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Thrifty Tuna Casserole

Tinned/Canned Fish

Tinned/Canned Fish

One of the top trending foods for this upcoming year is canned fish. For our purposes today the focus is on an old time favorite, tuna. Just a heads up, a few of the other foods that made the lists are mushrooms, plant-based meats and noodles, and dates. The tide for tuna is coming in again for many of the same reasons we have seen it rise in the past. First and foremost is it’s frugality followed by flexibility and shelf life. We are all feeling budget crunches with the price of groceries going up.


Tuna casserole is a dish first popular during the 1950’s. However, its original publication happened in 1930’s Pacific North-west. While the favorite canned fish’s popularity has ebbed back and forth over the years, 2023 is forecasted to be the year for its comeback. People who want quick,easy, and economical meals will find comfort with this nostalgic number.

Original Tuna Casserole

Noodles and Tuna en Casserole

Noodles and Tuna en Casserole

Almost Seventy-five Year History

A woman in Washington state is responsible for the first published recipe of tuna casserole. Mrs. W.F.S. of Kennewick is claimed to have her version printed in a North-west publication Sunset Magazine. At the height of the Great Depression, people were looking for ways to stretch out food. No surprise that a resident of a tuna canning community came up with a new way to use it. California, Oregon, and Washington served as hubs for the tuna and salmon industry.

One article I read says that it wasn’t up until the late 1920’s Americans became attracted to Tuna. According to the USDA, they state “the average American consumed fewer than seven pounds of fish in 1910.” In addition it goes on, “nearly 60 pounds of beef, more than 60 pounds of pork, and more than 15 pounds of chicken” were on family tables. By the time of Mrs. Kennewick’s tuna and noodle casserole recipe, tuna consumption had climbed so high that the American west coast canneries couldn’t keep up!

While trying to research Mrs. W.F.S., I learned Kennewick is a town in Washington. However, I was unable to attain any information about her. The town resides along the Columbia River, which apparently, “the area was hard hit during the depression” according to my sources.

Béchamel Sauce

A Roux

A Roux

The Mother of Mother Sauces

Her original recipe’s binder is a “Mother sauce”. A Mother sauce comes from French cuisine. It pertains to “a group of sauces upon which many other sauces are based.”

  • Béchamel is probably the most familiar one. It is a white sauce made with a roux of butter, flour, and milk thickened until velvety smooth and seasoned with clove, nutmeg, and onion.
  • Veloute sauce is comprised from chicken stock or other clearer stocks and thickened with a roux
  • Espagnole sauce, a brown sauce made by thickening a dark stock with a roux
  • Hollandaise sauce is an emulsion of egg yolks and clarified butter
  • Tomate sauce, held together with a roux but a more complex sauce of tomatoes and vegetables simmered with salt pork and a ham bone for more flavor.
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Mrs. W.F.S. of Kennewick’s tuna noodle casserole recipe began with creamy béchamel sauce. Canned tuna combined with mushrooms, noodles, and topped with cheese.

Flexible recipe for your family!

Initially when tuna was first introduced as a canned fish, it’s appeal wasn’t due to taste, but the lack of strong fishy taste. Because of this, tuna is a cheap high source of protein useful to stretch out family meals. You can make tuna croquettes, tuna salad, or tuna casserole! The possible variations of tuna casserole are as vast as your imagination will take you. Today, I have two tuna casserole recipes for you. Both versions were passed down from my mother.

For something on the adventurous side, a fusion of American and Asian cuisines takes tuna casserole global! A combination of traditional ingredients such as celery, onion, and cream of mushroom soup (or béchamel sauce) with cashews, mandarin oranges, and the crunch of chow main noodles was my mother’s company’s coming dinner go to.

Company Chow Mein Tuna Casserole

Vintage recipe

Vintage recipe

Prep Time

Prep timeCook timeReady inYields

20 min

15 min

35 min

Serves 6

Ingredients

  • 1 cup celery, sliced
  • 1 large can cream mushroom soup, or béchamel sauce
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup onion, chopped
  • 1 can water chestnuts, drained
  • 1/2 pound fettuccine noodles, cooked
  • 1 can tuna, 7 ounce
  • Dash Black pepper
  • 1/2 cup Salted cashews, toasted
  • 1 can mandarin oranges, drained
  • 1/2 cup red and green pepper, diced

Instructions

  1. If using the cream of mushroom soup, combine with water into a large bowl. Add tuna, celery, onion, peppers, and cashews. Toss together lightly with cooked fettuccine noodles.
  2. Place in a deep ungreased Dutch oven or casserole dish.
  3. Sprinkle chow mein noodles over the top
  4. Bake at 375 degrees for 15 minutes
  5. Garnish with mandarin oranges

Potato Chip Crusted Tuna Casserole

Traditional Weeknight Tuna Casserole

Traditional Weeknight Tuna Casserole

Pronto Weeknight Pantry Casserole

Then, we have your typical family weeknight format. I’ll admit tuna casserole is a comforting dish but usually, I make it because my husband loves it! I prefer to stick close to the traditional form myself. But, my husband doesn’t like peas put in it even though he likes peas separately! So, I add them onto my plate at serving. Lol, it works!

Flexibility, ease, and time saving is what makes this casserole so family fitting! If you don’t have tuna, you can substitute chicken. Your family doesn’t like peas, you can use another vegetable like broccoli. Here again you can use the cream of mushroom soup, however it doesn’t take much more to make the béchamel sauce. Melting some cheese in with your mother sauce will create a luxurious smoothness and sharper taste. For the kids, crush up a bag of potato chips to add a salty crunch factor. Be creative with whatever you have in the freezer or pantry! Perhaps try different seasoning and spices to give it a different flavor profile. It is a weeknight answer for a quick and easy dinner either way.

© 2023 Tracey Walsh

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