Fleur Desel: A Classic Seafood Dish
Fleur de sel has long been a symbol of France and its love for the land and country. It is the most popular salt of the country. And it is not just a symbol: it is a salt used widely in cooking, baking, confectionery, medicine and cosmetics as well as in brewing beer and wine. It has held up as a symbol of national identity for centuries. Here is a look at how this salty tradition got started and how it is enjoyed today in modern France.
The basic method of making fleur de sel a salty taste is called ‘bain marie’. This name translates literally into ‘sea salt’ and was first used in the 15th century to refer to the salty taste in any food which is prepared to use sea salt. In general, fleur de sel is made by a much more elaborate procedure which involves gathering the thin white layer of coarse salt which rises from the ocean floor to the open air on the French coast, mostly but not exclusively on the Brittany area. After this accumulation, it is packed into clay pots and fired in open fireplaces. It can take several days to several weeks for it to reach the desired taste.
This highly flavored salt garnishes many typical meals including meat dishes, fish, vegetables and salad dressings. One taste of salty fleur de sel will change the way you think of a dish. It goes great with spicy and sour dishes; especially with tomatoes. But it also pairs well with fruit salads, lamb, pasta sauces, seafood and cheeses. And it’s versatile – it goes well on just about any kind of sandwich.
Fleur de sel isn’t just a salty flavor component of traditional cooking – it’s actually a highly refined salt that’s harvested from seaweed which has been harvested all over France (and parts of Germany and Austria as well). What makes this salt unique is that it is produced on farms and fed back to local fishermen. This ensures a consistently high moisture content, which, in turn, means it has a naturally higher melting point than most salts and is therefore able to provide a much crisper taste when added to food. That being said, this type of salty is very high in iodine so it’s important to be mindful of its consumption when dining out. Iodine deficiency can result in hyperthyroidism, a condition characterized by extreme hyperactivity, fatigue, increased heart rate, tremors and other hyperactive symptoms.
Because fleur de sel maintains its intense salty flavor even when temperatures rise above boiling, it’s often used in place of regular table salt. When cooking or baking, it helps retain moisture in the foods you cook, which minimizes the need to add extra water to compensate for the moisture. Using fleur de sel in place of regular table salt can help to minimize sodium in your diet while simultaneously providing your body with an abundant source of iodine and other important minerals. As you can see, this type of sea salt offers a wide range of benefits which make it a great addition to your pantry or kitchen cabinet.
Unlike regular salt, fleur de sel does not have an annoying tendency to slosh and mix when exposed to high pressure or high heat. If you happen to be in a restaurant with a rising tide, this sea salt will not splatter or fly around and land on your lap because the pressure is not high enough to cause the salt to solidify. Because it is naturally elastic, seawater expands and often gets stuck in pipes or other forms of equipment which may leave you no other option than to use a plastic bin to cover it until it has naturally emptied.
Another benefit of fleur de sel salt is that it does not cause the typical stinging effect you get from regular table salt. The salt crystallizes due to tiny air bubbles which are present when moisture reacts with the minerals in the sea water. When the salt crystals are stuck together, they do not separate until they are released. Once released, they stick together and stay in place until the next time they react with moisture and get stuck again. Once the salt crystal is stuck, there is no way to separate them and they can potentially remain in place for years without having to react to any outside moisture.
It should be noted that fleur de sel should be kept in a cool area away from direct sunlight or heat and it is recommended that it is stored in its own container when not in use. If you must store it away from these factors, it should be packed in thick glass or ceramic containers which will not react with the sea water and keep it in good condition for as long as you can. Because it tastes so wonderful, it is often used to season seafood. Many chefs worldwide rely on fleur de sel when preparing seafood because it simply tastes so great.