Juicy and buttery tender cumin lamb is one of the most famous dishes in Xinjiang cuisine. Growing up in Beijing, charcoal-grilled cumin lamb skewers is one popular street food that you can find at any night markets and street corners.
Cubed lamb coated with earthy cumin, red pepper powder, and salt is a classic combination that is both flavorsome and aromatic. There is something about the bold spices, juicy grilled lamb, and charcoal aroma that makes it so irresistible to anyone who gets a whiff. The smell sure does know how to draw a crowd and attempts anyone walks by. Whether it is huddling over the charcoal grill with skewers on top during the wintertime or hanging out with friends over some beers and enjoying skewers, this is a food that brings people together.
Today I'm going to show you my favorite quick and easy spicy cumin lamb recipe in an air fryer. My recipe is golden crispy on the outside, juicy and tender on the inside. It is a little spicy, and it is filled with bold spices. What I love about my recipe is it is very versatile in how you can cook it. You can make this recipe using the traditional stir fry method or on the grilled, but these methods take longer to cook, and you may not get that extra crispier texture than you would with an air fryer.
To make this delicious dish right at home, you only need a handful of spices, and within 20 minutes, you will have a plate of delicious air fryer cumin lamb that is ready to be shared. Plus, this recipe is oil-less, and it is gluten-free! It sure will be a finger-licking good and leaving your guest to clear the plate.
Air Fryer Spicy Cumin Lamb
Prep Time: 10 Minutes
Cook Time: 10 Minutes
Serving Size: 6
2 Lb Boneless Lamb Shoulder (Cut Into 1 Inch Thick Piece strips)
*2 Tablespoons Shaoxing Wine
2 Tablespoons Cumin Powder
1 Tablespoon Ground Red Chili, Red Pepper Flakes Or Cayenne Pepper
1 Tablespoon White Sesame Seed
1 Teaspoons Ground Funnel
1 Teaspoon Himalayan Salt
1 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
1 Teaspoon Ground Garlic
* 1 Teaspoon Cumin Seeds
* 1/8 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns
* Fresh Cilantro For Garnish
* Optional ingredients
1. In a large mixing bowl, mix all the ground spices together with optional cooking wine. You then have an option of to marinate or not to marinate. Marinating will help eliminate some gamey taste of the lamb. To marinate or not to marinate, this is a personal preference.
2. To marinate, add 1/4 of your spice mix to the lamb strips and mix well. If you are not going to marinate, add your sliced lamb strips into the large bowl and toss it thoroughly. Then place it in an air fryer basket.
3. Once you fill your air basket, air fry at 350F for 10-15 minutes or until golden crispy. Flip the lamb pieces or give the air basket a good shake halfway to make sure they are air frying evenly. Once it is done cooking, place it on top of some fresh bedded cilantro. Sprinkle sesame seed and cumin seed on top. For the best taste, serve hot.
Note: You want a crispy texture on the outside and buttery tender on the inside. You don't want to overcook the lamb because the meat can get tough.
Air Fryer Spicy Cumin Lamb Cooking Tips
The popular cut for making lamb skewers are lamb leg or shoulder. For my recipe, I like to use lamb shoulder because I find it to be leaner. For a juicer and more tender experience, you can use a slightly fattier cut like the leg.
Slice your lamb into one-inch-thick thinly sliced strips. The thinner you cut it, the crispier it will get and the less you need to cook it. But, you don't want to cut too thin or else it will turn into jerky and tougher to eat.
All about the Spices and seasonings
When it comes to cumin lamb, it is all about the spices and seasonings. For an easier option, get your spices in ground form, but if you cannot find it in ground form, you can either grind it yourself using a pestle and mortar or use a spice grinder.
And if you want to make your spice game to the next level, add some Sichuan peppercorns. If you never had Sichuan peppercorn before, it has a unique aroma, flavor, and sensation (literally). It has a slightly lemony undertone and creates a tingly numbness sensation in your mouth. This Sichuan peppercorn pairs very well with red chili peppers, and the combination is often used in Sichuan Chinese food.
To add some depth and texture to the dish, I use some whole cumin seeds and white sesame seeds.
Marinate or Not To marinate
For my recipe, you don't need to marinate. However, to get more flavor and eliminate any gamey flavor from the lamb, you can marinate the meat for about an hour or overnight with some cooking wine, ground ginger, and a fourth of the ground spice mix listed above. We will use the remaining spices to coat the lamb when cooking.
