This Tuna Mac and Cheese is packed with a creamy cheese sauce made with sharp cheddar and gruyere, the pasta shape of your choice, and canned tuna fish for an extra punch of protein! It's the ultimate comfort food any time of year and the perfect (and more delicious) alternative to tuna noodle casserole.
I'm going to be totally honest... I've never been a fan of tuna noodle casserole. I think it's mainly because of the canned cream of mushroom soup in it, which has never been my favorite ingredient.
But I love tuna fish and I love noodles, so I decided to create my own version of tuna noodle casserole... Tuna Mac and Cheese!
It doesn't involve any cream of anything soup, but does involve two kinds of cheese- sharp cheddar and gruyere.
Plus, pasta, onions and garlic, canned tuna fish, and a crispy panko topping.
This is one tuna pasta dish that I could eat any time!
❤️ Why you'll love this recipe
If you love mac and cheese and you love tuna fish, then this will be a dream combination for you! In my mind, it's kind of like a tuna melt.... Perfectly cheesy and delicious with a buttery and crispy topping!
It's also incredibly easy to make as it's a pretty basic mac and cheese recipe, with canned tuna stirred into it.
Tuna mac and cheese makes great leftovers and can even be frozen if you're looking to stock up on delicious freezer meals.
You don't need anything fancy to make tuna mac and cheese and you may currently have all the ingredients in your kitchen! You can also feel free to swap out any of the cheeses for your own favorites.
Here's what you need (see recipe card at bottom of post for ingredient amounts and full instructions):
- Pasta shape of your choice (I like cavatappi)
- Unsalted butter
- Diced onion
- Minced garlic
- All-purpose flour
- Whole milk
- Sharp cheddar cheese
- Gruyere cheese
- Dried parsley
- Salt and pepper
- Canned tuna (I recommend solid white albacore)
- Chopped parsley (for garnish)
👩🍳 How to make tuna mac and cheese
If you've ever made homemade mac and cheese before, this recipe will be very familiar to you. And if you haven't, you'll learn how easy it is to make your own mac and cheese at home!
To start, you'll want to preheat your oven to 400 degrees and lightly butter or oil a 9x13 baking dish.
I like to boil and drain my pasta before doing anything else because then I can re-use the pot for the rest of the cooking and dirty fewer dishes. I use the time the pasta is boiling to chop the onion and garlic and to grate the cheese.
So, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add pasta and boil until al dente. When it's done cooking, drain the pasta and keep in colander so you can use pot for the cheese sauce.
Now, melt the butter in the pot you cooked the pasta in over medium heat. Once melted, pour 2 Tbsp into a medium bowl and set aside (this will be for the panko topping).
Add onion to butter and cook for about 3 minutes. Add garlic and cook for another minute.
Now you'll make the roux, which is essential to any great mac and cheese!
Add flour to the butter and onions in the pot and whisk for a minute, without letting flour darken.
Now, slowly whisk in the milk and bring the mixture to a gentle simmer, before reducing heat to medium-low and letting simmer for 2-3 minutes to thicken a bit.
Remove saucepan from the heat and add in both cheeses, paprika, dried parsley, 1 ½ tsp salt, and pepper.
So much deliciousness!
Whisk until sauce is nice and smooth.
Now add the pasta and tuna to pot with cheese sauce. Make sure tuna is gently flaked.
Of course, you can leave the tuna out if you want and this will still be a delicious dinner! I'll eat mac and cheese sans extra protein any day of the week. But the tuna turns a pretty standard dish into something extra special.
Toss to combine pasts with the cheese sauce and tuna.
Honestly, you could eat the tuna mac and cheese right out of the pot like this. I'd be happy to do so. But it's even better when baked with a nice and crispy topping!
First, add panko and remaining ¼ tsp salt to bowl with that remaining melted butter and toss to coat.
Transfer macaroni mixture into the prepared baking dish and top with buttered panko.
Bake for 20-25 minutes, uncovered, until until panko browns and gets crispy.
I love a crispy panko topping on mac and cheese!
Remove dish from oven and sprinkle with chopped parsley...
And serve tuna mac and cheese piping hot.
This is my kind of comfort food! Not only is it deliciously cheesy and creamy, but the tuna adds a lot of great protein and omega-3 fatty acids.
This is also a great dish for anyone who likes canned tuna, but isn't a fan of mayonnaise and is looking for alternative ways to enjoy the fish.
💡Tips for making
This tuna mac and cheese recipe is super easy to make, but I have a few tips that can help ensure it's extra delicious every time!
- Pots: I recommend letting your pasta boil and then draining it before you start the cheese sauce. This will allow you to use the same pot for everything and will result in fewer dishes!
