Cheesy tuna casserole is a nostalgic dish made with tuna, egg noodles, and a creamy, homemade sauce. This filling and comforting casserole feeds up to eight and is ready in less than 45 minutes.
Cheesy tuna noodle casserole is a classic American dish that the entire family will love. This homemade casserole is made with egg noodles, canned tuna, peas, and a mild, from-scratch sauce.
It's topped with melty cheddar cheese and the panko crust adds a great crunch. No canned soups here - the homemade sauce is thick, creamy, and made with a few simple pantry ingredients.
Serve this cheesy tuna noodle casserole for an easy weeknight meal. It has a mild, creamy flavor that the entire family will enjoy!
Ingredients and substitutions
- Egg noodles - Egg noodles can be substituted with any medium sized pasta like farfalle, shells, or macaroni.
- Onion and garlic - Aromatics that add flavor to your casserole. I do not recommend omitting either ingredient.
- Butter - Unsalted butter can be substituted with salted butter if desired (omit ⅛ teaspoon of the listed salt if using salted butter).
- Flour - Necessary to make a roux, which thickens the cream sauce.
- Tuna - I recommend solid albacore tuna in water. It has a mild flavor and texture similar to chicken. Albacore tuna is light in color and breaks apart into large chunks that don't get lost in the casserole. Canned light tuna is another good option. Light tuna is pink in color and shreds apart into smaller pieces. It can also have a more distinct 'fishy' flavor. Tuna can also be substituted with canned chicken or shredded rotisserie chicken.
- Seasoning - Paprika, thyme, salt, and pepper add flavor to your casserole. I do not recommend omitting these ingredients. You can also a dash of hot sauce or your favorite seasoning blend, like cajun seasoning, for a little heat.
- Chicken broth - Can be substituted with vegetable broth if desired. I highly recommend using regular both, not low sodium or no sodium broth. The salt added to broth helps flavor the casserole. If you need to use a low sodium broth, I highly recommend adding extra seasoning to your casserole to avoid a bland flavor.
- Peas - Can be substituted with frozen mixed vegetables or frozen corn.
- Panko bread crumbs - Panko creates the best crunchy crust, but can be substituted with traditional bread crumbs or crushed butter crackers (like Ritz brand).
- Cheese - I recommend freshly shredded cheese from a block for best melting and creamy texture. I used sharp cheddar cheese, but any creamy, melty cheese works well here. Gruyere or monterey jack are great alternatives.
Tips and tricks
- Pan size - Use a 3 quart 9x13 casserole dish.
- Lightly grease your casserole dish - Before adding ingredients, give your casserole dish a light spray with cooking spray or coat with butter to prevent sticking.
- Whisk the roux - When adding the flour to make a roux, whisk until no flour lumps remain. When adding the milk and broth, whisk continuously until smooth and creamy.
- Taste test the sauce - Once your sauce is done cooking on the stovetop, do a taste test. Does it taste bland? Sprinkle in more seasoning, like paprika and thyme, or add a dash of hot sauce if desired. This recipe makes a mild casserole, so feel free to adjust it to suit your personal tastes.
- Cook pasta to al dente - Overcooked pasta will only get mushier in the oven. Undercooked pasta will continue to absorb liquid from the sauce, making your casserole dry.
- Broiling - When broiling the crust, do not walk away. The broiler can take your crust from browned to burnt in just a few extra seconds.
Frequently asked questions
Leftover tuna noodle casserole will keep for 2 to 3 days in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator.
Pasta and cream sauce do not freeze well, so I do not recommend freezing this recipe.
This can happen for a few reasons. The sauce may have been cooked too long, causing it to reduce, leaving you with less sauce to add to the casserole. Your pasta may have been slightly undercooked, so it continued to soak up liquid in the oven. Tuna casserole is mostly baked going into the oven, we're just heating the ingredients up and melting the cheese on top. Baking for too long can make it dry.
I recommend a side salad, a light vegetable, or some garlic bread. Here are a few of my favorites:
Strawberry spinach salad
Sautéed zucchini and onions
Parmesan roasted frozen broccoli
Freezer garlic bread
Cheesy tuna casserole is a mild, savory casserole that's easy to customize with extra flavor to suit your tastes. Here are a few ingredients that can be added to the cream sauce:
- A few teaspoons of your favorite hot sauce
- ½ teaspoon of Italian seasoning
- ½ teaspoon of cajun seasoning
Cheesy Tuna Casserole
- 12 ounces egg noodles, uncooked
- ¼ cup unsalted butter
- ½ medium onion, diced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- ¼ cup all-purpose flour
- 16 ounces chicken broth, not low sodium
- 12 ounces milk
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon thyme
- ½ teaspoon pepper
- 2 cups frozen peas
- 12 ounces canned albacore tuna, drained
- 8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, freshly shredded, divided
- 1 cup panko bread crumbs
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- ¼ teaspoon pinch of salt
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly grease a 9x13 casserole dish and set aside.
- In a pot of salted, boiling water, cook egg noodles according to package directions for al dente pasta. Drain, pour noodles into 9x13 pan, and set aside.
- Meanwhile, in a saucepan over medium heat, add butter. Once hot and melted, add diced onions. Cook until onions begin to turn translucent, about 3-4 minutes. Add garlic and flour, whisking to incorporate, and cook for 1 minute.
- Add chicken broth and milk, whisking until incorporated and smooth. Bring to a simmer and cook until sauce has thickened slightly, about 3 to 4 minutes.
- Remove from heat and add salt, pepper, paprika, peas, tuna, and half of cheese, stirring to combine. Optionally, do a taste test and add more seasoning to taste. Pour mixture over noodles and toss to coat.
- Sprinkle remaining half of cheese on top of casserole.
- In a separate bowl, combine bread crumbs, melted butter, and salt. Sprinkle evenly over casserole.
- Bake uncovered for 15-18 minutes, or until casserole is heated through. Optionally, broil for 2 minutes to brown crust on top. Do not walk away from your oven while broiling, your crust will brown quickly.
- Leftovers will keep for 2-3 days in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator. Cream based sauces and pasta do not freeze/thaw well, so I do not recommend freezing leftovers.
- Tuna can be substituted with canned chicken or cooked and shredded chicken.
- If using a low or no sodium broth, you'll want to add additional seasoning (salt, pepper, paprika, everyday seasoning blend, or a dash of hot sauce) to the recipe to make up for the lost flavor.