You won’t find a lot of lamb dishes at your local Chinese restaurant. Most Chinese people think that lamb has too strong a smell. My mum will not eat lamb because of this and has yet to be convinced.
In the North Western reaches of China in Xinjiang province, there is a cuisine that has been formed by the ancient trade routes. The region is vast and has been fought over for centuries, firstly from its prominent trading position on the Silk Route and more recently from its newly discovered natural resources.
Traders from the West travelled here bringing their wares to trade for silk and other goods from China. They brought with them their culture, religion, cuisine and their spices.
Ethnically, the people here are quite diverse. The sizeable Muslim population here shaped the unique Xinjiang cuisine. It is quite different from the Southern Chinese (mainly Cantonese) cuisine that we know in the UK. One of the most famous dishes are the lamb skewers flavoured with cumin. The influence is obviously from the traders who brought the concept of the kebab to this part of China.
This recipe is a variation of that famous lamb dish. For an easy mid-week supper, this can be quick to prepare and quite delicious. I used lamb steaks as this was the best cut available from the local supermarket, cut into thin strips against the grain. If you have a butcher near you, you can get some different less expensive cuts. The tougher cuts that they sell for stews won’t work very well in this dish as it will be too tough.
Lamb and Chinese Food Philosophy
Lamb is considered a very yang ingredient, in that is heat generating. Eating lamb has the effect of warming the blood, expel damp and strengthening your chi. Lamb soup is often served in winter as a medicinal broth for warming the body and preventing illness.
Equipment you need
- Non Stick Wok
- Mortar and Pestle
- Chef’s knife or Chinese Cleaver
- Spice grinder (you can use a coffee grinder)
Easy Stir Fried Lamb with Cumin and Chilli
- 500 g lamb
- 1 tbsp cumin seeds toasted and crushed
- 3 garlic cloves
- 1 red onion
- 3 stalks of spring onions
- soy sauce to season
- Toast the cumin seed in a hot wok until the essential oils are released. You will start to smell the fragrant spice when it's ready. Be careful not to let it burn.
- Meanwhile, slice the spring onions at an angle (rabbit ears), chop the garlic and peel and the cut the onions in small bite size pieces.
- Remove cumin from the pan and crush with a mortar and pestle or if you prefer it finer, use a spice grinder.
- Slice the lamb steaks into thin strips and season with some soy sauce, garlic and the toasted cumin. Marinate in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
- Put some oil in a smoking hot wok and stir fry the lamb until the edges are charred and caramelised. This gives the lamb a crunchy charred bite. The hot wok will sear the meat but keep it tender too.
- Add in the dried chillis, onions and the white parts of the spring onion. Stir fry quickly to take the raw edge off the onions. Add the rest of the spring onions. Stir fry for a further 1 minute.
- Serve hot with some steamed white rice.
If you have not cooked with lamb beyond the roast rack of lamb or a stew, check out this page for more recipe ideas.