Fleur de Sel – the “flower of salt” adored by top chefs23-02-2017
Produced in various regions across France, its crunchy taste has garnered the attention of the most discerning foodies worldwide.
Similar in appearance to icing sugar, there is no mistaking its salty taste. Fleur de sel is difficult to harvest on account of its fragile state, which also explains why yields are low and why it commands a more prestigious reputation than its humbler counterpart, table salt. Fleur de sel speciality salt is in fact a highly sensitive soul: a touch of dew or the slightest ripple on the sea is enough to make it sink below the surface.
So what is fleur de sel?
Fleur de sel is the thin crust of delicate, white crystals that form and flourish at the surface of salt ponds, generally as a result of winds slowly evaporating the sea water. Crystals forming on the surface have a unique white colour and taste. Harvesting is a particularly delicate operation where the salt is collected during the summer months very early in the morning, or late at night.
Salt farmers traditionally known as “palaudiers” carefully slide a special wooden implement below the salty crust, allowing the salt to collect on the hard surface before it is transferred into a basket. Fleur de sel is the perfect substitute for table salt, and is used essentially to season and foods.
Fleur de sel is worth its salt according to French chefs
This intricate process combined with miniscule yields have brought huge recognition to this “caviar” of the salt marshes. Fleur de sel is currently harvested in a number of salt marshes across France, for despite its challenging production methods, salt farmers are resolutely dedicated to their cause and happy to see a traditional artisan craft restored to its former glory. Ile de Ré, Ile de Noirmoutier, Ile d’Oléron, Guérande, Aigues-Mortes, Berre and more recently Aude are all typical hunting grounds, not forgetting Salies de Béarn, which was awarded a coveted PGI quality label in June last year.
The enfant chéri of French chefs
“French fleur de sel is exported worldwide,” explains Florence Saki, Director of Communications for the Salins Group. “Chefs choose it to delicately enhance fine cuisine, and to add a touch of texture on the palate,” she adds.
Fleur de sel is also sold in fine food stores and delicatessens, specialist retailers and even supermarkets. The cost of fleur de sel varies, but as a guide it is roughly ten times more expensive than table salt, adding to its luxury appeal.
Exceptionally mild, delicate and smooth on the palate, with the faintest trace of violets, Fleur de sel is the perfect flavour enhancer. Fleur de sel’s huge advantage in cooking lies in its gentle saltiness and the fact it dissolves so easily. Sprinkle fleur de sel on food just before eating, and it will allow the food shine.
“I often give the example of eating a good quality tomato with a dash of olive oil. Try one half with refined salt and the other with fleur de sel and the difference is only too apparent. Fleur de sel literally explodes on the palate,” reveals Florence Saki.
First comes the taste of the raw, unsalted tomato, then in a fraction of a second, the fleur de sel dissolves and gently enhances the flavours, without ever over-delivering on saltiness.” The two are worlds apart.
The perfect serve
Fleur de sel dissolves very quickly and is rapidly absorbed by the food it seasons. It is always advisable to add fleur de sel just before serving, in the case of both fish and meat, as this way it truly enhances the flavour of the food.