Pan-Fried Cumin Lamb Buns


These fluffy steamed buns have two special tricks up their sleeve: ultra-savory lamb filling and crispy, pan-fried edges.



  • 1 tsp (3g) instant yeast

  • 3/4 cup warm water

  • 2 tbsp (25g) granulated sugar

  • 2.5 cups (300g) all-purpose flour

  • 2 tbsp (15g) cornstarch

  • 1/4 tsp salt

  • 1/8 tsp baking soda

  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil


  • 1 medium onion, diced

  • 1 tsp sesame oil

  • 1 lb (453g) ground lamb

  • 3 tbsp ground cumin

  • 1.5 tsp cornstarch

  • 1 tbsp light soy sauce

  • 1 tbsp Shaoxing rice wine

  • 1 tsp chili powder

  • 1/4 tsp sugar

  • 1/2 tsp salt

  • 2 scallions, diced

  • 1 small bunch cilantro, minced


(adapted from The Woks of Life)

  1. Add the yeast to the warm water and allow to bloom for 5 minutes. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the ingredients using the paddle attachment. Once the yeast has bloomed (the water will look frothy), add the oil and yeast mixture and continue stirring with the paddle until combined.

  2. Switch to the dough hook and knead the dough, starting on the lowest speed and then increasing to speed 3 once the dough forms a ball. Knead for several minutes until the dough is smooth and shiny, but not sticky. When you press the dough lightly with a finger, it should leave a slight depression.

  3. Form the dough into a ball. Grease evenly with 1 tsp oil and return to the mixer bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to proof in a warm place for 30 minutes, or until the dough doubles in size. Meanwhile, prepare the filling.


  1. Preheat a cast-iron or nonstick pan over medium-high heat. In a medium bowl, add the lamb, cumin, cornstarch, light soy sauce, Shaoxing wine, chili powder, sugar, and salt and mix to combine.

  2. Once the pan is nice and hot, saute the diced onion in the sesame oil until golden.

  3. Add the lamb mixture to the pan and savor the resulting sizzle. Cook for another 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the lamb is browned all over. Adjust seasoning to taste.

  4. Allow the filling to cool slightly, then scoop into a medium bowl. Reserve a small handful of scallions and cilantro to garnish the finished buns, then stir the rest into the filling. Leave the rendered lamb fat in the pan to fry the buns in later.


  1. Gently deflate the risen dough and knead a few times to remove air bubbles. Roll the dough into a log and cut into 16 pieces. Loosely cover the pieces with plastic wrap so they don’t dry out.

  2. Working one at a time, flatten a dough ball with your palm and use a small rolling pin to roll it into a 4” circle. The center of the circle should be slightly thicker than the edges, but there’s no need to sweat the details too much at this step.

  3. Place 1.5-2 tbsp of filling in the center of the dough and pleat the bun. The cooked filling won’t stick together nicely like raw filling does, so this will be a little messy! If you’re hopeless at pleating like me, you can use my easier, albeit less pretty, method of simply pulling the edges of the dough together to meet at the top. All that really matters is to avoid letting the filling touch the edges of your dough, as the grease will prevent the dough from sticking together.

  4. Cover the finished bun with plastic wrap and repeat until all the buns are pleated. Rest the buns for 15-20 minutes.


Unless you have an extremely large pan, you’ll have to cook multiple batches. My 10″ cast-iron skillet fit about half of the buns. If you have two pans, feel free to parallelize.

  1. If this is your first round of frying, return the pan with the lamb fat to medium heat. Otherwise, add 1 tbsp of oil to a clean pan. Space the buns an inch apart in the pan, as they’ll expand considerably once steamed. Allow the bottoms to fry for about a minute, until lightly golden.

  2. Sprinkle 1/4 cup of water around the pan, cover with a lid, and reduce the heat to low. Ensure there’s a little space for steam to escape and steam the buns for 5-10 minutes, until the water has evaporated entirely.

  3. Remove the lid and cook to your desired level of pan-fried goodness. Depending on the heat of your stove, they could be ready now, or they might need another minute or two. If you’re serving out of the pan, stop when they’re slightly lighter than you’d like, as they’ll continue cooking in the residual heat.

  4. Garnish with scallions, cilantro, and sesame seeds, and serve immediately. I like these best dipped in a mix of Laoganma chilli crisp and soy sauce, but I wouldn’t say no to a yogurt sauce either. Leftovers will keep in the fridge for a few days and can be reheated the same way. Alternatively, see the Tips section for how to freeze them.

Grace Kwan © 2020