A while back, as I was clipping coupons—yes, I am a coupon clipper—I came across a recipe called “One Skillet Tuna Noodles.” The basics were good—egg noodles, tuna, frozen vegetables, milk, and water. But then there was the problem ingredient—1 can of condensed cheddar cheese soup. Granted, the canned soup makes the preparation extremely speedy, and for many busy families, in the evening all they want is to put together quickly a fairly decent meal, for heaven’s sake. I understand that. In fact, I’ve been there myself when I worked outside the home and still had five people to feed every night.
But, I wondered, could I make a cheddar cheese sauce from scratch and still have the meal ready in a reasonable amount of time, say, under an hour? I decided to challenge myself with this recipe makeover.
First, a qualification. I am very, very comfortable making a basic white sauce, to which cheddar cheese can be added. Clif and I like casseroles with cheesy white sauces, and I make them fairly often. My vision of this skillet dish was basically as a casserole in a large frying pan. For people who are not as familiar with making a cheese sauce, the process might take a little longer.
Second, a hint. For speedy preparation, get everything ready ahead of time, or mise en place, as the French put it. This will ensure no last-minute awkward fumbling for this or that, which can really slow down the process and sometimes even ruin a meal.
The following is step-by-step instructions of what I did.
1. Set a large stock pot of salted water to boil on the stove.
2. Measure 9 ounces of egg noodles into a bowl and set by the stove.
3. Measure a cup of frozen vegetables—I used peas—and set by the stove. (Next time I would use 2 cups.)
4. When the water boils, add the noodles and the veggies, set the timer for 10 minutes, and put a colander in the sink. While the noodles are cooking, start getting everything in place.
4. Take out skillet. I used a big electric one.
5. Open a 6 ounce can of tuna, flake it in the can, and set by the skillet.
6. Mince 1 clove of garlic, put it in a small bowl, and set by the skillet.
7. Measure 4 tablespoons of flour into a small bowl. Add 1 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper. (Actually, I just scrapped some pepper into the flour.) Set this by the skillet.
8. Cut up 4 tablespoons of butter and put into the unheated skillet.
9. Grate a cup of cheddar cheese and set by skillet.
10. Measure a cup and a half of milk. In a separate cup, measure a cup of sour cream. (Or plain yogurt. Or add another cup of milk if you don’t have yogurt or sour cream, so that you have two and half cups of milk.) Set by the skillet.
11. Measure 1 teaspoon of dried dill into a small bowl, and, you guessed it, set it by the skillet.
12. By now, perhaps even earlier, the noodles and veggies should be done. Drain them into the colander and let them set while you prepare the cheese sauce.
13. Heat the skillet using a medium heat—350 degrees in an electric skillet. Keep an eye on the butter and as soon as it is melted add the minced garlic. Let it sizzle for about 30 seconds.
14. Add the flour, salt, and pepper, and stir, stir, stir until the roux is a golden brown. This will take a couple of minutes.
15, Add the milk and stir until the mixture is thick and bubbling. In a big skillet, this shouldn’t take long.
16. Add the cheese, tuna, and the dill and stir until the cheese is melted.
17. Reduce the heat to low, and add the sour cream or yogurt, if using. Heat slowly—you don’t want the sour cream to curdle—until everything is warm.
18. Add the noodles and the peas, and again, heat slowly until the mixture is very warm but not bubbling.
And there you have it. A skillet dinner with a cheese sauce made from scratch. The whole process, from beginning to end, took me 30 minutes. Not as speedy as opening a can of soup, but an acceptable amount of time nonetheless.
This could never be considered a company dish, but it is warm, tasty, frugal, and pretty quick to make. Clif had 2 servings and pronounced it “Not too bad,” which in Yankee parlance means good enough.
Here are some pictures Clif took of me as I made the white sauce and then added the rest of the ingredients: