Uyghur Lamb Pilaf (Polo, 羊肉抓饭)

Lamb Pilaf - a western Chinese treasure | omnivoerscookbook.comThe rice is infused with tons of flavor from the lamb, cumin, and chili peppers, creating a sensational feast. The onion and carrot have a tender, buttery texture. They all come together beautifully with the tender lamb, harmonizing into an addictive flavor that you just cannot stop eating.

If you have read my clay pot chicken recipe, you might have a feeling of deja vu when looking at this lamb pilaf. They even have a very similar cooking method. You need to cook the meat first, then steam the meat and rice in one pot until they are cooked through, just right, at the same time. The meat is cooked until tender and moist. And the rice is soaked with tons of flavor from the meat juices. Not the healthiest type of cuisine, but addictively delicious.

However, the origins of these two dishes are millions of miles away. The clay pot chicken is Cantonese, while the lamb pilaf here is from Xinjiang province, an autonomous region located in the extreme western part of China.

If you google lamb pilaf, the results will show Turkish and Persian versions, which is not surprising. Xinjiang province is also known as Chinese Turkestan and has a lot in common with the countries of the Middle East and central Asia, in terms of culture, cuisine, language, and religion.

Lamb Pilaf - a western Chinese treasure |

While this recipe includes the signature ingredient cumin, you will also find typical Chinese spices, such as ginger, garlic, and Sichuan peppercorn.

When I cooked this Uyghur style dish, I made a few twists myself, to align it more with the northern Chinese style. I did take care to keep it authentically close to the real Uyghur style, and suppressed my impulse to add soy sauce and cooking wine. However, I skipped the raisins and apricots in order to make the dish more savory. In this way it is closer to the lamb pilaf that my grandma used to cook.

The seasonings in the recipe might look simple, but you will be surprised how rich the flavor is, especially the rice. One thing to remember – this dish is not on the healthy side of the spectrum, because the rice soaks up a lot of grease from the lamb ribs. A lot! But it is also infused with tons of flavor from the lamb, cumin, and pepper, creating a sensational feast. The onion and carrot are cooked until almost melted, giving them a buttery texture. They all come together beautifully with the tender lamb, harmonizing into an addictive flavor that you just cannot stop eating.

Lamb Pilaf - a western Chinese treasure |

I know this is not an especially summer-y dish, but I wanted to share it anyway.

It is the type of dish you’ll want to cook when you have plenty of time, and cook while drinking a glass of wine and enjoying the aroma in the kitchen.

With a huge plate of this pilaf, don’t worry about the leftovers, even if you’re only cooking for two. Just like with a pot of curry, it gets even better after spending a night in the fridge. No matter whether you reheat the leftovers on the stove to create a nice charred fried rice or dump them hastily into a bowl to be microwaved, the flavor of the rice will be heavenly.

If you’re feeling adventurous and would like to try something new, isn’t this recipe a great choice?

Lamb Pilaf - a western Chinese treasure |

4.5 from 4 reviews
Uyghur Lamb Pilaf (Polo, 羊肉抓饭)
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Recipe type: Main
Cuisine: Chinese
Serves: 4-8
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 5 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 3 slices ginger (about 1 tablespoon)
  • 600 grams (1.2 pound) lamb spare ribs, cut into 1 or 2 segments (*see footnote)
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 (350 grams / 1 pound) onion, chopped
  • 2 (500 grams / 1 pound) carrot, chopped
  • 2 cups (500 grams) rice
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cumin powder
  • 5 dried chili peppers (reduce to 2 to 3, for less spicy dish)
  • (optional) 1 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorn
  1. Cut lamb spare ribs into 1 or 2 segments. Prepare vegetables.
  2. Heat oil in a wok over medium high heat until warm. Add garlic and ginger. Stir a few times until fragrant.
    Lamb Pilaf Cooking Process | Lamb Pilaf Cooking Process |
  3. Carefully add lamb ribs and let them cook without stirring for 1 minute. Stir and cook for 1 minute. Add 1 teaspoon salt. Stir and cook until the surface of ribs is cooked and turns golden brown, about 3 minutes.
    Lamb Pilaf Cooking Process | Lamb Pilaf Cooking Process |
  4. Add onion, stir to mix well, for 1 minute. Add carrot. Stir and cook for 2 to 3 minutes.

  5. Lamb Pilaf Cooking Process | Lamb Pilaf Cooking Process |
  6. Add 3 cups water. Cook until brought to a boil. Skim brown foam from the surface. Add sugar, cumin powder, and chili peppers. Place Sichuan peppercorn in a tea infuser and add it into the wok. Bring to a boil again, then turn to low heat and cover. Cook for 1 hour 30 minutes. During cooking, check on the lamb 3 to 4 times. After 1 hour, add the remaining 1 teaspoon salt. If the water is reducing quickly and no longer covers the lamb, carefully add just enough hot water to cover.
    Lamb Pilaf Cooking Process | Lamb Pilaf Cooking Process |
  7. Forty minutes before the lamb is ready, prepare the rice. Rinse rice 2 to 3 times. Cover with water and let soak for 30 minutes. Drain and set aside.
    Lamb Pilaf Cooking Process | Lamb Pilaf Cooking Process |
  8. When the lamb is ready, use a spatula to push the lamb to the edges of the wok and leave some room in the center. Add rice to fill the space. If the water doesn’t cover the rice completely, add more hot water, about 1/2 to 1 cup. Cover the wok and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes. Uncover, stir, and continue cooking until the water is almost absorbed, about 5 minutes.
    Lamb Pilaf Cooking Process | Lamb Pilaf Cooking Process |
  9. Transfer everything to a large dutch oven (or a big pot with a thick bottom). Cover and simmer over lowest heat for 25 minutes.
    Lamb Pilaf Cooking Process |
  10. Serve warm.
1. If the lamb rib pieces are too large, ask the butcher to cut them across the bone to create shorter ribs. Do not trim off the lamb fat. If you want the dish to be less greasy, trim off a large piece of fat and leave a thin layer to cover the surface of the ribs. You could use other, boneless cuts of lamb, as well.

