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Cinnamon (Recipe: Mexican-spiced fish) {gluten-free}


I like a spice that swings both ways.

Cinnamon, for example.

It can go sweet, or savory. Hot or cool. Mild, or with a bit of a bite.

At the moment I have two types of ground cinnamon, plus Indonesian cinnamon sticks from Penzeys, in The Perfect Pantry. I'm not a cinnamon snob; I'm just one lucky cook.

My friend Candy recently traveled to Vietnam; in the Ben Thanh Market in Ho Chi Minh City, she bought (for me!) some fragrant ground cinnamon in a beautiful hand-carved box made from a branch of a cinnamon tree. That's it, in the photo.

Vietnamese cinnamon is said to be the highest quality, with the strongest flavor, but it's often twice the price of the cassia cinnamon I use for everyday. (In many countries, including the United States, cassia can be sold as cinnamon.) My go-to is Indonesian Korintje cassia cinnamon, which has a bit milder and sweet taste -- the cinnamon flavor of my childhood -- or sometimes Chinese cassia, which is slightly spicier.

Cinnamon is the inner skin of the bark of a plant in the laurel family (cassia is a different, but related, plant). The bark is peeled from the trees during the rainy season and left to dry and ferment for 24 hours. Then the outer layer of the bark is scraped off, leaving the inner, light-covered bark, which curls as it dries. Cinnamon sticks, which often seem to have a very mild flavor, come from the tree's upper new growth; more intense, ground cinnamon is made from old growth bark on the lower part of the tree.

When buying sticks, look at the shape of the quill. Cinnamon rolls into a single quill (like a telescope), while cassia curls from both sides toward the center, like a scroll. The sticks are difficult to grind, so it's best to keep both sticks and ground cinnamon on hand in the pantry. You can use cinnamon and cassia interchangeably, in bread, muffins, cake and cookies, but also with chicken, lamb and beef.

According to The World's Healthiest Foods, seasoning a high carb food with cinnamon can lessen the impact on blood sugar levels. I don't think this means that a bit of cinnamon will turn a sticky bun into health food (oh, how I wish it could), but it makes me even more enthusiastic about the health benefits of the cinnamon-spiced tagine cuisine I've been learning to cook.

In ancient times, cinnamon was used both for embalming, and as an aphrodisiac. Hmmm.

Mexican-spiced fish

We don't often think of the traditional "warm" spices with fish, but this recipe, adapted from The Food and Cooking of Mexico, South America and the Caribbean, by Jane Milton, Jenni Fleetwood and Marina Filippelli, uses cinnamon, cumin and annatto to give rich flavor to the fish (and the annatto will give this a bit of red-yellow color). The striped bass I saw at my fish market last week would be perfect here. Serves 6.


3-1/2 lbs striped bass, cod steak, or any non-oily white fish, cut into 6 portions
2 Tbsp canola or vegetable oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, chopped
12 oz tomatoes, sliced
2 drained canned jalapeño chiles, rinsed and sliced, or 2 fresh jalapeños, seeded, ribs removed, and minced
A few flat-leaf parsley leaves, for garnish

For the marinade:
4 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground annatto
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 cup mild white vinegar
Kosher salt, to taste


Arrange the fish in a single layer in a shallow dish.

Make the marinade: With a mortar and pestle, grind the garlic and peppercorns. Add the oregano, cumin, annatto and cinnamon, and vinegar, and mix to a paste. Add salt to taste, and spread the marinade on both sides of the fish. Cover and leave in a cool place, or in the refrigerator on a very hot day, for one hour.

In a flame-proof pan large enough to hold the fish in a single layer, pour in the oil and spread it to cover (use more oil if necessary). Place the fish in the dish, and top with the remaining marinade. Arrange the sliced onions, garlic, tomatoes and jalapeño over the fish.

Cover and cook over a low heat on the stovetop for 15-20 minutes, or until the fish is no longer translucent. Garnish with some flat-leaf parsley, if desired, and serve hot with rice.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]

Also in The Perfect Pantry:

Cranberry rice pudding
Aromatic rice pudding
Mole colorado

Disclosure: The Perfect Pantry earns a few pennies on purchases made through the Amazon.com links in this post. Thank you for supporting this site when you start your shopping here.


Cinnamon and mexican savory food are a match made in heaven. this looks like a WONDERFUL dish. I'm going to have to come back to this soon. Looks really healthy too.

amy @ http://www.weareneverfull.com

Even though I've been cooking Tagines now for several years and using cinnamon it is still a surprise how much I enjoy it in a savory dish.
That box is a treasure!!

How very special to get such a lovely hand carved box - and that there was cinnamon in it is the icing on the cake!

Congratulations on your award =)

You deserve the award for many reasons - the main one being you make me go out and buy exciting stuff for my pantry. LOL! I love cinnamon too. In Indian food cinnamon is also used for both but more often in savory dishes than sweet.

