Cumin Lamb Burger

A warm bread roll filled with crispy, aromatic lamb meat.

4 servings

Time: 1 hr 30 mins

Ethan ChlebowskiBy Ethan Chlebowski

Anthony Bourdain once described eating this spicy cumin lamb burger from Xi'an Famous Foods as "it hits me right in the pleasure zone" and I could not agree more. Below is my version if you want to experience this at home.

Ethan Chlebowski

Ethan Chlebowski



  • “Daily Bread” buns

    • flour
      250 g2 parts
    • water
      125 g1 part
    • salt
      5 g
    • instant yeast
      3 g
    • baking powder
      1 g
    • sugar
      1 g
  • Lamb filling

    • lamb chops
      450 g1 lb
    • cornstarch
      15 g
    • salt
      8 g
    • cooking oil
      30 g2 spoonfuls
    • scallions
      , thinly sliced
      1 stalk
    • fresh ginger
      , minced
      1” knob
    • garlic
      , minced
      2-3 cloves
    • cumin seeds
      10 g2 spoonfuls
    • red pepper flakes
      5 g
    • red onions
      , thinly sliced
    • green thai chile
      , thinly sliced
    • msg
      a sprinkle
  • Optional garnishes

    • pickled onions
    • cilantro


Step 1: Knead & rest the dough

In a mixing bowl, add the flour, yeast, baking powder, sugar, and water. Mix with your hands to combine. Once formed into a rough dough, in the bowl for 3 to 5 minutes.

Cover with plastic wrap and let it rest for 20 minutes during which the dough will relax.

Step 2: Divide & shape the buns

After resting, the dough again for a minute and roll it into a rough log shape.

Cut the dough into 4 equal pieces. Place the dough piece on the counter and grip it will rolling it into a ball against the counter into a round mound. Repeat with each piece.

When rounded, flatten each piece with your hand and using a rolling pin roll it into a round cake about 4” (10 cm) across and about 1/2” (2 cm) high. Repeat with each piece.

Step 3: Sear & steam the buns

Set a nonstick or seasoned cast iron skillet over medium heat and let it pre-heat for ~3 minutes.

Turn the heat to low. Place a piece of dough right into the pan (no oil) and immediately cover the pan.

  • This will let the bottom of the bun and brown, while the cover traps moisture and the bread to help cook it through.

After about 2 minutes, remove the cover and check the bottom of the bun — it should have released from the pan and be in spots. Flip, cover, and repeat on the second side for 2-3 more minutes.

  • If there are any gray spots, the dough is still raw. The exterior should be browned and lightly crisp while steamy but cooked through on the inside.
  • You can use a thermometer to be sure. The internal temp of the dough should be at around 200°F/95°C.

Repeat with remaining buns.

  • Use fresh or let cool to room temp and store in a plastic bag. These can be frozen and toasted back to life if prepared in advance.

Step 4: Prep the lamb & aromatics

Slice the lamb into thin pieces roughly 1/8” (3 mm) thick. Add the sliced lamb to a mixing bowl with the salt and cornstarch. Mix together with your hands until well coated.

In a mortar & pestle, grind the cumin seeds. Mince, microplane, or pound the ginger & garlic into a paste.

Step 5: Begin stir-frying

Set a wok over high heat. Add the oil. Once shimmering (just below the smoke point) add the scallion, ginger, and garlic. Stir fry for 30 seconds until fragrant, being careful not to burn.

Immediately add the lamb and until it has developed nice on the exterior and the pieces are mostly crispy, about 5-8 minutes.

Step 6: Bloom the final spices & finish

Turn the heat to low, and add the cumin, chile flakes, onions, and sliced pepper.

  • Any small, hot chile pepper will work here. Omit if you don’t like the extra spice.

Stir everything to combine and let those ingredients in the residual fat for about one minute.

Turn off the heart. Add a pinch of MSG. Taste and adjust the as needed.

Step 7: Assemble the burgers & serve

If the buns are cold, re-toast them to warm them through. Slice them almost all the way through, but leave a ‘hinge’ so that each bun stays together.

Add about a quarter of the warm spiced lamb to each bun. Top with pickled onions and cilantro. Close and enjoy warm.



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