Don't Overcrowd Your Air Fryer Basket
To get the ultimate crispy texture on the lamb, the hot air needs to surround the meat. This can't be achieved if you stack them. You can place them next to each other side by side, and they will shrink a bit when air fried.
Methods You Can Use To make Cumin Lamb dishes
I love this recipe because you can cook it in multiple ways, and each method has its advantages.
Best For flavor and crispiness
The air fryer method is usually my go-to method because it cooks fast and is easy. You just have to put the meat in the air fryer basket, and you can prepare other dishes while your lamb is cooking. You can also insert a toothpick through to get that skewer to feel, and it is easy to grab by your guest.
For the ultimate crispiness, an air fryer is the best way.
Best For maximum flavor
Stir fry is a popular way of cooking this dish among many Chinese families. To stir fry, simply cook it in a wok or a large skillet.
Traditionally Chinese cumin lamb stir fry is cooked in vegetable oil or canola oil. You can also combine the lamb strips or cubes and stir fry it with red pepper, fresh cilantro, sliced white onion, green onions, garlic cloves, and ginger. Some Chinese recipes may even ask you to add soy sauce, sesame oil, and sugar.
The downside of the cumin lamb stir fry method is you will need to use a significant amount of cooking oil and cooking high heat to get some crispy texture out of it. And unlike most stir-fried Chinese dishes, you want a dry finish rather than a saucy dish. By cooking it in high heat, it will remove the moisture and give you a dry finish.
If you are not all about the lamb's gamey taste, this method may not be the best. Unlike the air fryer and grill method, in which the fat will drip away, the lamb's fat will remain in your wok or skillet and make the dish taste gamier.
Best method for smokey and juicy lamb with a hint of crispy
You can make grilled cumin lamb skewers over gas or charcoal grill. To make the best cumin lamb skewer, you want a good ratio between lean and fatty lamb. The lamb's fatty part will provide juice and flavor, so the lean part doesn't get dry and tough.
How to Eliminate Gamey flavor from the lamb
Use cooking wine. The acidity of cooking wine can help eliminate the gamey taste. Use cooking wine such as Shaoxing wine or red wine. Use cooking wine. The acidity of cooking wine can help reduce the gamey taste. Use cooking wine such as Shaoxing wine, rice wine, or red wine.
Use species: In Chinese cooking, ginger is a popular spice used to reduce meaty and even fishy taste. Other bold spices like cumin seeds, cumin powder, Sichuan pepper, chili flakes will help reduce the gamey taste.
- Choose a leaner cut: To get a less gamey flavor, look for a leaner cut. A lot of the gamey flavor comes from the fat of the lamb.
- Marinate: To eliminate gamey taste is to marinate it well before cooking. The longer you marinate it, the more flavor will impart on the meat. For the best result, marinate overnight.
- Cooking method: The way you cook lamb will affect the taste. For example, cumin lamb stir fry will be gamier than other cooking methods like grilling because the fat will remain in your cooking pan rather than dripping away.
- Use cooking wine. The acidity of cooking wine can help reduce the gamey taste. Use cooking wine such as Shaoxing wine, rice wine, or red wine.
- Use spices: In Chinese cooking, ginger is a popular spice used to reduce meaty and even fishy taste and smell. Other bold spices like cumin seeds, cumin powder, Sichuan pepper, chili flakes will help reduce the gamey taste.
Health benefits of eating lamb
According to traditional Chinese medicine, eating lamb or mutton in the winter boosts your yang or "hot" energy. And because you are eating "hot" food, it will expel dampness and colds from the body, warming the blood circulation and nourishing energy.
Regardless of what traditional Chinese medicine believes, lamb is nutritional food to add to your diet. Lamb is high in saturated fat but is an excellent protein source, zinc, Vitamin B12, and rich in niacin.
What To Serve It With
Chinese dining is all about sharing and eating family-style. And cumin lamb dish is an excellent addition to your family-style dishes. It goes well with any other stir fry dishes, and it pairs well with rice and bread.
Clean Your Air Fryer
Making cumin lamb in an air fryer can leave a little mess in your air fryer. Be sure to clean your air fryer after you are done cooking. If you are not sure how to clean your air fryer, read my how to clean your air fryer article.