These Chinese Xinjiang cumin lamb skewers are some of the most delicious ways to serve lamb! With a wonderful mixture of cumin, chilli and salt these lamb skewers melt in the mouth. It's barbecue season and there's no better time to give these simple but absolutely delicious lamb kebab skewers a try! This is a pushy recipe Dear Reader, especially if you love lamb!
These cumin lamb skewers or Yang Rou Chuan are a popular street food that originated in Xinjiang in North Western China and are popular with the Uyghur or Uighur people. Uyghur food is absolutely delicious and lamb features heavily in their diet as the Uighur population is Muslim. Cumin lamb skewers are typically grilled on a long grill much like the one we used and mostly use charcoal although some restaurants use wood which is more expensive. When cooked by skillfull grillers, they're frequently turned - not one by one but as a group of skewers. In Sydney you can get them from places such as Lovin' Lamb and they are sold per piece or in cups with 5 skewers.
Xinjiang lamb skewers are so simple but if you try them you'll be convinced that they're really complicated and the sort of thing that you only eat while overseas or if someone else makes them. But they are super easy and consist of an inexpensive cut of lamb, garlic, onion, flour, cumin, chilli and salt. That's it-really!
Charcoal if you can: Charcoal grilling is a whole adventure in itself and if you are lucky enough to have a charcoal grill please use it for this recipe. You can even get single-use, disposable, environmentally friendly charcoal grills for around $20-$25 or you can get inexpensive, small ones. My friend Monica loaned me her fancy Binchotan Hibachi grill and we used that. Instead of Binchotan we used charcoal and it takes about half an hour to reach the correct heat (when the coals turn white) but once you have the coals in the grill they're quick to cook taking around 5-6 minutes total (depending on how thick you make them). Charcoal grilling is terrifying at first but it only took a couple of goes and we were hooked (and ended up buying a charcoal barbecue the next day!). You can also grill these in the oven or roast them in the oven. Preheat it to the highest heat you can and place on foil and grill until caramelised.
How to serve cumin lamb kebabs? The perfect way to serve these lamb kebabs is on a flatbread. In this case we used a soft Greek pita bread which is similar to Uighur flat bread. The flatbread soaks up the juices and makes the perfect sandwich. I also made some salads and a tzatziki to go with them but that's obviously not traditional.
Tips for Making The Best Xinjiang Cumin Lamb Skewers!
1 - My loves we don't want to complicate things with fancy cuts of lamb. This is usually a street food and sellers aren't using expensive cuts. Good old boneless lamb shoulder is the perfect cut to use in Xinjiang Lamb Cumin Skewers. Lamb shoulder is inexpensive and layered with fat which is ideal as once cooked, most of the fat drips away leaving only the most tender, succulent char grilled meat. Boneless leg of lamb can also be used if you have to but it doesn't have as much of the juicy fat to keep it moist.
2 - The easiest cut to deal with were mini lamb shoulder rolled roasts as they were perfectly trimmed and had the ideal amount of fat. The fat that you want is this layered fat not the shaggy bits that are hard to cut and sinewy. I found that when I bought a 1.4kg/3lb whole boneless lamb shoulder that it had too much of that shaggy fat. The shaggy fat doesn't melt and just becomes chewy fat.
3 - Cut the lamb into 2cm/0.8inch cubes. Don't trim the fat from the lamb, I promise it will just melt on the grill and keep it succulent.
4 - The marinade is simple: sliced onion, sliced garlic, rice flour and oil. That's it. Marinate it for at least 1 hour maybe 2 or overnight if you have time. Rice flour gives the meat a really lovely, juicy texture.
5 - Don't add salt in the marinade. Salt draws out the moisture from the meat so add it in the end. The lamb needs the salt, trust me.
6 - You can use metal or bamboo skewers for these. If you use bamboo skewers, soak them in water for 1 hour before using them.
7 - Take the lamb out of the fridge when you start to light the coals. I threaded them onto the soaked bamboo skewers while Mr NQN tended to the grill.
8 - The spice mix is usually freshly roasted and ground cumin and chilli powder. You can also try your favourite spice mix for these too. I loved it with cumin, chilli powder and the Traders Joe's Lime and Chilli seasoning and Aleppo pepper and it was CHEF KISS amazing! MWAH!!
