In the 70s, when Hamburger Helper first appeared on market shelves, it was a temptation to reach for it. After all, I had 4 kids to feed and the box had as much appeal for busy housewives as Fruit Loops did for sugar-crazed kids. But each time I was about to succumb, I could hear my mother whispering in the back of my mind: “Put that back! It’s got too many ingredients you can’t pronounce.”
Like a good daughter, I listened. A box of Hamburger Helper never sat on my cabinet shelves. Then I was teased by Tuna Helper. Same thing. All this came to mind recently when I read one of Chef Kenji’s recipes. It’s a quick, easy, and healthy version of Tuna Helper, though he calls it, (take a deep breath): Easy One-Pot, No-Knife, Lighter Tuna Noodle Casserole. (He uses “No-Knife” in the recipe title to emphasize that there’s no chopping involved—though I found a knife useful for lifting the tuna lid, chopping the parsley, and opening the cellophane packaging on the noodles.)
As I read the recipe, I didn’t sense any chastening from Mama. That was a good sign. Another bonus: the old favorite goes together in 15 minutes in a large skillet. And, you’re likely to have all the ingredients on hand, except the crème fraiche, which Schnucks carries among the cheeses.
Kenji cooks the noodles in a skillet with a modest amount of water, which works surprisingly well. If you want the tuna dish to be an oven casserole, rather than a skillet dish, top it with crushed potato chips or bread crumbs and place about 8″ from the broiler until brown. I enhance the recipe by including a 1/4 tsp. garlic powder, a jolt of hot sauce, and a Panko topping.
Chef Kenji’s Easy One-Pot, No-Knife, Lighter Tuna Noodle Casserole
- 6 oz. dried wide egg noodles
- Kosher salt
- 6 oz. crème fraîche
- 1 large egg
- 2 tsp. cornstarch
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 2 Tbs. juice from 1 to 2 lemons, divided
- 1 (12-oz.) can tuna, drained and broken up into bite-sized chunks
- 1 cup frozen peas
- 1/4 cup picked fresh parsley leaves
- Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling (optional)
- Crushed potato chips or Panko bread crumbs for topping (optional)
- Place noodles in a large saucepan or skillet and cover with room temperature tap water by 1 inch. Season lightly with salt. Bring to a boil over high heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until almost done (follow package directions for cook times). Drain all but approximately 1 cup of water. (You can eyeball this measurement, but don’t neglect it or the dish will be too dry.) Return to high heat and simmer until water is almost completely reduced.
- Meanwhile, combine crème fraîche, egg, cornstarch, and 1 tablespoon lemon juice in a medium bowl and whisk with a fork or whisk until homogenous. (At this point, I also add the 1/4 tsp. garlic powder and jolt of hot sauce.)
- When noodles are cooked, add crème fraîche mixture to skillet and cook, stirring and tossing constantly, until sauce thickens and coats noodles. Season generously with black pepper and salt. Off heat, gently fold in tuna, peas, parsley, and remaining lemon juice until warmed through. Serve immediately drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil and sprinkled with crushed potato chips or Panko bread crumbs, if desired.