Karl’s Cumin Lamb

Easter is here and—for my family—this means lamb. The question is which flavor? Greek lamb—my usual choice—is out, because daughter Miriam is off garlic and onions. Thirty years ago, we visited Kashgar in the far west of China. Shashlik and Naan is a popular meal in that city. Meat and bread call for a salad and a traditional Xinjiang dish would be a tomato and cucumber salad.

Karl’s Cumin Lamb

Karl’s Cumin Lamb

I have made several attempts to recreate the spice blend from memory. I googled cumin lamb and one of the common elements in many recipes—that claimed to be from Xinjiang was the addition of Sichuan pepper. I decided to give this a try.

Note: While I love Sichuan pepper, I do not do not associate it with Xinjiang cuisine. My impression while we lived in China was that it was not popular in Chinese province except Sichuan.

After Dinner Note: It was the tables consensus that this was the best lamb that I had ever made.

Karl’s Cumin Lamb


Half a leg of lamb (3-4 lb.)
2 Tbs. light soy sauce

Spice rub 1

1 Tbs. cumin seeds
1 tsp. black cumin
1 tsp. Sichuan pepper
1 tsp. Kosher salt

Spice rub 2

2 tsp. Sichuan pepper
2 tsp. cumin seeds
1 tsp. black cumin
1 tsp. black pepper


1. Bone and butterfly the half of a leg of lamb.

Tip: To butterfly means to open up the meat, so that it forms a fairly even sheet about one inch thick. This provides plenty of surface area for the spices to do their thing and also plenty of crusty flavorful meat when the lamb is through grilling.

Note: Trim or crosshatch the fat layer. Leg of lamb has a ¼ inch layer of fat over most of the outside. Many cooks leave this on to protect the meat from the direct heat during cooking. Wife Jan cannot tolerate this much grease so I usually trim this fat off. If you leave the fat on you want to score the fat so that the spices have a way through to season the meat beneath.

2. Rub the soy sauce all over the lamb.

3. Combine the spices of the first spice rub in a spice grinder—or mortar and pestle—and process to a fine powder.

4. Sprinkle the spices all over  the meat and rub it in.

5. Roll the meat up and place it in a plastic bag.

6. Refrigerate the lamb for at least four hours—preferably overnight.

7. An hour before you plan to cook the meat, remove the meat from the bag and set it on the counter to come to room temperature.

Tip: Lamb at room temperature cooks more evenly than cold meat right out of the refrigerator.

8a. If using you are using a charcoal grill:

Tip: Build a bi-level fire in the barbecue and place an empty aluminum pan on the cool side. Close the lid and preheat the grill for 15 minutes.

Note:  The pan directs the heat of the coals toward the back of the grill and reduces the heat of the “cool” side of the grill by about five degrees. This gives you a gentler and longer bake as you are finishing the lamb. This slows the cooking and is more forgiving time wise and produces a much more juicy and tender roast.

8b. If using you are using a gas grill:

Note: Turn on the burners on one side of the grill. Close the lid and preheat the grill for 15 minutes.

9. Lay the lamb on the hot side of the grill, put the lid down, and broil for 8-10 minutes.

Tip: For a charcoal grill, close all of the vents, so that the dripping fat does not cause flare-ups that will burn the surface of your meat.

Note: This sears the meat, locking in the juices and gives you a good char. The thickness of your roast determines how long you should sear the meat. You are not trying to cook the meat through, you just want to just to seal the outside surface and give it some color.

10. Prepare the second spice rub.

Tip: Put the Sichuan and black peppers into the spice grinder and process it until it is fairly finely ground. Add the cumin seeds and  pulse the grinder a few times to partially break up the seeds.

Note: You do not want the spices ground to a fine power, but more of a course mixture.

11. Turn the meat over and Sprinkle half of the spices over the meat.

Note: Both the Sichuan and black peppers have many volatile oils that will burn off if they are heated too long over a high heat. By adding them after the meat has been seared preserves these flavors.

12. Cover the grill and continue broiling the second side for 5-6 minutes.

13. Move the meat to the “cool” side of the grill and flip the meat over.

14. Sprinkle the remaining spices over the second side and insert a constant read thermometer into the thickest part of the meat.

15. Close the lid and bake the lamb until the thermometer reads 143º F.

Tip: This temperature produces a perfect “touch of pink” medium rare lamb.

16. Transfer the lamb to a serving platter and tent with foil.

17. Let the meat rest for ten minutes and then slice the lamb across the grain.

18. Serve warm with naan.

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Filed under Lamb, Main Dishes, Sauces and Spices

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