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Tuna wiggle is a form of tuna casserole, although the term is also sometimes used regionally to describe creamed tuna on toast. Tuna casserole is a time-tested dish in the United States; chances are that if you're American, you have probably eaten some form of tuna wiggle at some point in your life. Like many traditional foods, tuna casserole can be a divisive topic, with some people loving it, while others hate it. Tuna casserole lovers, of course, can come to blows over the best way to assemble this dish.
The reason that tuna wiggle and similar dishes became popular in the United States was that they could be made from canned goods. Especially during the 1950s, many people turned to canned goods and packaged foods because they were easy and labor saving. Some truly astounding dishes made with various canned, packaged, and pickled foods emerged in 1950s America, ranging from Jello molds with canned salmon to Midwestern hot dish. Modern consumers may look askance or with horror at such dishes, but they were at one point a vital part of the American landscape.
There are very few ingredients in a basic tuna wiggle. Canned tuna, of course, is necessary, along with noodles. Some sort of cream or cheese is typically mixed in, and vegetables like peas are not unheard of. A classic combination includes canned tuna, cream of mushroom soup, peas, and egg noodles; the noodles are cooked before being added to the other ingredients and the whole dish is baked for around 20 minutes.
It is also possible to come up with more fancy variations on the classic tuna fish wiggle. Cooks can start with a base of roux and homemade cream sauce, for example, and they can add ingredients like mushrooms, onions, bay leaves, cloves, and gourmet cheeses if they so desire. For ardent fans of the classic 1950s tuna wiggle, such ornate versions might seem like a travesty and a rejection of the honored place of canned soups in American casserole making history.
The origin of the name is a bit obscure. In some parts of the United States, a discussion of “tuna wiggle” will be met with blank stares, while in other regions, the term is widely known and accepted. It is possible that “tuna wiggle” was invented for a children's cookbook, to make the process of cooking seem fun and interesting for aspiring cooks; the use of canned foods would make such a dish easy to make for children as well.
Tuna Wiggle is a frequently used call-back joke in MST3K (Mystery Science Theater 3000). You can hear it mentioned in several episodes, including Teen-Age Strangler, Mitchell, and Swamp Diamonds!