Who doesn’t love tuna noodle casserole? It’s such a comforting sight at the dinner table and a fixture at potlucks and family suppers. We wanted to make a version all from scratch (save canning tuna and frying potato chips—we outsource that to the experts).
To make our casserole more wholesome, we’re making a DIY creamy mushroom sauce with real mushrooms. Making a from-scratch sauce leads to a huge payoff in both flavor and texture. Plus, you can put this recipe together almost as easily as using the stuff in the can.
Tuna Noodle Casserole: The True Story
Tuna casseroles have been around nearly as long as commercially canned tuna, which was introduced in 1904; by the end of World War I, sales surged. Cookbooks from the early 1900s offer recipes for tuna casseroles baked with white cream sauces, and sometimes other vegetables.
Campbell's introduced their Cream of Mushroom soup in 1934, helping to popularize what was already not an uncommon dish. It’s usually the recipe based on convenience foods (canned condensed soup, canned tuna, potato chips) that we think of with nostalgia today.
Ingredients for Tuna Casserole from Scratch
This version is very much like what you are familiar with, but with more mushroom flavor from the easy homemade mushroom sauce. It’s a basic white sauce, or a bechamel, but enriched with mushrooms.
You melt butter, cook the mushrooms in it, and then add flour to the buttery mushrooms. This makes a paste called a roux, which will thicken once it’s boiled with the milk.
We also add cheese for flavor and potato chips on top for crunch. It might not be cutting edge, but it’s comfort food at its best, and just try not to nibble at those potato chips once the casserole comes out of the oven!
Can I Leave Out the Cheese?
Sure! If you omit the cheese, taste your mushroom sauce and be sure it’s very highly seasoned before you assemble the casserole. Also, don’t expect the chips or topping to adhere to the casserole as nicely.
The Best Tuna for Tuna Casserole
For this casserole, we like chunk light tuna packed in water. Solid white tuna works fine, too, but it can have a dry mouthfeel that’s not very appealing here. Plus, chunk light tuna is the least expensive of canned tunas, so it’s a win-win.
Oil-packed tuna makes the casserole too heavy, what with the cream sauce and cheese already going on.
The Best Noodles for Tuna Casserole
Regular grocery store egg noodles work best here, both in shape and lightness. They hold the sauce and the tuna just right, and because they boil up tender, they keep the casserole from being too burly.
Egg noodles come in various widths; any from medium to extra-wide will do. Stay away from homestyle egg noodles, which are too thick.
You can use traditional eggless pasta, such as macaroni, fusilli, or penne. My ex’s mother used to make her tuna noodle with spaghetti, which my ex complains about to this day. It reminded him of worms. So maybe don’t use spaghetti (she’s a lovely woman, otherwise).
Do I Have to Use Potato Chips?
The potato chip topping is technically optional, but it’s a very, very good idea. The salty, greasy, crispy chips add a much-needed textural contrast to the casserole, and the potato flavor is likewise a pleasant counterpoint to the tuna. For maximum crunch, I prefer wavy chips, like Ruffles, but any chip will do.
Ways to Adapt Tuna Noodle Casserole
- Instead of potato chips, use crushed saltines or cheese crackers.
- Breadcrumbs like panko work, too, but it isn’t quite as munchy-good. Toss them with a little melted butter and salt for an upgrade.
- Add frozen vegetables like broccoli or peas. No need to thaw! Put the vegetables in the colander and drain the noodles over them to help them thaw.
- Vary the cheese. We like this best made with cheddar cheese, but you can use Jack, Muenster, Swiss, or Colby—anything somewhat mild. Except for mozzarella, which makes the casserole bland and oddly sweet.
- Make the sauce extra savory. Omit the teaspoon of salt in the sauce and add one to two tablespoons of miso paste—enough to season the sauce, but not so much it’s too salty. This stealth ingredient is fantastic! It really deepens the flavor yet does not scream out “miso!” I’m adding it every time I make tuna noodle casserole from now on.
