Morbid Curiosity: Tuna and Chips Casserole

I was feeling particularly wintery this weekend and winter is a good time for casseroles. Cold, damp westcoast winters make me want to bundle up in my warmest, wooliest sweater, wrap myself in two more blankets, and eat piping hot foods until February.

I chose a recipe that’s almost a stereotype of mid-1960s casserole recipes. A can of soup, a can of tuna, a bunch of peas, and some crushed potato chips. Nothing fancy. No seasoning. (Unless, of course, you count the salt, salt, and more salt. That’s in everything).

Who needs even one fresh ingredient? Not you! This recipe just might be the binary opposite of kale and lentils. It’s from a simpler time when you could open the contents of three cans into an ovenproof dish, top it with broken chip crumbs, and call it a meal. (In fact, that sounds eerily similar to the simpler times of my early twenties!)

These recipes were made for speed. This is what you make when you can’t go to the store and you need to whip something together from whatever is in your cupboards, and put a hot meal on the table in under 30 minutes.

I suppose if you wanted to get fancy, you could use one of those wild mushroom soups, or the finest in name-brand canned goods. But I’m not a Rockefeller, so it was store brand everything for me.

I grew up eating a lot of casseroles. They were one of my mom’s favourite ways to dispose of leftovers. But I’d never had this particular casserole before, and I’d never had a casserole that contained potato chips before either. (Possibly the potato chip topping is a regional thing.) It wasn’t too bad! I mean, apart from the severe dehydration afterwards. It was hot and filling, and there weren’t any weirdly conflicting ingredients.

What kinds of casseroles did you grow up with, readers? Are there any that you feel nostalgic about? Are there any you still get nightmares about?

The Tuna and Chips Casserole is in a casserole dish next the cookbook.

Tuna and Chips Casserole
2 cans (10½ oz. each) cream of mushroom soup
1 cup milk
2 cans (7 oz. each) tuna, drained and flaked
2½ cups crushed potato chips
2 cups (1 lb. can) cooked green peas, drained

Heat oven to 350°F (mod.). Empty soup into 2-qt. baking dish. Add milk and mix well. Add tuna, 2 cups potato chips, and peas; mix lightly. Sprinkle remaining potato chips over top. Bake 25 min., until heated through. 6 to 8 servings.

The recipe featured in this post is from Betty Crocker’s New Dinner for Two Cook Book, published in 1964. 

Persephoneers: Do you have an unusual holiday recipe you’d like me to try out? I’m always on the lookout for new (or old) recipes! If you have a recipe you’d like to see tested, send it to jen@persephonemagazine.com.

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Jen R. L. Disarray

Jen was once described as a "culinary anthropologist". She liked that. When she is not making questionable foods, Jen enjoys reading, sassing, and lurking all over the internet. Jen has a blog called Maybe We Shouldn't Be Eating This, and she is a contributor to the Geekquality podcast and blog.

13 thoughts on “Morbid Curiosity: Tuna and Chips Casserole”

  1. At the summer camp I worked at for a couple of years this was a weekly treat, always served with lime jello made with 7-up instead of the cold water and heated applesauce instead of the hot water.  Somehow the applesauce made it a “salad.”  I’ve done the jello since, and it’s pretty sweet, but not terrible.  On the other  hand, the one time I tried to re-create the casserole recently, it was so salty I don’t think I even finished it.  Maybe potato chips were less salty then.

  2. Oh my god, this was my favorite casserole growing up evar!  I had it once at my kindergarten baby-sitters (half days) and went ca-razy for it.  I beggedbeggedbeggedbeggedbegged my mom to ask the baby-sitter for it from that day until whenever it was she did.  Potato chip were de riguer in the lower Midwest.  How else do you use up stale chips or the crumbs at the bottom of the bag.  I tried to introduce SlayBelle to it after we married, but she was horrified by the whole concept.

    The only other casseroles I remember regularly growing up were shepherd’s pie and it’s red-headed step-child, polenta pie.  Hamburger, cheese, maybe tomato sauce topped with cornmeal mush and baked.  O hated polenta pie as much as I loved tuna casserole.  I’ll never get to eat it again, so thanks for this.

  3. This recipe is almost exactly half of one of my favorite childhood casseroles. My mom’s tuna casserole had all the above ingredients, plus noodles, cheese whiz and french fried onions instead of potato chips. We also got a dash o’ pepper in ours.

    My all-time favorite casserole is Hamburger Casserole.  I keep trying to write about it, but by the time I get my camera to take a picture of the finished product, it is half gone before I can snap a pic.

      1. No, its original form is called Hamburger Italiano in the 1969 edition of the McCall’s Cookbook. I feel comfortable in our renaming it Hamburger Casserole because I have left enough out of the original ingredients to call it something new. It is a magical blend of green peppers, onions, ground beef, pasta shells, tomato soup and worcestershire sauce with a parmesan cheese crust on top. I have never met anyone who doesn’t like it. And, according to my son who was vegetarian for a while, the meatless version is pretty good too.

        And now I know what we’re having for dinner tomorrow night.

  4. I’ve had a similar dish before. Only the version I’m used to was usually cooked with egg noodles and sprinkled with crushed saltines by the individual after baking. Tuna casserole was one of the least exotic casseroles that I ate growing up. Many originated from the back of Bisquik boxes or my father’s twisted imagination and remaining foodstuffs. My dad would call them creative names like “What” “It” and “that” since they otherwise defied description.

      1. We almost always called them edible except for one memorable time when he mixed in the bisquik to a casserole with a tomato base that was meant to be bisquik topped… The whole thing was like a giant pumpkin monstrosity. Bright orange and totally disgusting. We had to order pizza.

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