Tofu comes into its own with this crisp salt-and-pepper coating, which seals in the marshmallow-soft interior. Stock up on good firm tofu, packed in water, as it keeps for ages in the fridge. Asian stores sell the best quality or buy it online. If you aren’t a soya bean lover, then you can slot in prawns or chicken pieces with the same delicious preparation.
Wrap a thick layer of paper towels around the tofu. Weigh down with a plate and then as soon as the towels are wet, replace with more. Repeat about three times until the tofu has shrunk a bit and is well drained. This is a very important step as the drier the tofu is, the crisper it will fry up. Slice into 4 cm (1½ inch) cubes.
In a small frying pan, heat the Sichuan peppercorns for about 30 seconds until fragrant. Roughly grind in a spice mill or with a mortar and pestle and then mix in a small bowl with the cornflour, chilli flakes, sea salt and a good grinding of black pepper. Toss the tofu in the flour and coat well. Shake off any excess.
In two small bowls, mix the black vinegar and red chilli dipping sauce ingredients.
When you are close to eating, heat a large wok or big frying pan. Add the oil and fry the tofu in batches until crisp on all sides. Drain on paper towels.
Add the chilli and garlic to the hot oil and fry for 1 minute or until golden and crisp.
Serve the hot tofu with the dipping sauces and a sprinkle of the chilli, garlic and spring onions.
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