Tuna Noodle Casserole: It Only *Sounds* Disgusting

What’s now a polarizing dish was likely invented by a tired mom who was just trying to feed her ungrateful family

Samantha Irby
Published in
6 min readSep 27, 2019


Illustrations by Emmy Kastner

Editor’s note: Since writer Emily Nunn trash talked tuna noodle casserole in “The Comfort Food Myth,” back in July, we’re still getting notes of outrage from people — including comedian and author Samantha Irby, who also happens to be a prolific home cook, although she’d deny it until the end of time. She has something to say about it. — Melissa McCart

The thing about being black and growing up in the Midwest is that not only do you eat all the stereotypical black foods — your collards, your banana pudding, your cornbread, your catfish — but you also are well-versed in the various delicacies of flyover country — the goulashes, the hot dishes, the pasties, the brats — that no one expects you to know about, let alone eat. Neither of my parents was from the Midwest, but they moved early and assimilated quickly, raising my sisters and me on a steady diet of hash brown casserole, corn pudding, shepherd’s pie, and revolting layered salads.

I don’t know the actual origin of tuna casserole and I refuse to look it up, so I’m just gonna go ahead and assume it was conceived of by a tired mom named Nancy or Gwen who loved tuna and mushrooms and peas and was like, “Wait, should I throw these all together in a dish and serve it to my ungrateful family?” and thus the tastiest, most comforting dish ever conceived was born. Here is how I, a true Illinoisan, make mine.

Tuna Noodle Casserole

For the mushroom sauce

2 tablespoons butter

½ cup finely diced button or crimini mushrooms

2 tablespoons minced shallots (or mild onion)

3 tablespoons flour

1 ¼ cup milk (whole is best)

Pinch of dried thyme

Salt and pepper