Tuna Casserole was a classic weeknight dinner in my house growing up. Both my parents worked full time, so weeknight meals that were easy, quick, and gobbled up by the whole family were a must. And creamy, hearty, delicious tuna noodle casserole fit the bill!
My original family recipe for this dish uses canned condensed soups to give it its creamy texture and tons of flavor. I’m a big fan of cooking from scratch whenever I can, so my version drops the canned soup and instead makes a simple, creamy sauce on the stovetop that is packed with even more flavor!
If I don’t use canned soups, what makes this tuna noodle casserole creamy?
Instead of canned cream of celery or cream of mushroom soup, this recipe has you make a simple béchamel sauce—which is a thickened cream sauce. Don’t freak! If you can melt butter and whisk milk, you can make a béchamel sauce. I promise you can do this!
Along with the creamy béchamel sauce, there is also a very special, secret ingredient that keeps this casserole super creamy and luscious—MAYO! Yup! A hefty scoop of mayo adds fat to the sauce, which helps keep it stable in the oven (no separation) and results in a silky, creamy casserole.
How do you make tuna casserole from scratch?
Making tuna noodle casserole is mostly just an exercise in assembly! After you lightly prep a few items, you mix them all together into a delicious, creamy casserole.
- Sauté celery, onion, green pepper, and mushrooms in melted butter over medium high-heat until tender.
- Sprinkle with flour, and then whisk in some whole milk. Season the sauce with ground mustard, salt, and black pepper.
- Simmer until thick, then add in some cheddar cheese to melt.
- Once the sauce is done, combine that mixture in a large bowl with al dente egg noodles, mayo, canned tuna, peas, and pimento peppers.
- Pour the whole shebang into a baking dish coated in cooking spray. Then top it with a crunchy Parmesan cheese and panko breadcrumbs topping.
- Bake until the casserole is bubbly and the top is crunchy and golden brown.
Make sure to shred your own cheddar cheese. Bagged, pre-shredded cheese is coated with an anti-caking agent that can make the sauce gritty or clumpy.
Do you cook noodles before baking casserole?
Yes! You’ll want to boil your egg noodles until they are just shy of al dente—they should still have a little toughness to them. They will cook the rest of the way while the casserole is in the oven, and they will come out perfectly cooked, rather than mushy. If you don’t cook your noodles in advance though, you’ll end up with crunchy, undercooked noodles. And nobody wants that in a creamy casserole!
Want to add an even bigger boost of flavor? Cook your egg noodles in chicken broth or vegetable broth.
What’s the best topping for tuna casserole?
We’ve tested a lot of different toppings for tuna casserole (regular breadcrumbs, crackers, slivered almonds, cornflakes, and even potato chips), but our favorite is a combo panko breadcrumbs, Parmesan cheese, and butter. It adds a wonderful crunch without detracting from the flavor of the casserole.
Does it matter what kind of tuna you use for tuna casserole?
I’m gonna be honest here and say—not really! You’re looking for canned tuna in water, but other than that, we recommend you pick whatever your family likes. Solid white albacore, light tuna, skipjack tuna, pole caught tuna—it all does the trick! Just make sure you drain the cans very well before adding them to the casserole.
How do you moisten dry tuna casserole?
Our recipe is designed to be deliciously rich and creamy right out of the oven—no worries about dry noodles. But it might start to go dry once it’s sat in the refrigerator and you’ve reheated it a few times. Stir in a spoonful or two of mayo to rehydrate!
You might be tempted to use more than the 6 ounces of egg noodles we list in the recipe (it seems like so little when it’s dry), but don’t! That’s the perfect ratio of pasta to sauce to make sure you don’t get a dry casserole.
How do you know when tuna casserole is done?
Everything in the casserole is pre-cooked, so you’re mostly just popping it in the oven to warm it through and make the topping crunchy. There are two signs to look for to confirm that your casserole is ready:
- The casserole should be bubbly, like how boiling water is bubbly.
- The topping should be golden brown.
If both of these criteria are met, you can take it out of the oven! Let it sit for 5-10 minutes before diving in, both so that you don’t burn your mouth (ouch!) and to let it thicken up a bit.
Can I make tuna casserole in advance?
You sure can! Make the filling all the way through and top it with the breadcrumb topping, but don’t bake it yet. Wrap in plastic wrap and store in the fridge. Bring up to room temperature before baking as listed.
Can you freeze tuna casserole? How do I reheat it?
You can definitely freeze tuna casserole, although it will slightly change the texture of the pasta. The egg noodles will lose a bit of their firmness in the freezer, but not enough to make the casserole unenjoyable!
To freeze: Make it all the way through, but don’t bake it yet. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and store in the freezer.
Want to keep your casserole dish out of the freezer? No problem. Line the entire casserole dish with a double layer of aluminum foil, with long arms of foil hanging out the sides. Fill the aluminum foil-lined baking dish with the casserole, and then pop it in the freezer. Once the casserole is frozen solid, pop out the casserole using the aluminum foil, wrap it up, and then wrap it again in plastic wrap. When it’s time to bake, unwrap the plastic wrap, and drop the foil “brick” into the baking dish!
To bake tuna noodle casserole from frozen, you can either thaw it overnight in the fridge and then bake as listed in the recipe, or you can bake from frozen. To bake from frozen, tent the top of the casserole in foil, then bake for about 90 minutes. Remove the foil, then bake for an additional 20 minutes, until hot and bubbly.
Do not bake from frozen if you are using a glass casserole dish. The temperature shock from the frozen casserole to the hot oven can cause the glass to shatter.