Sunday, January 27, 2013

Love, 80s Style: Tuna Fish and Rice Casserole

This snazzy, tie-wearing lady is my momma, circa 1985. When I imagine the mom of my childhood, she looks like this and is making my favorite high-sodium, low-budget comfort food: Tuna fish and rice casserole.

It’s a one-dish, four-ingredient casserole that’s straight out of the 1950s housewife playbook. In fact, the original recipe, which might have been nicked from the side of a can*, called for a topping of crumbled potato chips. My mother wisely omitted this ingredient (her mother did not).

Even without the chips, my brother and I would BEG for this meal. We danced gleefully when it was on the menu. We hovered while it was being made and stalked the oven window while we waited for it to finish baking. Even now, it’s our top request when my mom wants to make us a special dinner. Once it’s served, we’re both instantly seven years old again and reverting back to the way we ate it when we were kids, flattening it out on our plates and taking bites in a specific pattern. (Obviously, yes, we were weird then, and we’re weird now).
Because I live in fear that the casserole’s key ingredient, Campbell’s Condensed Cheddar Cheese Soup, will someday be discontinued, I occasionally hoard cans of it when I see it at the grocery store. If I ever do hear that it’s going off the market, I will do my best to buy it in bulk, Today Sponge-style, and will only use it for people that I deem casserole-worthy.
I’m pleased to report that the tuna fish and rice casserole obsession has infiltrated a fourth generation: My daughter, Chloe, who recently declared herself a vegetarian, has made an exception for fish because she couldn’t bear to live a life without tuna fish and rice casserole. Such is her love.
I make this meal sometimes at home, and I encourage you to as well. But mostly I still beg my mom to make it, and if you want the best version, you’ll have to do that, too.
Tuna Fish and Rice Casserole
Health-wise, this meal seems all kinds of wrong, but it tastes all kinds of right. But at $5 a pop and five minutes to prepare, you can’t beat it for convenience and price. Make it a little unhealthier by piling on the butter and salt.
One can of Campbell’s Condensed Cheddar Cheese Soup
One can of tuna, drained
About 4/5 of the empty soup can filled with milk
1 ½ cups of uncooked rice (My mom says the original recipe called for Minute Rice specifically. But many 50s and 60s recipes were marketing driven, so I'll leave the rice decision up to you).
Cook rice according to the package directions
Grease a 9x13-inch casserole dish
Whisk together the soup and milk in a large bowl
Stir in the tuna and cooked rice
Bake in 375-degree oven until bubbly, about 30-40 minutes
Let it set for 15 minutes before serving
*Note: My Auntie Jackie (mom's sister) says: "My mother supposedly made this up, or at least she said she did, in later years."

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