive oil and if you drain it, use the oil the cook the veg. There's lots of tuna flavor in that oil.

                                    1. re: Madrid

                                      Definitely, thanks I left that out. See, I'd be a terrible cookbook writer. I forget steps if I'm not doing them.

                                    2. re: chowser

                                      That's pretty close to how I make it. In lieu of cream of mushroom soup I also use a homemade white sauce (but with a mix of 2% milk, chicken stock, and a splash of white wine with a roux, white pepper, salt, and bay leaf) and sauteed mushrooms. I usually make two casseroles at a time, and pop one well-wrapped and labeled in the freezer for later and one for dinner that night. A good sprinkle of Old Bay seasoning mixed in the casserole, too. I also add a smidge of lemon juice or finely grated lemon peel for a lift with all that white sauce and fish, as well as some thyme.

                                    3. One of my favorite, easy comfort foods is a box of Annie's Deluxe Shells & Real Aged Cheddar cooked as directed. Mix in a can of drained tuna (I like it packed in oil - more flavor). I add a bit of finely chopped sweet onion and some frozen peas. All goes into a buttered casserole, pour a bit of milk or cream over and top with sautéed buttered panko crumbs. Bake at 350 until heated through.

                                      4 Replies
                                        1. re: nlgardener

                                          As a kid this is what my babysitter would make on the rare occasion my parents went out! Mac and cheese from the box, plus a can of tuna and some peas. No baking in a casserole. Broccoli on the side.

                                          1. re: Ttrockwood

                                            you know what TRock, you're right, that WAS a good invention and who'd a thunk, good tasting too


                                            1. re: iL Divo

                                              That was my original tuna casserole recipe, except with Kraft.

                                        2. Though I use canned salmon, as my wife despises tuna my favorite remains Bon Appetit's Tuna Noodle Caserole with Leeks and fresh Dill

                                          Cant seem to get my computer to link. have to google it,sorry.

                                          I use salt and vinegar chips on top

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: hyde

                                            I like the topping you used. I'll have to steal that for something...or make a Spanish tortilla with s&v chips, mmm.

                                            1. Good God!

                                              Hadn't give a thought to Tuna Noodle Casserole untile now ....,

                                              And I can't get it out of my mind

                                              Thanks !!!!!!!

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. Mine does not use canned soup but I promise you it will be great. Slice and saute mushrooms until brown, add chopped onion and celery and saute lightly. Sprinkle with a little bit of flour and then add milk and/or cream, stirring until it thickens. Add grated cheddar and stir until melted. Add tuna packed in olive oil that you have drained well, along with noodles. If too thick, add more milk, you want it to be a little wet. Buttered bread crumbs and/or cheese on top then and put into hot oven until bubbly and brown on top.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: escondido123

                                                  Get a few cans of whole white albacore in water.
                                                  Make a classic 'sauce bechamel'. I use 2 litres of whole milk so I'm doubling my recipe. Season with S&P.
                                                  Use Barilla elbow pasta just barely cooked through.
                                                  Fresh sauteed mushrooms cut into quarters. Finely chopped sweet onion and red bell pepper also sauteed. Some frozen peas. Your choice of herbs. I like using thyme only. Combine, put in shallow baking pans. Sprinkle on a layer of Panko or crushed potato chips. Into hot oven until the topping is browned.
                                                  Make lots and give some to your friends/family/neighbours.

                                                2. I drain the oil from two cans of tuna. Add about an equal amount of butter. Saute some diced onions in that. Add enough flour to make a nice roux. Add a couple of cups of milk (I let it come to just about room temperature). Sprinkle with some season salt, crushed black pepper, a pinch of paprika and a pinch of dry mustard powder. Whisk in lots and lots of shredded cheddar. Give it a taste to see if it needs more seasoning. Stir in the al dente pasta. Pour it all into a baking dish. Cover with more cheese and bake ‘til nice and bubbly. Hubby would eat this every day if I made it.

                                                  2 Replies
                                                  1. re: AngelaID

                                                    Sounds delicious!
                                                    You're basically making a sauce bechamel.
                                                    Do you bring the oil/butter/milk come just to the boil before adding in the cheese?

                                                  2. Is it possible to use non-canned tuna and get the right textures? I mean, if I were to try to "pimp up" the recipe using fresh fish, can you get tuna fillets that would match the flaky canned tuna?

                                                    9 Replies
                                                    1. re: GraydonCarter

                                                      Maybe if you pressure cooked it?

                                                      I've tried making tuna salad out of leftover fresh tuna, but it's just not the same.

                                                      1. re: GraydonCarter

                                                        I think you would have to cook it to death...considering the price for fresh tuna that would be a crime.

                                                        1. re: gourmanda

                                                          Perhaps a de-constructed tuna casserole?

                                                          1. re: grampart

                                                            Seared tuna atop noodles casserole would be quite good.
                                                            Just don't destroy the tuna!

                                                            1. re: monavano

                                                              Oh my what a great idea. Seared tuna atop my mac n cheese (literally just mac and cheddar-the only way hubby likes it). I'd like a good ol can of tuna dumped in Velveeta mac & cheese eaten after it has chilled in the fridge. Sorry if that sounds icky!

                                                          1. re: GraydonCarter

                                                            there are recipes for olive oil poached fresh tuna. I wouldn't cook it again in a casserole, but if you topped it with a homemade mushroom sauce and served it on top of some great pasta, now, that's an idea! A restaurant in the Boston area, Oleana, uses minced fresh tuna in amazing deviled eggs. Black olives would be a great addition to a tuna combo.

                                                            1. re: GraydonCarter

                                                              John Ash's "Cooking One on One" has a recipe that is essentially pasta with tonnato sauce. It's egg yolk and olive oil emulsified in a blender plus garlic, capers, tuna, and parsley. It's tossed with hot pasta.

                                                              I can say this works very well if you want an alternative to using fresh fish in tuna casserole.