Pimpernel Smith tuna sauce for rice or tagliatelle aka tuna à la king

The other day we found an old WW2 film, and decided to watch it. Pimpernel Smith was produced and directed in 1941 by its star, Leslie Howard, as a piece of anti-Nazi propaganda. These days the threat from the far right, as well as from fundamentalists of all types is worrying enough…in 1941 Nazi aggression must have seem terrifyingly imminent.



Certainly, the film later inspired the Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg to save tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews from concentration camps. Wallenberg was reported dead, but there were concerns that he was, in fact, kept secretly in prison in Russia for some decades afterwards – hence Andy Irvine’s song.

To accompany the film we decided to try a recipe from the American Alice B Winn-Smith’s Thrifty Cooking for Wartime, which, published in 1942 must have been written at about the same time that Pimpernel Smith was being made. The Amazon review comments, “It’s thrifty all right, but it’s pretty plain home cooking, from boiled fowl to boiled custard. She goes through the routine categories, taking a few basic recipes, and appending a list of ‘thrifty changes’ for variety.”

Don’t let that put you off, this version of tuna à la king is easy and comforting.



Recipe Pimpernel Smith tuna sauce for rice or tagliatelle aka tuna à la king

Serves 3


  • 240g tin best quality tuna in olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed with 1 tsp smoked salt
  • 1 small onion
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 red pepper
  • 3 tbsps plain flour
  • 480ml/2 cups full milk
  • a few grinds of nutmeg
  • a pinch of Urfa pepper flakes
  • carbohydrate of your choice – rice, pasta, or, to be authentic but much less good, toast


  1. Warm some of the olive oil from the tuna in a deep frying pan.
  2. Peel and slice the onion and begin to fry.
  3. Core and deseed, and cut it into bite-sized pieces. Add to the frying pan. Shave and slice the carrot into rounds – add to the pan. When the onion is just beginning to turn transparent, add the salted garlic. Sprinkle over the Urfa pepper flakes. Grind over the nutmeg.
  4. Add the plain flour, and stir in well. Slowly add the milk, stirring the whole time to avoid lumps.
  5. If the sauce looks a bit stiff by the end (allow it a minute or so to stiffen up after you have added the last drop) loosen it with a little extra milk, or some dry vermouth.


Raoul Wallenberg, sung by Andy Irvine



Final scene and speech from Pimpernel Smith



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