Real-Deal Xinjiang Cumin Lamb (孜然羊肉)

4.95 from 19 votes
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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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Real-Deal Xinjiang Cumin Lamb

Real-Deal Xinjiang Cumin Lamb (孜然羊肉)

4.95 from 19 votes
The real-deal Chinese cumin lamb stir fry recipe that yields highly addictive results.
{Gluten Free Adaptable}
Author: Maggie Zhu
Course: Main
Cuisine: Chinese
Keyword: restaurant-style
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Marination Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 55 minutes
Servings: 4

Ingredients

  • 1 lbs (450 g) lamb leg , cut to 2/3-inch (1.5-cm) cubes
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce (or tamari for gluten free)
  • 1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine (or dry sherry for gluten free)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch

Spice Mix

Stir Fry

  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup whole dried Chinese chili peppers (or Korean chili peppers)
  • 1/2 onion , sliced
  • 1 tablespoon ginger , minced
  • 5 cloves garlic , sliced
  • 1 cup cilantro , chopped

Garnish

  • Toasted sesame seeds (Optional)

Instructions

  • Combine lamb, soy sauce, Shaoxing wine, and salt in a big bowl. Mix well. Let marinate for at least 30 minutes at room temperature (1 hour of marinating time is highly recommended), or in the fridge up to overnight.
  • Combine the ingredients for the spice mix in a small bowl.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Add the cilantro and give it a final stir. Transfer everything to a big plate immediately.
  • Serve hot with steamed rice.

Nutrition

Serving: 1serving, Calories: 333kcal, Carbohydrates: 13.1g, Protein: 33.2g, Fat: 15.9g, Saturated Fat: 4.4g, Cholesterol: 102mg, Sodium: 612mg, Fiber: 1.1g, Sugar: 1.3g
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The real-deal Chinese cumin lamb stir fry recipe that yields highly addictive results.

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Reader Questions and Reviews

  1. Valentina says:

    5 stars
    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!

    • Maggie says:

      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 🙂

  2. Darcey says:

    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!).

    • Maggie says:

      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!

  3. Allyson says:

    5 stars
    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?

  4. Tricia says:

    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.

    • Maggie says:

      Happy New Year Tricia! Thanks so much for your kind words. I hope you have a happy and delicious new year 🙂

  5. Anna says:

    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.

  6. Georgia says:

    5 stars
    This was delicious! I didn’t even realize how much I’d missed this dish. Thank you!

    • Maggie says:

      You’re the most welcome Georgia! Happy cooking 🙂

  7. Lin says:

    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.

    • Maggie says:

      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.

      • Nancy Nie says:

        5 stars
        You are way too kind in this reply! That is why I love you and your recipes! No fuss and genuinely delicious!

  8. Davis Noble says:

    I had this in China and loved it. Cant wait to recreate it at home.

    • Maggie says:

      Happy cooking and hope your dish turns out great 🙂

  9. Stephanie Lacher says:

    I just made this as a treat for my birthday. It was delicious. This is one I will make over again. With great recipes like this, I have a hard time finding a dish to eat in a restaurant. Thank you so much for posting the recipe along with the history of the dish.

    • Maggie says:

      I’m so glad to hear you enjoy the dish Stephanie! Me too, I make it once in a while for a treat 🙂
      Thanks for all the kind words and hope you have an awesome day!

  10. Sytse says:

    Dear Maggie,
    Just made this cumin lamb dish and this really got me off my track. This is magnificent! Such a wonderful sensation, how the chilies tingle and the hint of Sichuan pepper sticks to the palate afterwards.
    Thank you so much for your wonderful recipes.

    • Maggie says:

      I’m so happy to hear you made the dish! A lot of my friends love this dish so I took a lot of time refine the recipe. Glad to hear you like it as much as I do! 🙂

      • Sytse says:

        5 stars
        Hi Maggie,
        One thing I forgot to mention: it was not clear to me where the Shaoxing wine should be added. Is this for marinating the meat?
        Regards,
        Sytse

      • Maggie says:

        Oops, I forgot to mention it in the recipe steps. Yes, it is for marinating the lamb. I just added it to the recipe. Thanks so much for letting me know!

