Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes one ingredient at a time.
The History of Tuna Noodle Casserole
The Pacific Northwest, that little corner of the U.S. tucked between California (to the south) and British Columbia (to the north), is the birthplace of inventions and advancements that have changed the world—Boeing, Amazon, Microsoft, and tuna casserole.
Yes, while I was researching this topic, I stumbled upon the little-known fact that the combination of three unlikely ingredients (tuna, mushroom soup, and noodles) was first thought of here in Washington State, but like Starbucks coffee (also from Washington), it has received mixed reviews.
It's Older Than You Think
You might assume that the tuna casserole was a post-World War II invention of middle America, but you would be wrong. The first published recipe for 'Noodles and Tuna Fish en Casserole' was penned by Mrs. W.F.S. of Kennewick, Washington, and printed in a 1930 issue of Sunset Magazine. Mrs. W.F.S. made a white sauce for her creation, but beginning in 1934 cooks simplified the recipe by substituting that new product from the Campbell Soup Company—cream of mushroom soup.
It Made a Comeback in 2012
And then Ellen Brown (no relation to Helen Evans Brown) entered the scene. She is the founding food editor of USA Today and a prolific cookbook author. In 2012 she published "Mac and Cheese: 80 Classic & Creative Versions of the Ultimate Comfort Food."
According to NPR (National Public Radio), right between the recipes for Sherried Mac and Cheese and Mayan Chipotle Chicken Mac is a recipe for (yes, you guessed it) tuna noodle casserole.
If, for instance, a dish composed of tuna fish, canned mushroom soup, and corn flakes is in any danger of becoming a dish of the region, I prefer to ignore it. If by doing so I can give it ever so gentle a nudge toward oblivion, that is good.”
— Helen Evans Brown, author of West Coast Cook Book (1952)
1. Ellen Brown's Tuna Mac and Cheese
Ellen Brown chose to upgrade the classic by ditching the cream of mushroom soup substituting in its place a “white sauce made from scratch.” Here's her recipe. A few other variations of the original are given below.
2. Lighter Tuna Casserole
Fresh mushrooms, fresh vegetables, and goodbye cream of clump soup. This version of tuna casserole is lighter, fresher, more colorful, and healthier. You know you want this.
3. Grown Up Tuna Noodle Casserole
The cream of mushroom soup is still there, but the flavors in this dish are enhanced with the addition of fresh mushrooms, sour cream, cream cheese, grated Colby cheese, and a topping of crispy fried onions. With all that cheesy creamy goodness, how can you go wrong?
4. Lemon Tuna Mornay
Isn't it odd that an air of sophistication seems to enshroud any dish given a French-sounding name? This recipe was adapted from an article featured in Australian Women's Weekly.
- 1 1/2 cups macaroni pasta
- 2 1/2 tablespoons butter
- 1/4 cup flour
- 2 1/2 cups skim milk, warmed
- 15 ounces canned tuna in spring water, drained, flaked
- 1 cup frozen peas
- 3 shallots, chopped finely
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 2 teaspoons finely grated lemon rind
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 cup coarsely grated cheddar cheese
- 1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
- 2 tablespoons butter, chopped finely, extra
- Preheat oven to 350° F. Grease six 1 1/2-cup (375 ml) ovenproof dishes.
- Cook pasta in a large saucepan of boiling water until tender, drain.
- Meanwhile, melt butter in a medium saucepan; add flour, and cook, stirring for 1 minute. Gradually stir in milk, and cook, stirring, until the sauce boils and thickens. Combine sauce, tuna, peas, shallot, parsley, rind, juice, and pasta in a large bowl.
- Spoon mixture evenly into dishes, sprinkle with combined cheese and breadcrumbs, and dollop with extra butter. Bake for about 30 minutes or until browned lightly. Stand 5 minutes before serving.
5. Tuna Rice Casserole
This tuna rice casserole starts with 4 cups of hot cooked rice. The author probably assumed white rice, but I think you could easily substitute 4 cups of brown rice. It has more flavor, more fiber, and it is better for you.
6. One-Pan Tuna Noodle Casserole
This really is a one-pan dish. The pasta cooks in a shallow pan and then is drained of all but one cup of the water, stir in the sauce, then flaked tuna and your peas. Warm gently. Boom. Done.
Note that you must use creme fraiche, not sour cream. If you cannot locate creme fraiche at your grocers, here is a recipe for how to make your own.
7. Garden Zoodles Casserole
What (you might be wondering) are zoodles? In 2017 the cooking world was introduced to a new toy—the spiralizer—a nifty little hand-held machine that spiral-slices vegetables into long strands. This recipe uses zucchini, so the author of the casserole calls them "zoodles". This is great for anyone watching their carbs or who is gluten sensitive.
8. Tuna Casserole Stuffed Shells
Tuna casserole gets a serious upgrade with this version. Stuffed shells make a beautiful presentation, maybe even good enough for company.
© 2017 Linda Lum