Jan got a temporary crown on Monday, so she is still eating soft foods. She asked for It’s Not a Tuna Casserole! for Thursday night’s dinner. This was not my first attempt to reinvent the American tuna casserole into something actually like food.
The American tuna casserole was the epitome of the post-war convenience food movement foisted upon the public by corporate America. They had spent years perfecting preservation processes to feed hungry GIs. The only way to protect their investment was to convince the American housewives that canned foods were “modern” and “convenient.”
According to Wikipedia, tuna casserole is “convenient” in that it uses no fresh ingredients. That in a nutshell is my main objection to tuna casseroles—nothing in it is fresh. This is the perfect example of what I call a “Add Can ‘A’ to Can ‘B’ recipe.”
Julia Childe, nearly single-handedly, rescued American cuisine from its death spiral, by reintroducing French cooking to the American housewife. “Edible” and “convenient” does not mean tasty and good for you. Fresh food, freshly prepared, might take a few more minutes to make, but the benefits in flavor and nutrition more than make up for it.
While I do not remember tuna casseroles fondly, Jan does. To meet her desire, I reinvented this dish using fresh ingredients. The first time I tried I tried to stay close to the original recipe. I then made it with added vegetables.
Today, I realized that the original recipe was rather bland. I decided to add some herbs to boost the flavor for this dish. Looking up herbs to go with fish, I finally settled on tarragon. This is an herb from French cuisine—that smells a bit like anise and liquorice—and complements the flavor of fish nicely. I also decided to add some garlic, because in this household if it doesn’t have garlic it just doesn’t taste right.
Karl’s It’s Not a Tuna Casserole! III
6 oz. wide noodles, dried
1 tsp. Kosher salt, separate uses
½ yellow onion
4-6 tbs. butter, separate uses
½ lb. green beans
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb. fresh rock fish (red snapper, cod, anything but tuna)
1 tsp. tarragon
½ tsp. black pepper, to taste
3 Tbs. flour
1½ cups whole milk
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
½ tsp. Worcestershire sauce
½+ cup flat-leafed parsley
¼ cup red bell pepper, diced
1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, and add half a teaspoon of salt and the noodles. Simmer until they are just al dente. Drain and set aside.
Tip: You are going to bake the noodles later, so you do not want them to be overdone.
2. Cut the onion, pole to pole, into thin crescents and set aside.
Tip: You want the onion slices to be about ¼ inch at the widest.
3. Rinse and cut the green beans into half inch pieces and set aside.
4. Cut the fish into small bite sized pieces and set aside.
5. Melt three tablespoons of butter in a pan over medium high heat. Sauté the onions and half a teaspoon of salt until just translucent, about three minutes.
6. Add the green beans continue sautéing for two more minutes.
7. Add the fish and garlic. Cook until the fish is just opaque and the garlic is frageant, about one more minute.
Tip: You are not trying to cook everything through at this point, just to meld the flavors.
8. Add the tarragon and crack fresh pepper over the fish mixture, to taste, and stir them in.
9. Remove the pan from the heat and let the mixture cool slightly.
10. Preheat the oven to 375° F.
11. Melt the remaining three tablespoons of butter in a small sauce pan. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, to make a light roux, about three minutes.
Tip: The longer you cook a roux the darker it will get. For this dish you want it to be fairly pale.
12. Put the milk in the microwave and heat it on high for one minute.
Tip: This stem is not really necessary, but if you add cold milk to the roux it will clump up and it will be harder to make a smooth sauce.
13. Slowly add the milk to the roux while stirring constantly.
14. Stir in the mustard and Worcestershire sauce and continue cooking the sauce until it is starting to thicken.
15. Add the noodles and parsley to the fish mixture and pour ⅔ of the sauce over all.
Note: Reserve about a tablespoon of parsley for the garnish.
16. Gently fold the mixture together to coat everything with the sauce.
Tip: If your pan is oven proof, you may bake the casserole directly in the pan.
17. Transfer the mixture to a buttered (or Pam-ed) casserole dish and smooth it out with a spatula.
18. Spoon the remaining sauce evenly over the noodles.
19. Scatter the diced red peppers evenly over the noodles.
Note: If you must, you may top the casserole with buttered bread crumbs at this point. I personally do not think that is necessary.
20. Bake the casserole for 30 minutes, until it is starting to brown on top.
21. Remove the casserole from the oven and let it cool for ten minutes.
22. Garnish with the remaining parsley and serve.
Note: You may also garnish with French’s® French fried onions if you choose. I would not.