Real-Deal Xinjiang Cumin Lamb (孜然羊肉)

If you’re looking for the real-deal cumin lamb just like you’ve had in China, you’ve come to the right place! {Gluten free adaptable}

The real-deal Chinese cumin lamb stir fry recipe that yields highly addictive results.

Cumin lamb, originally from Xinjiang cuisine, is such a popular dish that I thought was a Beijing dish growing up. It is just one of those dishes you see everywhere, no matter whether in a small diner or high school cafeteria.

When visiting China for the first time, especially the northern or western part of the country, you might be surprised at how popular lamb is. As a matter of fact, it is a staple for the Chinese Muslim community, which consists of about 20 million people. My family serves lamb quite a lot because my grandma used to make a mean lamb stew. Now, living in the US, where lamb dishes are not very common, I cook this dish at home to satisfy my craving.

The real-deal Chinese cumin lamb stir fry recipe that yields highly addictive results.

Cumin lamb, when done properly, is very addictive. The lamb cubes are crispy on the surface and buttery tender inside. They are coated in a bold spice mix that includes cumin powder, chili pepper, and Sichuan peppercorns. Tossed in a fragrant oil with plenty of aromatics such as ginger, garlic, and onion, the lamb comes out like a flavor bomb that explodes in your mouth.

If your knowledge of Chinese food is based on Americanized-Chinese-style dishes from takeout restaurants in the US, you might be shocked to find out this dish does not contain a stir fry sauce. That’s right! It is a different type of stir fry that uses dry spices instead of a sauce to season the food. Sometimes Chinese cookbooks call it a dry stir fry. It is actually the cooking method that’s most popular in the northern part of China, where I grew up.

The real-deal Chinese cumin lamb stir fry recipe that yields highly addictive results.

Achieving the perfect cumin lamb stir fry

Here are some short but very important notes to help you cook the real-deal cumin lamb with perfectly cooked meat and a bold flavor.

1. Cut the meat to proper size

Although cutting the lamb into thin slices is the most popular way in Chinese restaurants, I stick to cubes when it comes to home cooking. Since the stoves in most home kitchens are not as powerful as those in restaurants, cutting the meat this way will avoid overcooking and generate tender meat.

2. Marinate the meat

This might be the most important step. Not only will the liquid ingredients eliminate any gamey flavor from the lamb, they also tenderize the meat over time. If you have extra time, I highly recommend marinating the meat for an hour or even longer, which will yield ultra-tender lamb.

3. Sear the meat properly

My favorite piece of cookware is a heavy duty carbon steel 12.6-inch frying pan from DeBuyer. Since I have an electric stove at home, I use this pan instead of a wok to make stir fry. It heats up very hot, holds heat well, and is nonstick when properly seasoned. Instead of stirring the meat constantly, I sear each side until just golden while the inside is slightly pink, then set it aside. This way, the meat will be cooked perfectly at the end.

4. Use a generous amount of oil

It might look like a lot of oil, but remember, we’re cooking a dry stir fry and need plenty of oil to toast the spices and bind the ingredients together. Without enough oil, the spices will burn easily and stick to the skillet.

5. Add the spice mix at the right time

Don’t add the spices too early, which will burn them. And not too late, because we want to toast the spices with the hot oil so they are extra fragrant. We add them at the end of the cooking, and leave them in the pan for about 1 minute.

6. Use plenty of aromatics

Fresh garlic, ginger, and onion are the key components and make the lamb extra fragrant. Also, don’t be surprised by the huge bowl of dried chili peppers. Their purpose is to add aroma to the oil, but not spiciness. Make sure you use mild Chinese or Korean chili peppers, so the dish won’t be too spicy. If you prefer a less spicy dish, add 2 to 3 dried chili peppers instead of the amount listed.

That’s it! Now you have the secret weapon to recreating the real-deal cumin lamb in your own kitchen. I hope you enjoy the dish as much as I do!

The real-deal Chinese cumin lamb stir fry recipe that yields highly addictive results.

More Xinjiang recipes

If you give this recipe a try, let us know! Leave a comment, rate it (once you’ve tried it), and take a picture and tag it @omnivorescookbook on Instagram! I’d love to see what you come up with.

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The real-deal Chinese cumin lamb stir fry recipe that yields highly addictive results.

Real-Deal Xinjiang Cumin Lamb (孜然羊肉)


  • Author: Maggie Zhu
  • Prep Time: 15 mins
  • Cook Time: 10 mins
  • Total Time: 25 mins
  • Yield: 3 to 4 servings

Description

The real-deal Chinese cumin lamb stir fry recipe that yields highly addictive results.