  11. Emil says:

    Exceptional recipe: quick, authentic, delicious. The best cumin lamb I’ve made yet. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    • Thomas says:

      Thanks for the kind words, Emil! It’s one of our favorites as well.

    • Emil says:

      5 stars
      This is also very good with chicken breast substituted for the lamb.

  12. Mennatallah says:

    It is a wonderful recipe

  13. Marie says:

    I have become addicted to your blog, you do such a fantastic job. Thank you.
    I am excited to soon try this recipe with Icelandic lamb, which is said to be the world’s best lamb and has a very own taste to it. However, Shaoxing wine or sherry are very (impossible?) hard to get in Iceland – what do you recommend as an alternative?
    Thank you and greetings from Iceland

  14. Amy says:

    5 stars
    Thanks for sharing! I made this today and it was delicious. I used lamb hot pot meat instead of cubes.

  15. Yi says:

    5 stars
    Made it for dinner tonight and turned out so delicious! The only adjustment I made was adding some cumin seeds in addition to the powder. Definitely up there in my top favorite recipes from your blog. Many thanks!!

  16. Daoud says:

    The real-deal Xingjiang cumin lamb recipe indicates the lamb should be “1 pound lamb leg, cut to 3/2-inch (1.5-cm) cubes.” Do you mean “…2/3-inch (1.5-cm)…”?

    • Maggie says:

      Sorry about the confusion! Yes I mean 2/3. Just edited the recipe. Thanks for letting me know!

  17. Zev C Feinstein says:

    Nice! I often made what I thought was cumin lamb and it was one of my best dishes, but this version is even better.

  18. Chelsea Henschel says:

    5 stars
    This is great! Quick and easy with a relatively short ingredients list. I used chicken thighs instead of lamb and it was fantastic. I served it with rice and stir fried garlic-sesame greens. My boyfriend called it a perfect meal. This is going into rotation for sure. Thanks for posting!

  19. Andrew says:

    5 stars
    Mine tasted delicious. Thank you for your recipe 😀

  20. Sunny says:

    Quite interesting flavor but my lamb meat was a bit too chewy ☹️

  21. Karen De Witt says:

    5 stars
    I liked it but doubled up on everything– onions, garlic, ginger and used hand-pulled noodles instead of rice. It’s a keeper. Many thanks.

  22. Imran Ismail says:

    Do you use lamb with skin here

    • Maggie says:

      Hi Imran, for this recipe you should use skinless lamb. Happy cooking!

  23. Ryan says:

    5 stars
    This is delicious! I did make some changes: I used stew beef (already cut into chunks) instead of lamb since neither the local Asian market or my regular grocery store had lamb. I doubled the spices and used rice wine vinegar to substitute for shaoxing wine. I accidentally marinated the beef with the cornstarch added to the marinade but it doesn’t seem to have made a difference. I added cumin, red chili flakes, ginger, and onion powder to the rice cooker. I also added broccoli to make it more of a complete meal. It’s absolutely delicious! The whole dried peppers really lend a wonderful tingly spice as a supporting act to the meat itself, which is so juicy and tender – definitely marinate overnight! I will definitely be making this again!

  24. John Emerick says:

    Perfect! This recipe turned out better than the best Sichuan restaurants I frequent.

  25. D Lin says:

    5 stars
    So good! I picked this recipe while trying to use up some lamb that had sat in the freezer a little too long but the flavor turned out great and the lamb was so tender! It’s great for us to make this at home since my children can’t handle spicy, la, heat. But they do love Sichuan peppercorn, so even omitting the Chinese peppers we still had tons of flavor. So happy to find this is easy to prepare at home, thank you!

  26. Anna says:

    5 stars
    Omg – where has this site been all my life! Every dish I’ve tried so far turns out restaurant quality. The cumin lamb was amazing – better than any I’ve had out. I may never eat out again. Thank you Maggie!

  27. rebelle says:

    5 stars
    I used this as the basis of my lamb dish and added some bulgogi sauce and shitake mushrooms. Absolutely delicious.

  28. Peter Beckles says:

    I will try this lamb recipe tomorrow.
    While I like all sorts of spicy food my wife does not.
    Generally, what can I do to temper the heat of some of your dishes and still preserve the flavour?

