Tuna casserole is a hot, baked American dish that can be served as a side or a main dish.
The usual ingredients for tuna casserole now are noodles or pasta, a can of light-coloured creamed, condensed soup, a can of tuna, and veg of the cook’s choice, canned, fresh or frozen.
Some versions have you actually make a white sauce instead of using the can of creamed soup. Some versions use a “red sauce” of creamed condensed tomato soup.
The casserole is often topped with buttered bread crumbs, or crumbled crackers or potato chips.
Tuna casserole can be frozen for up to 6 months.
The earliest recipes CooksInfo.com finds for Tuna Casserole, in the 1930s, use crackers, potato chips, and string beans as the “filler ingredient” instead of noodles.
In 1938, a recipe writer, Betty Barclay, makes her Tuna Casserole more like a sauce, and suggests that it can be served over noodles.
In 1939, a recipe writer, Betsy Newman, gives a recipe where noodles are finally an actual part of the recipe.
Tuna Casserole became very popular in the 1950s.
Literature & Lore
“Tuna Casserole: Prepare a cup of shredded tuna, a pint of rolled oyster crackers and three tablespoons of grated cheese. In a buttered baking dish, place a layer of cracker crumbs, then a layer of tuna, and a sprinkling of cheese and repeat until all of these ingredients are used. Mix one-half cup of sweet milk and a small can of tomato soup and pour over the preparation in the dish. Bake in a medium oven 20 minutes. It may be served either hot or chilled. MRS. J.A. RIPPETIAU, 1500 Mundy Ave.” — In El Paso Herald-Post. El Paso, Texas. 4 August 1933. Page 14.
“Tuna Casserole Is Luncheon Dish: One cup tuna, flaked, cold water 2 cups hot milk, 1 cup crumbled flake butter crackers, 3 hard boiled eggs, sliced, 2 tablespoons butter. Cover fish with water, bring to a boil and drain. Pour milk over crumbled crackers (reserving ¼ cup for topping dish), and combine milk-cracker mixture with fish and eggs. Pour into a greased baking dish, dot with butter and sprinkle with remaining crumbled crackers. Bake in a hot oven (425 degrees F.) until brown. Six portions.” — In San Antonio Light. San Antonio, Texas. 6 October 1933. Page 31.
WEEK’S BEST RECIPE: Tuna Casserole — 1 can tuna fish, 1 can condensed cream of mushroom soup, 1 can peas (drained), potato chips. Grease casserole and put a layer of chips about ½ inch thick in bottom. Add a half of the tuna in a layer then cover with a half of can of soup and peas. Repeat with another serving of potato chips, tuna, soup and peas. Cover top with chips and bake in a moderate oven.” — The Soda Springs Sun. Soda Springs, Idaho. 2 November 1934. Page 5.
2 tablespoons Nucoa [Ed: margarine]
2 tablespoons Globe A1 flour
2 cups Hormel’s Vegetable soup
1 cup White Star flaked tuna fish
1 cup cooked string beans
Leslie salt and Schilling pepper to taste.
Melt butter, add flour, then vegetable soup. Stir until it makes a creamy sauce and season. Flake the fish, mix the string beans, blend well with the sauce and pour into a greased casserole. Sprinkle with cheese. Bake in a moderate oven (350 deg.) for 25 minutes. Serves 5 or 6.” — “Boats Cruise Far for Tuna. Oakland Tribune. Oakland, California. 29 March 1935. Page 30.
“Here’s Casserole with Fish for a New Friday Meal.
By Betty Barclay.
Special Tuna Casserole.
1 ½ teaspoons grated onion
2 7-ounce cans tuna, with oil from one can
1 1-pound can of ready-to-serve cream of mushroom soup
2 tablespoons flour
1 ½ teaspoons any favorite condiment sauce
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Salt to taste
½ teaspoon white pepper
3 tablespoons chopped pimiento
½ cup salted almonds
8 lemon quarters
In a saucepan, gently saute onion in oil drained from the can of tuna, until soft, but not brown. Blend in the flour. Add cream of mushroom soup and seasonings. When it reaches the boiling point add the chopped pimiento and tuna prepared in large flakes, and salted almonds. Heat, stirring carefully and as little as possible.
Put in a casserole set on a serving plate, garnish with bits of pimiento, and arrange lemon quarters on the plate. A squeeze of lemon on the individual servings adds the final fillip of flavor to a tantalizingly delicious party supper or dinner dish that can be made in a few minutes. Note: May be served on toast or in croustades; or for a complete dinner or luncheon main course serve Special Tuna Casserole with noodles, green peas and baby carrots.” — Hammond Times. Hammond, Indiana. 10 February 1938. Page 45.
“Today’s Menu, by Betsy Newman. Noodle Tuna Casserole: Six cups uncooked noodles, one can tuna, flaked, one can condensed mushroom soup, cracker crumbs. Drop noodles into boiling, salted water (one teaspoon salt for each quart of water), cook five to ten minutes, or until tender enough to be cut easily with a fork. Drain in colander and put half noodles into the bottom of a baking dish or casserole, sprinkle half the tuna over them, then half the soup. Cover with one cup of remaining noodles, add balance of tuna and soup, then balance of noodles over top, cover with thin layer of cracker crumbs and dot with butter. Bake 20 to 30 minutes in a moderate (375 degree) oven.” — Stevens Point Daily Journal. Stevens Point, Wisconsin. 17 January 1939. Page 10.