History of Tuna Noodle Casserole

Oh tuna noodle casserole. I am sure I am not the only one who grew up eating this dish. Actually it was known in my house as “Tuna Nuna” as my father had to give everything ridiculous names. This dish was one that was in constant rotation.  As my mother worked full time as store manager with crazy hours and needing to budget, this dish proved to check all the boxes for her: quick, cheap, easy and could be made ahead. We ate it so much that I swear I had a Scarlett O’Hara moment where I proclaimed “As God is my witness, I will NEVER eat Tuna Noodle Casserole again.” Surprisingly I did not until researching and testing recipes for this post. Now as an adult I understand the allure of this classic and comforting casserole.

ChickenNoodleAd1960s

1960s Tuna Noodle Casserole Ad

Who and where was Tuna Casserole created?
Tuna casserole as we know it was created by the Campbell’s Soup Company in the 1940s. The the idea of flaking fish mixing it with a white sauce and adding a topping can be traced back to the late 1800s with a dish called cod a la bechamel.

What ingredients are in Tuna Noodle Casserole?
We know the ingredients today as noodles, cream of mushroom soup, milk, peas and canned tuna mixed together topped with crushed potato chips or buttered breadcrumbs.  The original recipe did not include noodles nor peas.  A 1952 article called the dish “a perfect casserole” that you get “when you combine a condense cream soup, canned fish or meat and a crunchy ingredient like potato chips”. The noodles and peas were added later probably as either taste changed or people experimented.

VegALLTunaCasserole

A variation on Tuna Casserole in a 1950s ad.

When was Tuna Noodle Casserole popular?
The 1950s was the heyday for this casserole but it is still made quite a bit today. In a survey done by the U.S. Bureau of Commercial Fisheries in 1959, they found that 8 out of 10 households served canned tuna once a week with tuna fish casseroles in the top three. Families surveyed commented that they like using canned tuna fish because it was quick, easy, cheap and convenient but mainly they just simply liked it. It wasn’t just homes that you could find this super popular casserole. It was so popular that it was served in cafeterias, diners, and church suppers.

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Why should I make Tuna Noodle Casserole?
Well first this is a dish that holds very strong nostalgic vibes for many people. Plus the 1950s sentiment that this is an affordable and quick dish to make is not wrong even if homemade sauce is used.

How do you make Tuna Noodle Casserole?

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How do I make Tuna Noodle Casserole?

Tuna Noodle Casserole

  • Servings: 6 to 8
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

A recipe for the classic casserole - Tuna Noodle. This version does not use the traditional cream of mushroom soup but I did include the recipe with the canned soup in the note section!

Ingredients

  • 4 cups wide egg noodles
  • 6 tablespoons of butter, divided
  • 4 tablespoons bread crumbs
  • 2 cups sliced mushrooms
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 3 cups milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon of pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon of garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon of onion powder
  • 2 cans of tuna, drained (5 ounces each)
  • 2 cups frozen peas

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 and lightly grease a 2 quart casserole dish.
  2. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter and mix with the breadcrumbs and set aside.
  3. Cook noodles according to the directions of the package, drain and set aside.
  4. Over medium heat, melt 4 tablespoons of butter in a large sauce pan
  5. Add the sliced mushrooms and cook until tender and browned.
  6. Sprinkle the mushrooms with the flour and stir for a 1 minute.
  7. Add milk, salt, pepper, garlic and onion powder and stir until thickened and it coats the back of a spoon.
  8. Stir in the tuna, peas and noodles (use a large mixing bowl if your pan is not large enough)
  9. Pour into the casserole and top with the breadcrumb mixture.
  10. Bake for 30 minutes.

NOTES:

  • If you want to make the recipe using the canned soup method: Cook and drain 4 cups of noodles. In a mixing bowl mix together the noodles, 2 cans of cream of mushroom soup, 2 cans of canned tuna, 1 cup of milk and 2 cups of frozen peas. Pour into a greased casserole dish. Then melt two tablespoons of butter and mix with four tablespoons of breadcrumbs and sprinkle over the casserole. Bake in a oven that has been preheated to 350 degrees for 30 minutes.
  • You can also use crushed potato chips or ritz crackers as a topping. If using these options you do not need to mix with melted butter.
  • You can sub out the tuna for any left over meat you have. The mid century was particular fond of using chicken and ham.


Sources:

Anderson, Jean. The American Century Cookbook: The Most Popular Recipes of the 20th Century. New York: Clarkson Potter, 1997.

Bjorset, Dorris. “Soup, Tuna, Peas, Chips. Perfect Meal in One Dish”. Eugene Register Guard. October 9, 1952.

“Nation’s Homemakers Use Tuna as a Base for Menus.” Newburgh-Beacon News. September 8, 1959.

Parsons, Russ. “Tuna Noodle: The Dish We Joke About”. Reading Eagle. March 22, 1995.

Westermoreland, Susan. Good Housekeeping Great American Classics Cookbook. New York: Hearst Books, 2004.

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