    • Maggie says:

      Hi Peter, yeah you can definitely makes the dish less spicy. You can skip the Sichuan chili flakes from the spice mix (or use a very small amount if you wish). In the stir fry, you should still use a few dried chili peppers to infuse aroma to the oil. The dish won’t turn spicy if you use the mild dried chili peppers. I would definitely keep the Sichuan peppercorns or even use more. It has different sensation than spiciness and it adds a lot of aroma to the dish.

  29. Alizia Fleming says:

    This recipe blew my mind! I made it exactly as written. I ensured not to crown the pan allowing the lamb to develop an excellent crusty brown. The flavors are addictive!! I. Could. Not. Stop. Eating. It.. Thank you so much for sharing🙂🙂

  30. Sooyoung Jung says:

    4 stars
    Awesome recipe, but when I first tasted the dish I really felt like something was missing. Like you had the flavor hit the roof of your mouth and around the sides but it was missing roundness to it – something that completes the dish. After some trial and error I figured it out- it needed five spice!!!!!!!!! With the five spice it’s perfect

  31. Gord Beaton says:

    Your recipe for Real-Deal Xinjiang Cumin Lamb is a winner, thank you so much! I had some fatty shoulder chops so I cut the meat off and made your dish last night. I was heavy on the chili flakes for the extra heat and it was a fantastic meal served with white rice. The dish looked as good as yours as well. Your dish matched some of the best that I have had in restaurants in Canada and the US. Well done.

  32. John H says:

    5 stars
    Basic recipe is fine but the aromatic and spice levels are overwhelming even for sophisticated palates accustomed to Sichuan cooking. Cumin, red pepper flakes, red peppers, garlic — I will try this recipe again cutting them 50%. This is probably a country-style recipe rather than one which would be served at a fine restaurant in Beijing.

    Nonetheless, thanks for posting this.

  33. Marnie Tao says:

    This looks amazing! I’d like to adapt it to use as Kao Baozi filling. I was thinking of making it as stated, and then take out the hard bits (chili peppers) before stuffing the buns. Do you think this would work or would the meat end up being over cooked? Or do you have any suggestions that might help?

    • Maggie says:

      I’ve seen buns using similar method (as a way of using leftovers in a different way). If you use the recipe directly I think the meat will definitely be overcooked.
      I would under cook the lamb if using them in the buns. Also chill the cumin lamb in the fridge before steaming. That would help.

  34. Sheryl says:

    5 stars
    I made this and it was fabulous.
    I shared your link on Reddit.
    Hope you don’t mind. 🙂

    • Maggie says:

      No problem at all! Thanks for sharing and I’m glad to hear you enjoyed the dish 🙂

  35. Alexis says:

    This was sooo good! I made it with fresh cumin in my spice grinder, coriander+spinach instead of cilantro, and I wanted to lighten up the night so I made this with seitan instead of lamb. Really let that cumin and sichuan peppercorn shine!

  36. J-Mom says:

    5 stars
    Tasty! I was a bit hesitant about the amount of cumin but it was perfect. Thank you for the recipe.

  37. David Z says:

    Hi – I’m definitely going to try this but one question – how long is the lamb actually cooking? About 2 minutes during the sear and than just long enough to coat with the spices at the end? That sounds like a short time to cook the meat, so just want to make sure I didn’t misread anything. Thanks!

    • Maggie Zhu says:

      Hi David, the lamb will need a very short cooking time otherwise they might turn very tough. It’s not necessarily 2 mins depending on your stove, but you should leave the center a bit pink. They will be cooked more once you add them back to the pan, ideally, just cooked through when you’ve done cooking.

  38. Michael says:

    I will try this with pork. Anything I should watch out for? I am looking for a recipe like the Cumin Ribs at Di Shui Dong Shanghai and this looks close to its taste

    • Maggie Zhu says:

      I think you can use the recipe for pork without any issues 🙂 Happy cooking!

  39. Ibrahim says:

    The Uighurs and Hui don’t consume alcohol. How would they make it?

    • Maggie Zhu says:

      I think they simply skip it.
      These dishes are very properly in Beijing and we do use alcohol to adds another layer of flavor. But since the spice mix is quite strong I think it’s totally Ok to cook without the wine.

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