Cumin lamb is a fragrant, spicy Uyghur dish that comes from the Xinjiang Autonomous Region (新疆维吾尔自治区) of Northern China. It is made from tender marinated lamb cooked in aromatics and oil with a fiery, earthy spice mix of cumin, chilli and Sichuan pepper.
Lamb may not be the first meat that comes to mind when thinking of Chinese food, but it’s more popular than you might think, particularly in the northwest, which is home to the country’s large Uyghur Muslim population. The popularity of cumin lamb, in particular, has spread beyond Xinjiang, and is now enjoyed throughout China and beyond. You may even be able to pick some up at your local Chinese restaurant. Or, if you’re in the mood for trying out new recipes, why not cook some up at home?
Leg of lamb,
Ground cumin powder,
Sichuan chilli flakes,
¼ tsp, freshly ground
Whole dried Chinese chilli peppers
1 tbsp, minced
5 cloves, sliced
1 cup, chopped
to garnish, toasted.
Add the soy sauce, Shaoxing wine, and salt to a large bowl and mix to combine.
Add the lamb pieces and stir well until each one is fully coated. Leave to marinate for 30 minutes to 1 hour, or transfer to the fridge to marinate overnight.
Mix the cumin powder, Sichuan chilli flakes, sugar and Sichuan peppercorns together in a small bowl to make a spice mix.
Remove the bowl of lamb from the refrigerator and pour away any residual liquid. Add in the cornstarch and stir well until all of the meat is fully coated.
Heat the oil over medium-high heat until shimmering, then add the lamb pieces, taking care to prevent them from overlapping.
Leave the lamb to cook for about 1 minute or until the underside turns golden brown. Flip the pieces over and cook for a further 30 to 40 seconds, until the other side is just beginning to brown, then transfer to a large plate.
Add the dried Chinese chilli peppers, onion, ginger, and garlic to the pan and stir fry for about 1 minute.
Put the lamb back into the pan and sprinkle the spice mix evenly over everything, then stir well to coat.
Add the chopped cilantro and stir again.
Serve immediately with steamed rice.
Get perfectly-cooked, richly-flavoured cumin lamb every time with these simple hints and tips.
Cut the meat into cubes
If you’ve had Xinjiang cumin lamb at Chinese restaurants, you may have noticed that the meat is cut into thin strips. Home cooks lack the advantage of a powerful restaurant cooker, however, so when making your own, it is best to cut the meat into ⅔ inch cubes. This will ensure that it stays tender, and prevent overcooking.
Marinate for as long as you can
Marinating the lamb not only adds flavour, but also breaks down proteins in the meat, making it extra tender. For the best flavour and texture, leave it to marinate overnight in the fridge.
Sear the lamb properly
Searing your meat before stir-frying is the key to making sure it cooks perfectly. When you cook the meat for the first time, make sure you get the pan very hot, and don’t be tempted to stir while the meat is cooking. Sear on both sides so the outsides are lightly browned while the inside is still a little pink.
Don’t skimp on the oil
Xinjiang cumin lamb is not cooked with a sauce, so it does need quite a lot of oil. Trying to cut down may result in the spices sticking to the pan and starting to burn.
Add the ingredients in the right order
Adding the spice mix at the right time is crucial. Don’t be tempted to add the spices at the beginning for a stronger flavour, as cooking for too long will burn them and ruin their delicate flavour.
Don’t be afraid of the chilli
All those dried chilli peppers may look a little intimidating, but Chinese chilis are actually pretty mild. Their main purpose is to add fragrance to the oil, working alongside other aromatics like garlic, ginger, and onion to make the dish smell and taste delicious.