- Pasta Shape: Use any pasta shape you want. I use cavatappi here, but so many shapes would be good, including fusilli, elbow, or farfalle. Smaller shapes with nooks and crannies for the cheese sauce to hide are usually best!
- Cheese Sauce: Don't let milk boil when making cheese sauce. You want to bring the milk to a gentle simmer, but boiling it could cause it to curdle.
- Cheese: I always recommend that you shred your own cheese from a block of cheese. You can certainly buy pre-shredded bagged cheese if you need extra convenience, but it's always so much more fresh and delicious when shredded right before using! See below for additional recommendations on cheeses.
- Spices and Herbs: Use whatever spices and herbs you want. I like paprika and dried parsley, but you can use whatever you like best.
- Panko: If you don't have panko, you can use breadcrumbs instead.
🧀 What other cheese can I use?
You can really use any cheese you want for this mac and cheese! I do recommend sharp, bold cheese for an extra boost of flavor. That's why I love sharp cheddar and gruyere.
But Monterey Jack, fontina, gouda, and parmesan would also work well. Use whatever you like best!
⏲ How to store leftovers
This recipe makes a lot of mac and cheese, so chances are you'll have leftovers!
Be sure to let them cool completely and then store in airtight containers in the fridge. Leftovers should stay fresh for 3-4 days when stored properly.
You can reheat in the microwave or the oven.
🥶 How to freeze
I always think baked mac and cheese is best when eaten fresh, but you can also freeze any leftovers if you don't plan to eat them within 3-4 days.
Again, make sure to let the mac and cheese cool completely. Then transfer leftovers to freezer safe airtight containers or plastic bags. You can re-heat in the microwave or oven (I recommend thawing first, but you don't have to).
🍴 More mac and cheese recipes
Mac and cheese is my favorite kind of comfort food and I could happily eat it every single week... Especially considering there are so many variations of it! Here are some of my favorite recipes:
- Buffalo Chicken Mac and Cheese
- Pumpkin Mac and Cheese
- Roasted Garlic Mac and Cheese with Sausage and Kale
- Four Cheese Mac and Cheese
- Caramelized Onion, Prosciutto, and Gorgonzola Mac and Cheese
- Lighter Mac and Cheese
- Roasted Garlic Mac and Cheese Bites
- Lobster and Shrimp Mac and Cheese (from Table for Two)
If you've been craving mac and cheese and want to add a little protein boost with tuna fish, I hope you'll try my tuna mac and cheese!
All that sharp and delicious cheese is a lot more delicious than cream of mushroom soup in my book!
While this comfort food is awesome on a cold day, it's really the kind of dinner you can enjoy any time of the year.
Tuna Mac and Cheese
- 1 lb pasta, shape of your choice (I use cavatappi)
- 6 Tbsp unsalted butter
- 1 cup diced onion (from about 1 medium onion)
- 1 Tbsp minced garlic (from about 3 cloves)
- ¼ cup all-purpose flour
- 3 cups whole milk
- 2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese
- 2 cups grated gruyere cheese
- 1 tsp paprika
- 1 tsp dried parsley
- 1 ¾ tsp salt, divided
- 1 tsp pepper
- 2 5-oz. cans tuna (I recommend solid white albacore), drained and flaked
- 1 ½ cups panko
- Chopped parsley, for serving
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees and lightly butter or oil a 13x9 baking dish.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta and boil until al dente. Drain pasta and keep in colander so you can use pot for the cheese sauce.
- Melt butter in the pot you cooked the pasta in over medium heat. Once melted, pour 2 Tbsp into a medium bowl and set aside (this will be for the panko topping). Add onion to butter and cook for about 3 minutes. Add garlic and cook for another minute.
- Add flour to the remaining melted butter in the pot and whisk for a minute, without letting flour darken. Whisk in milk and bring the mixture to a gentle simmer before reducing heat to medium-low and letting simmer for 2-3 minutes to thicken a bit.
- Remove saucepan from the heat and whisk in both cheeses, paprika, dried parsley, 1 ½ tsp salt, and pepper.
- Add pasta and tuna to pot with cheese sauce. Toss to combine.
- Add panko and remaining ¼ tsp salt to bowl with remaining butter and toss to coat.
- Transfer macaroni mixture into the prepared baking dish and top with buttered panko.
- Bake for 20-25 minutes, uncovered, until panko browns and gets crispy.
- Remove from oven, sprinkle with chopped parsley, and serve hot.
- To store leftovers, be sure to let them cool completely and then store in airtight containers in the fridge. Leftovers should stay fresh for 3-4 days when stored properly.