A Taste of Authenticity: Xinjiang Lamb Rice DelightsCourse: Boki’s Cooking: The cooking recipes for Boki dishes
Xinjiang Lamb Rice, or Xīnjiāng shou zhuā fàn, is a signature dish in Xinjiang home-cooking, reserved for special occasions by the Xinjiang or Uyghur people.
2 cups of uncooked white rice
2 pounds of fatty lamb (900g, cut into 1/2-inch chunks, separating the fatty pieces from the lean meat)
4 cups of water
3 slices of ginger
3 tablespoons of oil
1 medium onion (diced)
2 teaspoons of salt
2 teaspoons of soy sauce
1 teaspoon of cumin powder
1 pound of carrots (cut into thin strips)
¼ cup of raisins (optional)
- Commence by soaking the rice for 30 minutes, then drain it and set it aside.
- While the rice is soaking, blanch the lamb by boiling 4 cups of water in a pot with the lamb and ginger. Allow it to boil for a few minutes, and then switch off the heat. Use a slotted spoon to remove the lamb pieces, ensuring excess water is drained. Strain the cooking liquid through a fine mesh strainer and reserve it for cooking the rice.
- Warm the oil in a wok at high heat.Add only the fatty lamb pieces and stir-fry until a nice crust forms. Reduce the heat to medium-low and render the fat until the pieces turn golden brown, which should take about 6 to 8 minutes.
- Lower the heat to medium, add the diced onion, and cook until it becomes translucent. Now, turn the heat back up to high and add the blanched lamb in a single layer to brown the meat on all sides. This will take a few minutes. Add 2 1/2 cups of the reserved cooking liquid, along with the salt, soy sauce, and cumin. Thoroughly mix everything, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes.
- Next, add the carrots and raisins (if using) and cover for an additional minute to bring the mixture back to a boil. Turn off the heat. Keep in mind that the carrots will finish cooking in the rice cooker. Also, note that the taste might be on the salty side at this point, but it will mellow once mixed with the rice.
- Transfer everything into the rice cooker (or a pot) and add the rice, ensuring an even spread. There should be enough liquid to be visible between the rice grains (add more water if necessary), but the liquid level should not exceed the rice level. Cover and start the rice cooker. If using a pot, bring the mixture to a simmer over medium-high heat, cover, reduce the heat to low, and cook for 15-20 minutes.
- After the rice is done cooking, open the lid, combine everything, add salt to taste if necessary, and savor your meal.
In Mandarin, this dish is called “Xīnjiāng shou zhuā fàn,” which translates to “Xinjiang hand-pulled rice.” It is a renowned specialty in Xinjiang home-cooking. This dish holds a special place and is traditionally reserved for festive occasions. The people of Xinjiang, especially the Uyghur community, highly treasure sheep. They consider sheep as valuable assets because their wool is a significant source of income, and their milk is an essential component of their daily diet.
Do you recall our experience exploring Xi’an’s Muslim Street and indulging in the incredible street food there? We absolutely adore that style of cuisine. Some of the notable Xinjiang Uyghur classics we have previously shared include Lamb Skewers, Big Plate Chicken, and Cumin Lamb.
During our recent visit to Shanghai, we discovered a smaller yet similar street food event that takes place every Friday from 11:00 to 4:00 at the street corner of Aomen Lu and Changde Lu. If you happen to be in Shanghai on a Friday, it’s essential to arrive early because many of the food carts sell out rapidly. Unfortunately, by the time we arrived, the Xinjiang Lamb Rice had already vanished. Bill and I could only glimpse the empty bottoms of two enormous woks with a few lonely grains of rice—a painful reminder of what we had missed.
Since we didn’t get the opportunity to try the lamb rice, I made it a personal mission to find it in the following days. Bill and I would go restaurant hopping, entering one establishment at a time and ordering the best dish on the menu (usually one or two items at most). We would then proceed to the next restaurant and repeat the process until we could eat no more. This approach allows us to make the most of our limited time and meals while traveling. Consequently, we sampled several versions of the lamb rice dish at different restaurants. Here’s what I discovered: surprisingly, this Uyghur lamb rice dish is relatively mild. The richness of the dish stems from the combination of lamb fat and sweet carrots. It provides a tremendous sense of comfort and can be enjoyed as either a side dish or a main course.
The fact that this humble and homey dish has gained popularity among the rising middle class in China speaks volumes. I am confident that it will soon find its way to various corners of the world. In the meantime, you can give it a try with this recipe, especially if you’re a fan of lamb. The cooking method is quite similar to our Rice Cooker Ribs and Rice recipe, which many of you have tried and loved!