Tuna casserole, also known as Tuna Surprise, is a classic American dish that has been a staple in many households for decades.
This simple yet satisfying casserole is made with pantry staples like canned tuna, cream of mushroom soup, and noodles, and is often topped with potato chips or breadcrumbs.
But have you ever wondered why it’s called Tuna Surprise?
In this article, we’ll explore the origins of this beloved dish and uncover the surprising ingredient that gives it its name.
So grab a fork and get ready to dig in!
Why Is It Called Tuna Surprise?
The origins of Tuna Surprise can be traced back to the 1930s in the Pacific Northwest. The first recipe for a similar dish called “Noodles and Tuna Fish en Casserole” was printed in Sunset Magazine in 1930. However, it wasn’t until the 1940s that the Campbell’s Soup Company popularized the dish with their version of Tuna Casserole.
But why is it called Tuna Surprise?
The answer lies in one unexpected ingredient that some recipes include: hard-boiled eggs.
That’s right, the surprise in Tuna Surprise is often a layer of sliced hard-boiled eggs nestled between the creamy tuna mixture and the crunchy topping.
While not all recipes include this surprise ingredient, it’s a common variation that adds a unique texture and flavor to the dish.
The History Of Tuna Casserole
Tuna Casserole, as we know it today, was created by the Campbell’s Soup Company in the 1940s. However, the idea of flaking fish, mixing it with a white sauce, and adding a topping can be traced back to the late 1800s with a dish called cod a la bechamel. The original recipe for Tuna Casserole did not include noodles or peas. In fact, a 1952 article called the dish “a perfect casserole” that you get “when you combine a condensed cream soup, canned fish or meat, and a crunchy ingredient like potato chips”. The noodles and peas were added later, probably as either taste changed or people experimented.
The 1950s was the heyday for Tuna Casserole, but it is still made quite a bit today. In a survey done by the U.S. Bureau of Commercial Fisheries in 1959, they found that 8 out of 10 households served canned tuna once a week with tuna fish casseroles in the top three. Families surveyed commented that they liked using canned tuna fish because it was quick, easy, cheap, and convenient, but mainly they just simply liked it. It wasn’t just homes that you could find this super popular casserole. It was so popular that it was served in cafeterias, diners, and church suppers.
Casseroles became popular in American households in the 1950s mainly because the ingredients were cheap and easy to find at the supermarket. A can of tuna, a can of vegetables, a can of soup, and a package of egg noodles becomes a prepared family dinner in around half an hour. Tuna casserole can also be frozen or refrigerated and then reheated to be eaten the next day. Tuna casserole is popular to take to potlucks and may be taken to the home of someone who is sick or going through bereavement as a gesture of kindness.
Over the years, variations on Tuna Casserole have emerged with different ingredients and toppings. Chrissy Teigen featured a version in her cookbook Cravings that included jalapeño peppers. In 2010, Bon Appétit featured a from-scratch tuna casserole recipe developed by Molly Stevens and featuring leeks, fresh dill, and Gruyère cheese. Despite these variations, Tuna Casserole remains a classic and comforting dish that holds strong nostalgic vibes for many people.
The Ingredients Of Tuna Casserole
Tuna Casserole is a simple and budget-friendly dish that is easy to prepare with just a few ingredients. The main ingredients include canned tuna in water, low-sodium canned peas (or other vegetables of your choice), egg noodles, dry bread crumbs, whole milk, and canned cream of mushroom soup.
To make the dish even more flavorful, you can add optional ingredients such as canned green beans or carrots instead of peas, or use canned cream of celery soup instead of mushroom soup. Some recipes also call for cheddar cheese to be added to the mixture for an extra cheesy flavor.
For the topping, you will need butter to mix with the bread crumbs and grated Parmesan cheese for a crunchy and savory finish. Some variations of Tuna Casserole also include sliced hard-boiled eggs as a surprise ingredient.
The Mystery Of The Surprise Ingredient
One of the key elements that sets Tuna Surprise apart from other tuna casseroles is the surprise ingredient. While most recipes call for the standard ingredients like canned tuna, noodles, and cream of mushroom soup, some variations include an unexpected addition: hard-boiled eggs.
The use of hard-boiled eggs in Tuna Surprise can be traced back to the 1950s when it was a popular ingredient in many casseroles. The eggs add a unique texture and flavor to the dish, and when sliced thinly, they create a beautiful layer between the creamy tuna mixture and the crunchy breadcrumb topping.