- Don’t like mushrooms? Leave them out! Skip cooking the mushrooms in Step 2 and add the flour to the melted butter as directed in Step 3.
Can I Make This With Canned Condensed Cream of Mushroom Soup?
Yes. Omit the butter, mushrooms, and flour; reduce the milk to one half cup. You won’t need to heat the can of soup. In Step 5, Just add the can to the pot you cooked the noodles in, mix in the milk, and then add the cooked, drained noodles plus the tuna and half the grated cheese.
Or just make our Classic Tuna Noodle Casserole recipe, which already calls for a can of soup. No adaptations needed.
Can I Halve This Recipe?
Yep! Halve this recipe to serve four people. Bake it in an 8- x 8-inch casserole dish.
Can Tuna Casserole Be Made Ahead or Frozen?
Sure! Tuna noodles play nicely with your busy schedule.
To make tuna casserole in advance: Cook and assemble the components. Refrigerate up to eight hours before baking, except don’t add the potato chip topping until right before you do. You may need to extend the baking time 10 minutes or so.
To freeze unbaked tuna casserole: You can freeze the unbaked casserole, including the potato chip topping (they don’t get soggy!), for up to a month. Wrap it in plastic wrap then in foil. Thaw the casserole overnight in the refrigerator. Remove the plastic wrap and foil and bake the thawed casserole, uncovered at 400°F for 20 minutes, or until the filling bubbles a bit and the top is lightly browned.
To freeze the baked casserole: First, cool it completely. Wrap it in plastic wrap, then in foil. Freeze for up to a month, then thaw in the refrigerator overnight before baking at 350°F, loosely tented with foil, until the center is hot, about 20 minutes.
What to Serve With Tuna Casserole?
To offset this creamy and pale casserole, a simple but vibrant green vegetable is nice. Steamed broccoli is my favorite. This casserole can be salty, so I don’t season the vegetables I serve on the side.
Got Tuna? We’ve Got Tuna Recipes!
- Classic Tuna Salad
- English Muffin Tuna Melts
- Pan Bagnat (French Tuna Sandwich)
- Tuna and Tomato Pasta Casserole
- Tuna Melt
- Tuna Pasta with Tomatoes and Olives
Tuna Noodle Casserole from Scratch
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 8 ounces (about 2 cups) sliced white mushrooms
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 3 cups milk, preferably whole
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for pasta
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 7 ounces (3 cups) grated cheddar cheese, divided
- 12 ounces egg noodles
- 4 (5 ounce) cans chunk light tuna, drained
- 3 cups coarsely crushed wavy potato chips
Preheat the oven and prepare the dish
Preheat the oven to 400°F and position a rack in the center. Grease a 9- x 13-inch (3 quart) baking dish.
Cook the mushrooms
Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring frequently, until the mushrooms release their liquid and soften, 3-5 minutes.
Make the mushroom sauce
Stir in the flour to make a very thick paste; cook 30 seconds. Gradually whisk in the milk 1 cup at a time. Add the salt, pepper, and onion powder.
Bring to a boil and cook, stirring often, until somewhat thickened, about 5 minutes. (The sauce will be thinner than canned condensed soup, but it will thicken as it bakes). Stir in half the cheese. It should melt pretty fast. Remove from heat.
Cook the pasta
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta; stir, then reduce the heat to maintain a boil without the pot boiling over.
Cook, stirring occasionally, until the noodles have just a bit of bite in them. (Cooking time can vary quite a bit depending on the brand of noodles you use. Start checking after 3 minutes, but likely they’ll need to boil 5-8 minutes.) Drain the noodles and return to the pot.
Assemble the casserole
Pour the mushroom sauce over the noodles; stir to combine. Add the tuna; use a spoon to break large pieces into smaller, bite-size pieces, if necessary. Scrape the mixture into the prepared dish. Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the casserole, then top with the chips.
Bake the casserole
Bake until the chips are just lightly browned and the cheese is melted, 20 minutes. Let rest 5 minutes before serving.
Leftovers! You can keep tuna noodle casserole leftovers covered in the fridge for up to 3 days.