A tender version of a popular Dongbei stir-fry of lamb with dried chilies, made fragrant and crunchy with cumin seeds — a legacy of the nomadic Mongols who long ruled Central Asia, carrying spices on horseback along with their arrows. Lamb is considered a Northern taste and excessively “strong” by many Chinese cooks; it is always cooked with powerful aromatics, like chili peppers and garlic, to subdue it.
Yield: 4 servings
1 tablespoon egg white
1 tablespoon rice wine or dry sherry
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon salt, more to taste
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 pound boneless leg of lamb or lamb shoulder, cut into strips about ½ inch by 2 inches
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons cumin seeds, lightly cracked in a mortar or grinder
2 tablespoons whole dried red chilli peppers, about 2 inches long
4 scallions, white and green parts only, cut on diagonal into 1-inch lengths
Sesame oil, for seasoning
Step 1 In a bowl combine egg white, wine, cornstarch, salt and pepper. Add lamb and set aside to marinate 1 hour.
Step 2 Heat a large wok or skillet over high heat until a drop of water sizzles on contact. Swirl half the oil into wok and carefully add lamb, spreading it in a single layer. Let sear a moment, then stir-fry briskly just until lamb is no longer pink. Transfer to a plate. (If your wok is not large enough to hold all the lamb, do this in 2 batches, using extra oil.)
Step 3 Swirl remaining 1½ tablespoons oil into empty wok, add cumin seeds and chiles and stir-fry a few seconds until cumin seeds start to pop. Press chiles against sides of wok to char their skins.
Step 4 Add scallions and stir-fry 1 minute. Then return lamb to wok and stir-fry 1 to 2 minutes more until lamb is cooked through. Turn off heat, sprinkle with salt and drops of sesame oil, and serve immediately.