However, not all recipes include this surprise ingredient, and some people may prefer to leave it out altogether. It’s important to note that Tuna Surprise is a versatile dish that can be customized to suit individual tastes and preferences.
The Evolution Of Tuna Casserole Over Time
Over time, the recipe for Tuna Casserole has evolved to include different variations and ingredients. The original recipe did not include noodles or peas, which were added later as people experimented with the dish. The typical ingredients for Tuna Casserole today include noodles, cream of mushroom soup, milk, peas, and canned tuna mixed together and topped with crushed potato chips or buttered breadcrumbs.
In the 1950s, Tuna Casserole became extremely popular and was served not just in homes but also in cafeterias, diners, and church suppers. A survey conducted by the U.S. Bureau of Commercial Fisheries in 1959 found that 8 out of 10 households served canned tuna once a week with tuna fish casseroles in the top three. Families liked using canned tuna because it was quick, easy, cheap, and convenient.
However, not everyone has fond memories of Tuna Casserole. Some people passionately love it while others passionately hate it. The dish has been criticized for being bland and unappetizing. As a result, some people have tried to elevate the dish by creating their own versions using scratch-made sauces and adding unique ingredients like hard-boiled eggs.
Despite its mixed reputation, Tuna Casserole remains a classic and comforting dish that holds strong nostalgic vibes for many people. It continues to be a popular meal option due to its affordability and ease of preparation.
Variations Of Tuna Casserole Around The World
Tuna Casserole is a classic American dish, but it has also found its way into many other cultures and cuisines around the world. Here are a few variations of Tuna Casserole that you can find in different parts of the world:
1. Tuna Noodle Casserole with Kimchi: This Korean-inspired version of Tuna Casserole adds a spicy kick with the addition of kimchi. The noodles are replaced with Korean glass noodles, and the dish is topped with a mixture of panko breadcrumbs and sesame seeds.
2. Tuna Casserole with Curry: In India, Tuna Casserole is often made with a curry sauce. The dish includes a blend of Indian spices like cumin, coriander, and turmeric, and is usually served over rice.
3. Tuna Casserole with Olives and Feta: This Mediterranean-inspired version of Tuna Casserole includes salty feta cheese and tangy kalamata olives. The dish is usually served with a side of Greek salad.
4. Tuna and Potato Casserole: In Japan, Tuna Casserole is often made with sliced potatoes instead of noodles. The dish includes a creamy white sauce made from scratch, and is usually topped with breadcrumbs and baked until golden brown.
5. Tuna and Rice Casserole: In Brazil, Tuna Casserole is often made with rice instead of noodles. The dish includes a blend of Brazilian spices like cumin and paprika, and is usually topped with a layer of melted cheese.
These variations show that Tuna Casserole can be adapted to fit any taste or culture, while still maintaining its comforting and satisfying qualities.
Tips For Making The Perfect Tuna Casserole At Home
Making the perfect Tuna Casserole at home is easier than you think. Here are some tips to help you create a delicious and satisfying meal:
1. Use homemade white sauce: A homemade white sauce is the key to a creamy and flavorful Tuna Casserole. You can add onion, garlic, mustard, mushrooms, carrots, sharp cheddar cheese or a dash of red pepper flakes to the sauce for extra flavor.
2. Add peas or chopped broccoli: Peas are a classic addition to Tuna Casserole, but chopped broccoli also works well. These vegetables add color and texture to the dish.
3. Substitute tuna with chicken: If you’re not a fan of tuna, you can substitute it with chicken. You can also use less tuna if you want to reduce the fishy taste.
4. Use elbow macaroni, penne or spiral pasta: Egg noodles are the traditional choice for Tuna Casserole, but you can use other types of pasta as well. Elbow macaroni, penne or spiral pasta work well in this dish.
5. Top with seasoned bread crumbs: A crunchy topping made with seasoned bread crumbs adds texture and flavor to the casserole. You can also use crushed Ritz crackers for a more traditional touch.
6. Consider adding hard-boiled eggs: Some recipes include hard-boiled eggs as a surprise ingredient in Tuna Casserole. This adds a unique texture and flavor to the dish.
By following these tips, you can create a delicious and satisfying Tuna Casserole that will surprise and delight your family and friends.