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I can't resist meat on a stick. There is just something about seeing skewered chunks of meat slowly cooking over an open fire that pulls me in. Every country has its own version of the kebab, but in Beijing, China, you're likely to find lamb rubbed with chili peppers and cumin. Called yang rou chuan, these spicy lamb skewers are one of the city's most popular street foods. And they should be just as popular at home.
Like most meat on a stick, yang rou chuan is portable, flavorful, cooks in minutes, and is incredibly easy to make—all good reasons to consider it for your next cookout.
To start, you need to pick out the right cut of meat, since not all are kebab-friendly.
For example, you don't want a cut of lamb that's too lean, like the loin. I prefer to use the shoulder chop since it's relatively inexpensive and has a good ratio of meat to fat—and just to be clear, when I cut up the chops for skewering, I leave all the fat on. Fat equals juiciness and flavor.
Next comes the spice rub. A combination of cumin and chili flakes give yang rou chuan their distinctive flavor and heat. Those are often the only two seasonings, aside from salt, but for this recipe I wanted to add a few supporting ingredients for an extra boost—I went with granulated garlic (which is different from garlic powder), fennel seeds, and a splash of Shaoxing wine.
To grind the spices, I prefer to use a mortar and pestle, since it ensures you won't over-grind them into a powder that turns pasty when wet. You can use an electric spice grinder, but I'd recommend checking every few pulses to make sure it's still a little bit coarse.
Once you have your lamb cut and your spices pounded, toss them together util the meat is thoroughly coated. I reserve a little of the spice mixture to add at the end of grilling, just for an additional flavor boost.
Then I thread the meat onto skewers.
To grill them, I start by putting the skewers over indirect heat until mostly cooked through, which takes about four minutes per side.
Then I move them to direct heat for about one minute, just long enough to get a good sear.
I sprinkle the reserved spice mixture all over them at this point, which adds a layer of freshness over all the toasted spices.
There's no need for a sauce or a dip with these skewers: They're more than flavorful enough, as-is. The only thing that could make them better is an ice cold beer.