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Not Your Mama's Tuna Casserole

When it comes to food, those who know me know I am not a fan of anything basic. I’m the guy who orders the "Everything" bagel with garlic chive cream cheese, prosciutto, watermelon radish, and arugula. Oh, and a gherkin pickle on the side with jalapeno kettle chips, please. The more flavors you can pack into a single bite, the better.

Taking Tuna Casserole from "Meh" to Amazing

For that reason, tuna casserole has always received a solid “meh” from me. It’s too boring. Additionally, I think Bell Buoy’s canned tuna is the best around, and the thought of letting a can of cream of mushroom soup mingle with the tuna is simply an injustice to the tuna. There had to be a way to satisfy the high expectations of my palate and do our canned tuna justice. My noble task was to elevate tuna casserole from ‘meh’ to amazing.

Secret Ingredient: Smoked Tuna

The ingredient list had to be upgraded from top to bottom. The first upgrade was substituting regular tuna for our rich and flavorful smoked tuna. Smoked tuna adds a bolder flavor and more depth to the flavor profile.

tuna casserole recipe

The next upgrade was the noodles. A traditional tuna casserole is often subjected to whatever half-empty box of generic noodles is in the corner of the cupboard. Not this one. Only soft and smooth egg noodles will do. Green peas add nice color and a subtle but sweet-spring flavor.

A Tuna Casserole with NO Cream of Mushroom Soup

Lastly, one of the hallmarks of a tuna casserole is the sauce. It must be rich, creamy, and thick (but not too thick). Cream of anything soup was out of the question. For the sauce, I pulled out all the stops and started with homemade turkey stock. I know not everyone has pint jars of homemade turkey stock in their freezer (if you do, we should talk, we’d probably be instant friends), so any store-bought chicken stock is an acceptable substitute. The stock combined with some whole milk makes for a rich base. Adding gruyere takes it to another level - a rich, velvety smooth level.

The final touch is the topping. I used a panko/parmesan mixture. The panko crunch is a good contrast to the soft smooth pasta, and once baked, it turns a very pleasing golden color. For those traditionalists out there, crushed Lay’s potato chips are okay too.

Mission accomplished. There is nothing bland or basic about this revamped and elevated Smoked Tuna Casserole. It is bursting with flavor; a rich, creamy sauce, bold meaty tuna, sweet plump peas, and satisfying crunchy panko. Mm-mmm good.

Smoked Tuna Casserole Recipe


  • Coarse salt and ground pepper

  • 12 ounces egg noodles

  • 1 cup panko

  • 1/2 ounce Parmesan, grated (2 tablespoons)

  • 3 ounces sliced Gruyere cheese

  • 2 tablespoons butter

  • 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil

  • 1/2 yellow onion, diced

  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

  • 2 cups chicken broth

  • 1 cup whole milk

  • 2 cans Bell Buoy Smoked tuna, drained and flaked

  • 1 cup frozen peas, thawed


1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook pasta for 2 minutes less than the package instructions (it will be undercooked). Drain.

2. While pasta is cooking, toss panko, Parmesan, and 2 teaspoons olive oil together in a small bowl. Set aside.

3. In a medium saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium-high. Add onion and cook until softened about 6-8 minutes. Add flour and whisk to coat the onion with flour. Slowly whisk in broth, then milk. Season with salt and pepper.

4. Cook, stirring constantly, until the sauce comes to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring frequently, until sauce is thickened about 8 minutes. Stir in pasta, tuna, gruyere, and peas. Season with additional salt and pepper if desired.

5. Transfer the tuna mixture to a baking dish and top with the panko mixture. Bake until sauce is bubbling and crust is golden, 17 to 20 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes before serving.

If you make this recipe, take a photo and tag us on Instagram! Or email us like this fan did:

Thanks for the recipe, we made it last night and it was great! We no longer live in Oregon and we are down to our last 2 cans of tuna and will be ordering more. We have introduced friends and family here in Minnesota to the joys of real tuna and they all say they can’t go back to eating “cat food.” We have been solid Bell Buoy customers since 1988. Dean, Redwood Falls, MN


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