Tuna Casserole is pure, classic comfort food. Flaky tuna, tender noodles, and peas in a creamy, cheesy homemade sauce with a crunchy cracker crumb topping.
My easy Tuna casserole recipe is one of those dishes that you just can’t help but love. It ranks right up there with favorites like Slow Cooker Pot Roast and Cheesy Scalloped Potatoes. And the best part? I’m going to teach you how to make a tuna casserole without cream of mushroom soup!
Instead of the typical condensed canned soups, I make my own creamy sauce from scratch. It’s so easy, and just a couple of quick extra steps. Top the whole tuna noodle casserole with crushed crackers or breadcrumbs and bake until it’s warm and bubbly. Whip up some Cornbread Muffins and Sauteed Asparagus to serve with it.
For the Cheese Sauce – Onion, butter, all-purpose flour, garlic powder, milk, Cheddar cheese and Parmesan cheese. Be sure to use fresh grated cheese for the best texture and flavor. Any kind of milk you have on hand is fine.
Tuna – Just regular canned chunk light tuna from your pantry, preferably packed in water instead of oil.
SmallPasta – Because it’s baked, I prefer to stick with a thicker pasta like rotini or macaroni. Egg noodles can get a little mushy.
Peas – Easy peasy frozen peas.
Sour Cream – Makes the sauce even creamier, and helps to keep it nice and smooth.
For the Topping – Crushed Ritz crackers or Panko breadcrumbs, grated Parmesan cheese and minced parsley. Swap in potato chips for a fun touch.
Salt and Pepper – Taste test your casserole after mixing and add more seasonings if needed.
How to Make a Tuna Noodle Casserole
Boil the noodles. Boil a pot of water and cook your pasta of choice to al dente. Be careful not to overcook because it will be baked later and you don’t want the noodles to become mushy.
Make the cheese sauce. Saute onions in butter over medium heat, then add flour and garlic powder to form the roux. Let that cook for a few minutes until it’s golden brown. Pour in some milk and bring it to a simmer (bubbling, but not a full rolling boil). Once it’s thickened, remove from the heat and stir in the cheeses. I recommend doing this in batches, starting with a handful of cheese and adding more as that melts.
Mix the casserole together. In a large bowl, or right into the dish or skillet you made the sauce in, add the cooked noodles, tuna, peas and sour cream. Stir it all together until it’s completely combined. If your skillet is oven proof, you can just top with the bread crumbs and bake it as is. Or, pour the tuna mixture into a casserole dish that you’ve greased with cooking spray and bake it that way.
Top with crackers and bake. In a small bowl, crush the crackers and stir in melted butter, Parm and parsley. Sprinkle all over the top of the casserole and bake it uncovered for about 20 minutes. Broil for a few minutes to brown the top.
Can you freeze Tuna Casserole?
Yes, you can freeze the casserole either before or after baking. To make ahead and freeze, I recommend using a disposable baking dish so your baking pan isn’t stuck in the freezer. Prepare the casserole, pour it into the disposable pan, and cover tightly. Wait to add the cracker crumb topping until just before baking so it doesn’t get soggy.
To freeze an already baked casserole, let it cool completely, then cover the baking pan with foil and place it in the freezer. Once it’s fully frozen, remove the casserole from the pan and wrap it tightly with plastic wrap and/or foil. Place it in a plastic freezer bag and back into the freezer it goes.
With either method, the casserole can be frozen for up to 6 months as long as it’s properly wrapped up.
Do you have to thaw it or can you cook it from frozen?
You can cook from frozen, but you’ll need to add about 45 minutes to the cook time. For the best results, thaw it first in the refrigerator overnight.
Can you make it ahead of time?
You can prepare the casserole up to 4 or 5 hours in advance – prep everything, mix it all together and pour it into a casserole dish. Cover with aluminum foil and pop it into the fridge until you’re ready to bake. To bake, set the casserole on the counter while the oven preheats. Remove the foil and bake as directed.
For a prettier presentation, sprinkle some fresh minced parsley on top of the golden cracker crumbs.
Veggies – Not everyone likes peas, so you can replace them with another vegetable, or omit completely. Try adding Sauteed Mushrooms, steamed broccoli, or some Frozen Mixed Vegetables. Anything you add should be fully cooked first (sauteed or steamed).
Deluxe – For a fancy casserole, buy fresh tuna, bake it or pan-fry until it’s cooked to 145°F and flake it into small pieces. It will take your casserole to a whole other level!
Spicy – For a spicy casserole, add a couple teaspoons of sriracha to the sauce.
Storage and Reheating
Storage: For leftovers, tightly cover the casserole dish or transfer the leftovers to an airtight container. Keep refrigerated for up to 3-4 days.
Freezing: Freeze the cooked casserole for up to 6 months. Thaw completely before reheating.
Reheating: Reheat larger portions in the oven at 350℉ until heated through, and for individual portions reheat in the microwave for 60-90 seconds.
The crunchy cracker topping is optional. Instead you can use Panko or regular breadcrumbs, saltines or omit it altogether. Crushed potato chip topping would be fun, too.
If you want to save a little time and use condensed soup, you certainly can do that. Skip the butter/onion/flour/milk and replace with a 10 ounce can of the condensed cream soup of your choice and ½ cup milk. Mix everything together in a large bowl and pour into the casserole dish.
Try replacing half of the milk with chicken broth.
If you need a replacement for the tuna, rotisserie or even canned chicken can be used as a substitute.
Make a double batch in a separate casserole dish and freeze one to enjoy another time.
8ouncessmall pastalike Rotini farfalle or macaroni
1cupfreshly grated cheddar cheese
½cupfreshly grated Parmesan cheese
10ouncescanned tunawater packed and drained
1cupcrushed Ritz crackers or panko breadcrumbs
½cupgrated Parmesan cheese
Fresh minced parsley
In a large, deep, oven-safe skillet or saute pan (5-quart), melt butter, then add diced onion. Cook until onion is translucent and soft; about 3-4 minutes.
Whisk in flour and garlic powder and cook for a couple of minutes or until flour is golden in color.
Whisk in milk and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and stir often until thickened; 3-4 minutes. Turn off heat and stir in cheeses until melted. *Tip – if the sauce isn't creamy enough for you, add a few ounces of cream cheese; stir in until melted and combined.
Meanwhile, boil water in a medium-sized pot and cook the pasta according to package directions. Add peas during the last minute or so. Drain and set aside.
To the skillet, stir in pasta, peas and tuna. Stir in sour cream. (If you do not have an oven safe saute pan, transfer the mixture to a greased 11×7-inch baking dish).
Combine crushed crackers with ½ cup grated parmesan and sprinkle on top of the casserole.
Bake, uncovered at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. For additional browning, switch to broil during the last 5 minutes.
Let stand 5-10 minutes before serving. Garnish with fresh minced parsley.
Storage: For leftovers, tightly cover the casserole dish or transfer the leftovers to an airtight container. Keep refrigerated for up to 3-4 days.Freezing: Freeze the cooked casserole for up to 6 months. Thaw completely before reheating.Reheating: Reheat larger portions in the oven at 350℉ until heated through, and for individual portions reheat in the microwave for 60-90 seconds.
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Kristin Maxwell is the creator and main recipe developer, writer, and photographer of Yellow Bliss Road. A self-taught cook and self-appointed foodie, she specializes in easy, flavorful and approachable recipes for any home cook.