The nutrition facts are calculated based on 1 of the 8 servings generated by this recipe.

Lamb Pilaf Nutrition Facts |

Other rice recipes you might like:

The Best Clay Pot Chicken Rice (鸡肉煲仔饭)

The Best Clay Pot Chicken Rice - the recipe teaches you the easiest way to create a super flavorful one-dish meal without a clay pot or rice cooker |

Baked Samosa, Two Ways (Uyghur Lamb Meat Pie, 烤包子)

Baked Samosa - the moist and rich lamb onion filling is wrapped in a crispy crust. A great appetizer or party snack |

Uyghur-Style Lamb Skewer (羊肉串)

Uyghur-Style Lamb Skewer (羊肉串) |


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Meet Maggie

Hi I'm Maggie Zhu! Welcome to my site about modern Chinese cooking - including street food, family recipes, and restaurant dishes. I take a less labor-intensive approach while maintaining the taste and look of the dish. I am originally from Beijing, and now cook from my Austin, Texas kitchen.

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18 thoughts on “Uyghur Lamb Pilaf (Polo, 羊肉抓饭)

  1. Shinee

    Wow, this look so good, Maggie! I absolutely love Uzbek plot, which is very similar dish with a few differences. Making this dish this week.

  2. Helen @ Scrummy Lane

    Ooh yum! It doesn’t worry me at all that this isn’t strictly speaking ‘health food’. It sounds like it would be amazingly tasty from being cooked together with the meat. That is a wonderful way to cook!

  3. [email protected]

    Maggie, this looks amazing. When I first saw this, I immediately thought of a Pakistani/Indian dish (that’s also Iranian) called pulao. It’s made with chicken or lamb, and it’s surprisingly similar! Your version sounds delicious, and I LOVE the step-by-step photos. So helpful!

    1. Maggie Post author

      Hi Aida, for pilaf, polo or pulao, I think they share the same origin! I believe this one will taste great if making with chicken. I’d like to use bone-in chicken leg to cook this again next time 🙂

  4. Bam's Kitchen

    Beautiful dish Maggie! Are those your sweet little hands holding the pot, yours? I would love to try this dish and I have heard much about the introduction of cumin spice with lamb in the Xinjiang province from my friends. However this is the first time I have seen it cooked in a clay pot. Good news for me is that I have a clay pot and I am ready to give this recipe a try. Lamb is so expensive in HK, it is in Beijing? Just pinned!

    1. Maggie Post author

      Yep, that’s my hands 🙂
      Lamb is super expensive here too, and actually it’s difficult to find sometimes. If you’re not living in a fancy neighborhood, you can’t find them in the supermarket. Even the biggest supermarket near my home doesn’t sell it everyday, but only on weekends. Plus, you need to go there really early to get the good cuts. I’m not an early bird, which means all I can get are always leg meat or ribs…

  5. Susan

    Based on the nutrition data, this does not sound unhealthy at all. I’m definitely going to consider making this. (If I can find the lamb – lamb isn’t so popular among the Mexican majority in our city.)

    1. Maggie Post author

      Hi Susan, yeah I understand what you mean and agree with you. It actually depends on how much fat you will trim off the lamb. I saved most of them while I was cooking, so the finished dish was super delicious but contains more grease (more than the nutrition facts contain). If you only use lean meat, the lamb won’t taste as tender. My suggestion will be, at least save some of the fat part, to keep the dish moist.
      I heard lamb is not very common in normal supermarket in Texas. Think you need to check out the butcher nearby. Wish you can find a cut! And let me know how’s the dish turn out 🙂

  6. Emily P.

    I made this last weekend but it didn’t turn out quite like yours in the picture…and the flavor called for a lot more salt. The rice tasted oily from the lamb and the rice kind of congealed. The spices were good though. I LOVE this dish in China so I’m not sure what I did wrong…probably user error!

    1. Maggie Post author

      Hi Emily, this dish is indeed quite oily. You can trim some of the extra fat from the lamb, but that’s the part that makes the dish tasty. What is the type of lamb you used? Are you based in the US?
      After moving to the US, I realized the lamb here has a much milder flavor than in China. Mostly because we raise the sheep until much older before slaughtering them. It calls for different ways and seasonings to deal with the lamb, depends on the cut and where you get them.
      I’ll need to look into this recipe again. It worked out back then but I want to try it out with the local lamb here.
      Sorry to hear the dish didn’t turn out well. I’ll keep you updated when I found a better way to deal with the fat.

  7. Wade

    I recently harvested a very large (+300lb) Oregon desert mule deer and wish to make this with the shank. Any advice on this method for a larger cut? I’m keeping the entire shin bone with the meat on it. Much leaner than lamb. Thank you.

    1. Maggie Post author

      Hi Wade, I’m afraid I don’t have a great answer here because I never cooked the dish with a large cut of meat and I’ve never done one with deer meat. I assume you will need longer braising time before adding the rice, just to make sure the meat will be cooked until tender. If you decided to try out the recipe, I’m really looking forward to hearing your feedback.