Ingredients

  • 1 pound lamb leg, cut to 3/2-inch (1.5-cm) cubes
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce (or tamari for gluten free)
  • 1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine (or dry sherry)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch

Spice mix

Stir fry


Instructions

  1. Combine lamb, soy sauce, and salt in a big bowl. Mix well. Let marinate for 30 minutes at room temperature (1 hour of marinating time is highly recommended), or in the fridge up to overnight.
  2. Combine the ingredients for the spice mix in a small bowl.
  3. When you’re ready to cook, drain the extra liquid from the bowl of lamb. Add the cornstarch. Stir until all the lamb pieces are coated.
  4. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium high heat until hot. Add the lamb pieces and spread them out with a pair of tongs or chopsticks, so they don’t overlap. Let cook without touching until the bottom side turns golden, 1 minute or so. Flip the lamb and cook the other side until slightly golden, while the inside is still a bit pink, 30 to 40 seconds. Transfer the lamb to a big plate.
  5. Your pan should still have some oil left in it. If not, add more oil so there are about 2 tablespoons in the pan. Add the dried Chinese chili peppers, onion, ginger, and garlic. Stir and cook for about 1 minute, until the onion just starts to turn tender. Add back the lamb and sprinkle the spice mix all over. Stir immediately to coat the lamb with spice. Remove the pan from the stove and carefully try one piece of lamb. Sprinkle a bit more salt on it, if needed.
  6. Add the cilantro and give it a final stir. Transfer everything to a big plate immediately.
  7. Serve hot with steamed rice.

Nutrition

  • Serving Size: 4
  • Calories: 333
  • Sugar: 1.3g
  • Sodium: 612mg
  • Fat: 15.9g
  • Saturated Fat: 4.4g
  • Carbohydrates: 13.1g
  • Fiber: 1.1g
  • Protein: 33.2g
  • Cholesterol: 102mg
The real-deal Chinese cumin lamb stir fry recipe that yields highly addictive results.

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Omnivore's Cookbook is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.
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15 thoughts on “Real-Deal Xinjiang Cumin Lamb (孜然羊肉)

  1. Valentina

    That’s an awesome recipe! For me it was even easier than ‘regular’ stir fry, no bother with the sauce 🙂 Tried a similar dish in a takeout – they slice the lamb more thinly but I actually preferred your way – the meat is way more juicy. Would for sure make again!

    Reply
    1. Maggie

      Hi Valentina, thanks so much for trying out the recipe and I’m glad to hear you enjoyed the dish. Yes, I’ve tried stir frying with thinly sliced lamb before, but it’s so tricky to keep the meat tender.
      Hope you have a great day 🙂

      Reply
  2. Darcey

    This is one of our family’s restaurant favourites here in Beijing – adding this to the list of “try at home” (…with ayi supervision, as she laughs and watches!).

    Reply
    1. Maggie

      Hi Darcey, I believe your ayi will be quite impressed if you cook the dish and let her taste it 😉 Happy cooking and hope you enjoy the dish as much as I do!

      Reply
  3. Allyson

    Flavor was awesome! We eat paleo, so I made some substitutions to avoid gluten and processed sugar. I did use tapioca starch instead of cornstarch, and I’m not certain that switch had the same effect. I was hoping the lamb would be a bit crispier. Was that meant to be the case in the original recipe?

    Reply
  4. Tricia

    Happy New Year Maggie from a cold and wet France. Thanks for another lovely recipe, I am looking forward to cooking many
    more of your recipes over the coming year, they are always so good and full of useful advice.

    Reply
  5. Anna

    Hi Maggie,
    Thanks for this recipe. I recently introduced my husband to XinJiang food when we visited Omar’s Restaurant in Los Angeles. It blew his and his parents’ mind that there’s halal Chinese food. I can’t wait to try this cumin lamb recipe and make it for him.
    By any chance do you know how to also do cumin lamb on skewers?

    I’ll let you know when I make it and how it turns out.

    Reply
  6. Lin

    About your statement:
    “If your knowledge of Chinese food is based on Americanized-Chinese-style dishes from takeout restaurants in the US, you might be shocked to find out this dish does not contain a stir fry sauce. ”

    Your assertion that using a stir-fry sauce is somehow not authentic and limited to Americanized Chinese food is very short-sighted. Chinese people in the South regularly use what you call a “stir-fry sauce” regularly in wok cooking. Seems somewhat amateurish to try to distinguish your cuisine as authentic by dismissing techniques that are indeed found in Southern Chinese and Americanized Chinese food as not authentically Chinese. It is also rather presumptuous that your audience is only familiar with Americanized Chinese food, as Chinese people and their cuisine have been in North America for over a century. It appears to be a cheap knock at the efforts of early Chinese immigrants to adapt Chinese cuisine with the ingredients available to them then.

    Another quick lesson for you is that “dry stir fry” or 干烧 is not just a technique unique to the North, and Southerners have several dishes that employ this technique that North Americans have been exposed to.

    Reply
    1. Maggie

      Hi Lin, sorry! I never meaned to say that stir fry with sauce is not authentic. I wrote it this way because most of my American readers only know Cantonese type saucey stir fry from Chinese restaurant here in the US and it took quite some length to explain the different types of stir fries. I rarely claim my recipes are authentic and others are not, because I moderate recipes to adapt it for home cooks outside of China, and most of them do not reflect authentic method used in China. Apologize if my post is offensive.

      Reply