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Xinjiang Cumin Lamb Stir Fry

Xinjiang Cumin Lamb Stir Fry

New recipes that truly catch me by surprise are few and far between these days. But this one did – and hit it so far out of the park that I declared I must share the recipe “immediately”!

Succulent pieces of lamb generously flavoured with a cumin-sichuan pepper spice mix, golden on the outside and astonishingly tender inside. This is a dish from the Xinjiang province of China where the food is heavily influenced by food of the Middle East, reflecting the predominantly Muslim population. It’s an absolute dead ringer for the ones I’ve had at restaurants, quick to make, and so good I couldn’t stop eating it straight out of the pan.

But what surprised me the most was the ingredients. Everything from the local grocery store.

Even if you are not familiar with Cumin Lamb, if you love Chinese and Middle Eastern food, I guarantee you will love this!

Xinjiang Cumin Lamb backstory – Xinjiang is a province in the north-west of China, situated on the ancient Silk Road that connected China with the Middle East and Europe. With a predominantly Muslim population, the food of Xinjiang is unlike most Chinese food you probably are familiar with. There’s less soy sauce, no pork, and less rice. Instead, think fragrant spices, lots of lamb, flatbreads, skewers, pilafs and richly spiced sauces. Cumin lamb skewers and today’s Cumin Lamb Stir Fry are two signature dishes from the region. Tarim Uyghur in Auburn (Sydney) is highly rated by the community.

Xinjiang Cumin Lamb Stir Fry over rice

Recipe credit: Today’s recipe is adapted from Real-Deal Xinjiang Cumin Lamb recipe from a wonderful website called Omnivore’s Cookbook, one of my trusted sources for authentic Chinese cooking. I made a few minor tweaks to streamline but the flavour is bang on!

Ingredients in Cumin Lamb

Here’s what you need to make this lamb stir fry.

MARINADE & SPICE MIX

Xinjiang Cumin Lamb Stir Fry ingredients

LAMB & MARINADE

  • Lamb cut – I recommend using lamb leg or rump. Good lamb flavour, not too fatty, suitable for quick cooking. More expensive cuts such as backstrap or cutlets are wasted on a stir fry (in my humble opinion) especially given we can tenderise the lamb using the Chinese velveting method (just a touch of baking soda – next point!).

    Slow cooking cuts – like shoulder and shank – are a too tough for this recipe (tenderising is not as effective) and most other chops are too fatty.

  • Baking soda – To tenderise the lamb so it stays beautifully succulent and tender even if it’s kept on the stove for a little longer than ideal. Baking soda is used to velvet chicken and beef in Chinese stir fries too. Tried and loved technique! (Note for velveting-fans: In this recipe we use less baking soda for a larger volume of meat so there’s no need to rinse the baking soda off, you can’t taste it!).
  • Chinese cooking wine (“Shaoxing wine”) – An essential ingredient for making truly “restaurant standard” Chinese dishes! Substitute with Mirin, cooking sake or dry sherry. Non alcoholic sub – substitute with 2 tablespoons chicken stock/broth.
  • Cornflour/cornstarch – This creates a light coating on the lamb that the spice mix clings to. Some recipes will have you toss the marinated lamb in cornflour. I tried that, and ended with with a gluey mess. It’s far easier to just mix the cornflour in with the marinade – and the end result is practically the same.
  • Soy sauce – Either light or all purpose soy sauce. But not dark soy sauce – flavour is too strong and the colour is too intense! More on which soy sauce to use when here.
  • Salt – For seasoning.

SPICE MIX

  • Cumin – LOTS! 2 whole tablespoons!! This is a bold flavoured dish – and true to its name.
  • Sichuan pepper (pre-ground) – The cool, numbing, almost lemony spiciness of Sichuan pepper that we all know and love is a signature characteristic of this dish! Completely different to the hot spiciness of powders like cayenne pepper.

    Usually I’ll urge you to toast and grind your own, for better flavour. But in this recipe, we (Chef JB and I) tried it with freshly ground and pre-ground and honestly, there was no noticeable difference because the cumin and dried chilli are the dominant flavours here. So feel free to use store bought pre-ground – widely available these days in large grocery stores.

    To make your own, dry toast whole peppercorns, cool, grind, sift out lumps, then measure out 1/2 teaspoon powder. Whole peppercorns yield just under half in powder, so start with 1 1/2 teaspoons of Sichuan peppercorns.

    Substitute with 1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper.

  • Sugar – Just a small amount, to balance the other flavours. Doesn’t make this dish sweet.

FOR THE STIR FRY

The whole chilli are used for flavour and fragrance, not for eating. They are used in dry form so they are chewy and not very pleasant to eat.

Xinjiang Cumin Lamb stir fry ingredients
  • Dried chilli – Asian ones, if you can. But even sub-continent (Indian) chillis or South American chilli will work! As noted above, they are stir fried with the other ingredients for flavour and releasing some heat, but not intended to be eaten. So the exact type and spiciness of the dried chilli is not as important as in other dishes such as Beef Rendang where dried chilli are blitzed into a curry paste.
  • Ginger and garlic – Plenty, for beautiful aromatics flavour!
  • Onion – Also for aromatic flavour.
  • Coriander/cilantro and sesame – Finishes that are tossed in right at the end.

How to make Cumin Lamb Stir Fry

Slices of lamb are marinated for just 30 minutes to tenderise and flavour. The actual cooking part is very quick, as stir fries typically are. Once you start cooking, you’ll be done in less than 5 minutes.

How to make Xinjiang Cumin Lamb stir fry
  1. Marinate the sliced lamb with the soy sauce, Chinese cooking wine, cornflour/cornstarch, salt and baking soda to tenderise.
  2. Mix the cumin, Sichuan pepper and sugar in a bowl.
  3. Cook the lamb in two batches in a large non-stick skillet for just 1 1/2 minutes until light golden, then remove. The thin slices do not take long to cook!
  4. Sauté the aromatics – garlic, ginger, onion and whole dried chillies.
  5. Add the lamb back in with the spice mix and toss just to coat the lamb in the spices. It doesn’t need to be cooked.
  6. Toss the coriander/cilantro and sesame in, then toss again just to disperse. Then serve immediately!
Xinjiang Cumin Lamb Stir Fry freshly made

You will love how tender the lamb pieces are! We deliberately keep the slices not too thin so you get a nice satisfying bite of lamb. Caramelised on the outside, pink and succulent inside!

Xinjiang Cumin Lamb Stir Fry close up

How to serve Cumin Lamb

This is a dry-style stir fry, which means it is one of those stir fries that doesn’t come with loads of sauce. Absence of sauce is compensated for with robust flavours in the stir fry, like you find in other “dry” stir fries like Kung Pao ChickenThai Cashew Chicken and Crispy Mongolian Beef.

So personally, I’m fine serving it with plain white rice though I think some people would prefer a flavoured rice – because there’s no sauce for rice soaking. And I get it. If you’re in that camp, try it with Fried Rice (or the now infamous Emergency “Dump & Bake” Fried Rice if you don’t have day-old cooked rice), Garlic Butter Kale Rice or Buttered RiceSupreme Soy Noodles will also be great as a side dish, along with steamed Asian Greens with Oyster Sauce.

Love to know what you think if you try this! I know it’s a little more niche than the usual stir fries I share. So that should tell you it’s extra great!!

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