These Chinese Xinjiang Lamb Skewers get their name from the Xinjiang region of China where they originate. These skewers, typically a street food and served in the far north western reaches of the country, alongside the 'Stans'. Their geographical heritage goes a long way to explaining their use of meat and spices - the Persian and Turkik influences of lamb and cumin are rich in this region's cuisine.
Xinjiang Lamb Skewers from the native Uyghur people of China.
I ate these regularly at a fantastic restaurant in Sydney and became quite addicted to their spiced, slightly numbing taste - sadly, the restaurant is long gone, but it gave me a valuable clue for spotting this type of cuisine. Wherever you see grapes hanging from the ceiling of a Chinese restaurant, it's a strong indication that the cuisine belongs to the Uyghur people - an ethnic minority native to the Xinjiang region. (The grapes represent their agricultural skills in cultivating fruits and vegetables in a difficult terrain.) The hanging grapes also suggest that lamb skewers will be most likely on the menu!
They're simple to create yourself at home, it's just a case of marinating the meat in the dry spice mix, then grilling them on the bbq. Hot coals give the most authentic results, but a gas BBQ is perfectly fine too.
At most Uyghur restaurants these skewers come threaded on their skewers with whole cubes of lamb fat mixed into the meat. This ensures the skewers stay juicy and moist, not to mention giving a burst of crispy lamb fat! This may not be to everyone's taste, so don't worry too much if you don't follow this step. The flavours from the cumin lamb skewers are a spiced, earthy hit with a lingering chilli heat.
Out of the house, I urge you to hunt out a Uyghur restaurant - the cuisine is notably different from that of Shanghai or Hong Kong - lamb plays a large part and there are delicious savoury stews, pastries, pancakes and rice dishes which feature it prominently. As a lamb LOVER, this makes me super happy!
As for now, you can create these delectable, addictive Chinese lamb skewers with little effort - the pay off is BIG! The earthy, smoky flavours of cumin and the magical floral, numbing qualities of Sichuan pepper make these something to remember.
If you're not into lamb, try them with beef - just as delicious! Serve them with simple rice, some Chinese scallion pancakes and how about a super quick side dish of Chinese Snow Pea with Garlic for a little green balance? And if all that chilli heat gets a bit much, you might want something to cool it down - try my super simple and quick Chinese Cucumber Salad. So many delights!
Heat a frying pan, dry over a moderate heat until hot.
Place the cumin, chilli flakes, black peppercorns and Sichuan peppercorns and toast dry for 1-2 minutes. Remove from the pan and add to a spice/coffee grinder or pestle and mortar.
Grind the spices into a rough texture (see pic above).
Stir in the chilli powder, ginger powder, garlic and salt.
Pour over the oil and mix to combine well. Set aside.
How to make the skewers
Add the spice rub to the lamb cubes and massage into the meat with your hands to coat all the lamb well. Place in a bag and refrigerate for as long as you can - 4 hrs minimum, 24 hours is BEST!
If you're using wooden skewers, now is the time to soak these in water, to ensure they don't disintegrate on the grill.
Once marinated, thread cubes of meat (and fat) onto the skewers (about 8-10 pieces per skewer).
Cook on a hot BBQ grill or hot oven grill for about 10-12 minutes, turning regularly.
Remove from the grill, rest for a couple of minutes and serve!