9 - Start by turning the skewers frequently to ensure that they cook evenly and sprinkle with your spice mix when cooked halfway through!
10 - You will still have hot coals after this so I grilled the Greek pita bread, pre-boiled corn, greens and then we cooked toasted marshmallows over the grill!
I prepped these on a Friday and we ate them on Saturday night when we had the Jones family over. We've slowly started having people over and Valentina was the first person to drop by with a gift and fresh figs. Every weekend we have people over and we have to pre-warn everyone that there are still boxes that we haven't unpacked. So far we're just inviting the non-judgmental friends around!
Now that we've settled in we have gotten onto the business of selling our old apartment. I got a recommendation for a real estate agent from Sammie who sold her apartment a few weeks before for a very nice sum and I was impressed at how quickly they sprung into action. We booked a stylist who made the apartment look fantastic and really highlighted its positive points. "Do you think we could get the stylist around to our new house and furnish it?" I asked Mr NQN.
Our auction date is in a few week's time (the same date that my parents house auction is funnily enough!) and they just put the For Sale sign outside. When I mentioned it to Monica she asked, "Do you want me to go to the auction and loudly talk about how amazing the place is?"
"Yes! Say something like, 'Oh my god, it’s exquisite!'" I said.
"How about, 'Whoever lives here is gonna get laid... ALOT" or "MAN if I lived here I’d never leave," added Monica.
"Yes and don't be afraid to go over the top. Like say, 'Is this a billion dollars? No? Amazing!! I heard George Clooney bought in this building!'" I said. And all fun and joking aside, I am crossing my fingers for a painless auction process!
So tell me Dear Reader, do you have any tips for selling a house? Have you ever tried these lamb skewers?
Chinese Xinjiang Lamb Cumin Skewers
An Original Recipe by Lorraine Elliott
Preparation time: 15 minutes plus marinating time of 1 hour to overnight
Cooking time: 6 minutes (plus 30 minutes to heat coals)
Serves: around 16-18 skewers
- 900g/2lbs. lamb shoulder (2 lamb shoulder boneless mini roasts are best)
- 1 large onion, peeled and finely sliced
- 5 cloves garlic, peeled and finely sliced
- 2 tablespoons rice flour or cornflour/fine cornstarch
- 4-5 tablespoons oil
2 tablespoons cumin seeds
- 2 tablespoons chilli flakes (or 1 tablespoon chilli flakes and 1 tablespoon aleppo pepper or Trader Joe's lime and chilli mix)
Cutting into small cubes
Step 1 - Cut the lamb into small 2cm/0.8inch pieces (do not trim the fat). Slice the onion and garlic thinly and mix with the lamb, flour and oil and massage to combine. Cover and marinate for 1 hour to overnight. Soak bamboo skewers for 1 hour.
Marinating with onion, garlic, rice flour and oil
Dry frying chilli and cumin
Step 2 -Take the lamb out of the fridge before you light your coals to give it time to take the chill off the meat. Heat the cumin seeds and chilli in a dry frypan until fragrant. Place in a mortar and pestle and grind or pulse in a coffee grinder. It doesn't have to be a fine powder, some bits of cumin and chilli is fine. Place in a parmesan shaker if you have one (don't worry if you don't, you can just spoon it over). Thread the meat onto the skewer and press around each skewer with your hand to form a sausage shape. Salt these generously on all sides.
Pressing around each skewer to form a sausage shape
Step 3 -To start your charcoal grill, have your chimney, firelighters and charcoal briquettes ready. Place firelights on a large aluminium tray and make a pile of them and light with a long match or flame lighter. Place the chimney on top of the pile and fill with 2kg/4lbs of charcoal briquettes. Make sure that the firelighters are hot and aflame and after around 20 minutes the coals will turn white. They are ready to place in the grill. Place in the grill or bbq and place the metal grill on top.
Step 4 -Line up your skewers on the grill and flip them every 45 seconds or so so that they get an even cooking. When they look around half done add the seasoning mix and keep sprinkling and turning. Serve hot with bread, salad and tzatziki.