A few years ago I bought a small container of French sea salt for what I thought was an extravagant price.
Since then my whole family has become addicted to its light, briny taste, so much more delicate and
pleasing than regular salt.
We now use French sea salt at the table and because such a small amount is needed I can see now that the price was
not at all extravagant. I still have a container of regular table salt that I use to cook with, but I can't
imagine our house will ever be without this special salt to accompany our meals.
Fleur de Sel
Literally flower of salt, fleur de sel is the first thin layer that forms on top of salt marshes
mostly through the effect of drying winds.
Fleur de sel is produced in Brittany and Noirmoutier on the western Atlantic coast of France and in
the Carmague area in the south of France. The most famous of these salts is Fleur de Sel de Guérande
which is distinguished with a Label Rouge, or red label, a sign of high quality in France.
The salt is hand gathered by paludiers (in Guérande) or sauniers (further south), who
use several special wooden tools crafted to fit the specific needs of salt harvesting.
Its refined, delicate, crunchy taste is best appreicated as a condiment.
Celtic Salt - Grey Salt
Grey salt, known as sel gris in France, is a heavier, naturally moist French sea salt that is gathered from
the flats after a period of settling.
It too is gathered with special tools and according to ancient Celtic methods, hence it is
sometimes called Celtic salt.
Its grey tint comes from the minerals in the clay bottomed beds where it is cultivated.
You can buy grey salt in different textures: extra fine, stone ground and coarse depending on your
Grey salt is much appreciated by gourmet cooks.
Sea Salt Nutrition
Because French sea salt is not refined, unlike most table salt, it retains more of the original
nutritive qualities of salt. Fleur de sel is rich in magnesium and although it does contain some
iodine naturally, it does not have iodine added to it like a lot of table salt. However, getting enough iodine is rarely a
problem in our over-salted world.
Are you concerned with consuming too much sodium and therefore hesitate to salt your food, even with a high
quality product like these French sea salts? Please consider that a small sprinkle of salt (and that's all
you will need to enjoy a fleur de sel product) might contain about 50 milligrams of sodium. In comparison,
a fast food hamburger can contain 600 grams. The US RDA for sodium intake is 2400 mg or about 1 teaspoon
of salt. That's a lot of fleur de sel sprinkles or four hamburgers. Your choice!
Salt in French Cooking
Croque-au-sel refers to preparing vegetables, raw or steamed, with only salt and perhaps a
bit of butter as a flavoring. If you have flavorful, fresh produce, this is perhaps the tastiest, and
certainly the most simple way to enjoy them.
Croute-en-sel refers to cooking a dish covered in salt that is afterwards removed. For
example, to make an extra tender roast chicken, you can cover it in rock salt before cooking.
When adding salt to a dish you're cooking, do it the French way. Grab a pinch and hold it high
above the pot or pan, then gradually let the salt sift through your fingers. This is an easy way to judge
how much salt you're adding. Plus it looks good.
Keep in mind that a bit of salt can accentuate the sweet in desserts, can be used as a natural
preservative (for example in duck confit),
and helps to caramelize steamed vegetables to bring out their sweetness.
Salt in French History
I have sometimes wondered about the importance of salt in history, it just didn't seem like that important
of a thing to me. But when you realize that for a long time it was the only way people had to preserve
food, it's importance is evident.
In French history, the tax on salt called the gabelle played an important role in many events.
People who attempted to avoid this tax by illegally importing salt, were known as faux sauniers
(or fake salt harvesters) and were punished brutally. There still exists today a so-called Salt Road
(la Route de sel) which links Italy with the south of France.