If there’s anything you need to know about this dish, it’s this: Bourdain loved it. Of course, the customers chose it as our knockout dish before he did. When we first started, we would sell the lamb on its own, but it would sell out so quickly, we couldn’t even make noodles with it. It didn’t help that this has to be cooked in small batches with the strongest fire possi- ble, evenly browning the small, manageable pieces of lamb so every morsel of meat is properly seasoned, every bite a punch of spice, fire, and onion seasoning. Think the lamb pieces are too small? Think again: The increased surface area helps the meat absorb the spices and flavor, making the extra effort well worth it. Once you cook a batch, you’ll see why N1, our spicy cumin lamb with noodles, is one of our most copied dishes.
In fact, I’d say we put lamb noodles and lamb burgers on the culinary map. While cumin lamb is commonly found in many parts of northern and western China, this dish is rarely served with biang-biang noodles or in a bun in Xi’an. So if someone is serving lamb noodles or burgers without shouting out XFF, you know who they were inspired by.
- Carefully slice the lamb into 1⁄8-inch (3 mm) thick pieces (note: it’s easier to cut when partially frozen).
- Place the sliced lamb into a large bowl along with the cornstarch and 2 teaspoons of the vegetable oil. Mix together with your hands.
- In a large skillet or wok, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons vegetable oil over high heat for 1 minute. Add the green onions, ginger, and garlic and sauté for 30 seconds. Add the lamb and stir-fry for about 5 minutes.
- When the meat turns an even brown color, turn the heat down to low, add the cumin, salt, and chili powder, and stir to combine. Add the onions and longhorn pepper, stir to combine, and serve.
Recipes reprinted from XI’AN FAMOUS FOODS: THE CUISINE OF WESTERN CHINA, FROM NEW YORK'S FAVORITE NOODLE SHOP by Jason Wang with Jessica Chou. Photography by Jenny Huang. Published by ABRAMS.