Classic Hot Tuna Noodle Casserole with Cracker Topping – Classic comfort food packed full of noodles, tuna, cheese, and a homemade sauce makes this the perfect casserole any night of the week!
Growing up in a Catholic household during Lent, Mom made 4 dishes – plain cheese pizza, grilled cheese, cold tuna casserole, and this dish, baked tuna noodle casserole (which is different than cold tuna casserole).
There were Fridays when we’d have the cold tuna dish for lunch AND the hot tuna dish for dinner. Needless to say, I got sick of tuna pretty fast.
It wasn’t until I was in college did I re-introduce tuna into my diet. It was cheap, filling and was good for you. Did I mention it was cheap too?
That and those ramen soup packs. I swear for 2 semesters straight I lived on just those 2 things. I mean both were 10 cans/packages for a buck.
No canned soup here!
Now I’m sure you’ve made the traditional recipe on the back of the soup can but seriously, try this. It’s a billion times better AND, honestly, once you make this, you’ll never buy that stuff again.
The sauce base is honestly one of my favorite sauces. It only takes a few minutes to make and makes a world of difference!
Ingredients needed to make this Classic Casserole
You really only need a few items and most are pantry staples. Because the sauce is from scratch you’ll need a few different seasonings.
- Albacore Tuna – I prefer albacore tuna over the regular tuna. I find it a lighter flavor and flakier.
- Noodles – Mom went with what she had on hand which meant one day it would be made with wide egg noodles and the other with German Spaetzle noodles
- Mushrooms – I prefer to use crimini or baby portabella mushrooms. You could use white button mushrooms if you’re in a pinch
- Seasonings – dried dill, nutmeg, salt and pepper
- Veggies – Shallots and garlic. I find the shallots impart a great onion flavor but in a mild way
- Liquid – you want both veggie stock and heavy cream. If you don’t have a veggie stock you can use beef stock.
- Crackers – The cracker crumb is what we all fought over.
- Cheese – This is optional Mom didn’t add it but I add it to mine. It’s honestly a personal preference and something that I started in college because – hello boxed mac ‘n cheese!
What’s not in this recipe?
Peas and Pearl Onions
I LOVE peas and pearl onions but I find that the peas should ONLY be in the cold tuna casserole. Peas in this dish, especially if you add cheese, is funky texturally. You can add it but I’m not eating it.
Pearl onions – I opted to leave them out and go with shallots as I find pearl onions too oniony forward and they overtake the dish.
How to make the best tuna casserole
The dish itself is pretty easy to make. Now I know you may want to take a shortcut and used that canned cream soup but please, please don’t.
This recipe is so phenomenal and it’s because of the sauce!
- Cook the noodles per the package instructions until al dente. Since you’ll be baking this dish you want to just slightly undercook the noodles as they will finish cooking in the oven.
- In a large heavy, bottom pot, saute up the mushrooms to release all of their liquid.
- Next, sauté up the shallots and garlic.
- Deglaze the pan by adding in the stock.
- Thicken up the liquid by adding in a cornstarch slurry and allow to cook until it coats the back of the spoon.
- Remove from the heat, season, taste, add in the noodles and tuna, stir and taste again. If you want, add in the cheese now too.
- Pour the deliciousness into a buttered casserole dish, top with the buttered crackers (cheese is optional) and bake.
Keto and Gluten-Free Substitutions for Tuna Casserole
With this recipe you have a lot of freedom when it comes to substitutions – I’d LOVE to hear some of your ideas for substitutions!
- Noodles – go with GF noodles, cooked Spaghetti Squash or cooked Cauliflower Rice
- Cracker Toppings – Use Pork Rinds, GF crackers
Cracker Crumb Topping Change Ups
This is probably one of my most favorite sections. You can totally go wild here! Just make sure you still use the melted butter but substitute any of the items below in place of the crackers.
- Crushed Potato Chips
- Crushed Cheese Crackers
- Crushed Flamin’ Hot Cheetos – I know, right?!
- Pork Rinds
Things to add to tuna casserole
Think of this recipe as a base. You do not have to add stuff to it for it to taste amazing but if you want to, here are some things that work REALLY well with it!
- Steamed broccoli – you want the broccoli cooked
- Shaved carrots – cook them down with the mushrooms
- Sauteed peppers
- Jumbo Lump crab
- Crispy Bacon
- Green Onions as a garnish
- Three 5 ounce cans of albacore tuna in water, drained
- 16 ounces German Egg Spaetzle Farmer-Style noodles or wide egg noodles, cooked al dente
- 2 Tbsp olive oil, divided
- 1 cup crimini mushrooms, chopped
- 3/4 tsp kosher salt
- 3/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1 large shallot, minced
- 1 Tbl garlic, minced
- 1/4 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
- 3/4 tsp dill
- 1 cup vegetable broth
- 3 Tbl cornstarch
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 1/2 cups freshly shredded cheddar cheese, divided *optional
- 1 sleeve of Ritz Crackers, crushed like coarse crumbs
- 4 Tbl butter, unsalted and melted
- Preheat the oven to 350F, rack in the middle. Butter a 9×13” casserole dish. Set aside. In a heavy bottom large pot over medium heat add in 1 Tbl of oil. When the oil starts to shimmer add the 1 cup of chopped mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms begin to give up some of their liquid, approximately 4 to 5 minutes. Remove the mushrooms from the pan and set aside.
- In the same pan add 1 Tbl of oil. Add in the garlic, shallots, nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Cook until the shallots are soft. About 3-5 minutes. Add in the cooked mushrooms. Add in the broth and simmer for one minute. Decrease the heat to medium-low. Make a slurry of the cornstarch and cream in a cup. Add to the mushroom mixture. Cook until the mixture thickens, stirring occasionally, approximately 6 to 8 minutes. Add in the dill and taste for seasoning. If using the cheese, add 1 cup of the cheese to the sauce and stir to melt.
- To the pot, add in the cooked noodles and tuna. Mix gently to combine. Pour the mixture into the buttered casserole dish and spread out evenly. If using the cheese, sprinkle the remaining cheese over top. In a separate bowl, mix the crushed cracker crumbs and melted butter. Sprinkle the buttered cracker crumbs over top and bake for 20-25 minutes or until the cracker crumbs are golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 10 minutes before serving.
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