Bravo for the well-deserved award!

Congratulations on the E - I've seen how much you put into this. Your blog is consistently wonderful.

Totally deserving award! And yes cinammon is such an important spice in my cabinet going sweet and savory any time.

Amy, it's such an unexpected, but delicious, combination with the fish. Do try it!

MyKitchen, Kelly-Jane: I love this cinnamon box. The cinnamon inside is wonderful, but when it is finished, I'll replace it with more ground cinnamon. The box has a lovely texture, too -- and of course I love things that have a story.

Meeta, thank you so much.

Babeth, welcome to The Perfect Pantry, and many thanks.

Rupert, you are consistently wonderful, too.

Veron, thank you. I'll be watching for cinnamon macarons now!

Hi Lydia. CONGRATULATIONS on your E- award. I am proud for you! I absolutley love the cinnamon box. As my younger brother is allergic (he thinks) to this spice, we did not have much of it growing up. Also my middle son Lukas also has an aversion, so I have to sneak it into my tea and toast. Still, I agree with the helpful health information you are so adept with supplying, and I will continue to have this wonderful item on my table and in my pantry. Will try the fish recipe soon! PS I think cinnamon is also a part of Chinese 5 -spice? I know it is definately a part of my mulled apple cider and Chai tea!

I tried this recipe with some Bass that I had in my freezer. It turned out wonderfully. Thank you for sharing.

I'm also a big fan of cinnamon--sweet breakfast, breads, savory dinner, dessert--it goes with everything. The fish is new to me but sounds intriguing and tasty!

Also, I was delighted to encounter demerara sugar today after your recent post so I happily snatched up a bag!

Yes...I like spice that works both ways. I do have cinnamon but not sticks.

Lydia, congratulations on your E for Excellent Award! If there was ever a blog so deserving -- The Perfect Pantry is it! Your level of information and consistency is admirable and appreciated.

About that beautiful hand-carved box made from the branch of a cinnamon tree, it's lovely. How lucky you are to have received it as a gift, not to mention have a friend who would think to give it to you. You are fortunate on both counts!

Wow~ this sounds really amazing. Love the idea for cinnamon, many thanks. I feel incredibly blessed to have a Penzey's nearby. I do love my cinnamon options! ;-)

A spice that swings both ways? What a great description and an interesting recipe. Congrats on the recognition, well deserved!

How wonderful that your friend was able to visit Cho Benh Thanh and bring the Viet cinnamon directly to you! The annatto is a great addition to this seafood dish.
Congrats on your well deserved award too!

What a wonderful gift-such a lovely container! Lydia, you are a wealth of information-another grat post about a topic I knew nothing about-and fun to read, too!

Arlo, you're absolutely right, cinnamon (actually cassia, I think) is a component of Chinese five-spice powder. I've never known anyone who is allergic to cinnamon. I wonder if that's a common allergy?

ES, welcome to The Perfect Pantry, and thanks for trying the recipe.

Mike, is there (I hope!) a cinnamon and demerara sugar dessert in your future?

Tigerfish, the cinnamon sticks are handy for infusing a dish with a mild flavor. I always have both the sticks and the ground cinnamon in my pantry.

Sandie, thank you so much. One nice consequence of writing this particular blog is that my wonderful friends and family members are on the lookout for additions to my pantry when they travel. I am soooooo lucky!

Tempered Woman, welcome to The Perfect Pantry. You are really lucky to live near a Penzeys; for me it's more than an hour's drive to the closest store. Thank goodness for online ordering.

Callipygia, the recipe is great -- simple, flavorful, and a bit different from our usual treatment of fish.

WORC, we loved the markets in Vietnam when we visited a decade ago, especially in Hoi An, but because we were there during Tet and only in HCMC for a short time, we didn't get to Ben Thanh. Must save something for next trip!

Rebecca, isn't this a beautiful thing? The texture of the branch is very much there, and the aroma is heavenly!

A thoroughly deserved award. Your posts never disappoint. LOVE the box.

Excellent blogs indeed, all of them! You certainly deserve the honor, Lydia, for being an excellent blogger and a good human being!

The cinnamon box is gorgeous! And, thanks for the E-callout! Much appreciated, especially coming from one of my favorite bloggers!

Casey, thank you. I'm sure the box will make another appearance at some point, because I love it too.

Mimi, many thanks. I'm glad to see your posts again too.

TW, your posts are always a joy to read.

Congratulations on your award and thanks for inviting me to BlogHer! Much deserved and much appreciated!

You sweet thing, thank you! You certainly deserve awards and accolades; I will do my best to be worthy.

Hugs to you!

My favorite spice, Lydia.

Cinnamon/cassia sticks are super convenient to grind on the small microplane for spices! I run a stick of cassia a few times over the microplane right on top of a frothy cappuccino every morning. The aroma of freshly-ground cinnamon powder perks me right up for the day.

Congratulations on your award!

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