How to Make a Salt Flower Out of Your Homemade Fleur De Lis
Fleur de Sely is an old French salt with a long history. It originated in Corsica and is often called the Queen of Salt or les saislets in French. The salt has been used by the Victorians for table salt, by the Greeks and by the Japanese.
It’s easy to understand why people prefer it to table salt: the taste is better, and it lasts longer. But what’s not so easy to figure out is just why this very salty fish is such a favored additive to dishes. Is it a better replacement, a better blend, or simply a coincidence? The following explanation might help you determine whether fleur de sel is right for you. Fleur de sel has a long tradition in many areas of France, but the best place to learn about it is probably in Corsica where the population has always eaten this type of coarse salt on a daily basis.
The origin of fleur de sel is almost as mystifying as its taste. In fact, it may well be one of the most controversial aspects of French cooking, especially in regions where it is native. One story traces it back to the middle ages when a merchant from Corsica supposedly decided that it was a good idea to add the salty fish to his baked potatoes. Some legend has it that the potato stuck to the inside of the baked potato was a result of fleur de sel rubbing off during the baking process. No matter how you look at it, though, the term has stuck and French cooks have been using it ever since.
A more recent tale describes how the salty sliver became associated with the French cuisine in general. Certain dishes, like Gorgonzola, are made using gu rande roux, a paste made from leftover bread crumbs or other ingredients ground into a fine dust, which is then added to butter or oil and spread onto the vegetables before being cooked. Though it appears to be similar to fleur de sel, there’s a big difference between the two: the former goes to enrich the flavor and texture of the food and the latter serves more as a preservative than anything else.
As for the debate over fleur de sel and gu rande roux, the consensus seems to be that the former is the real thing. That is to say, it’s salty and tastes just like table salt. However, this doesn’t mean that you have to break out your dictionary and refer to the Oxford English Dictionary in order to determine the appropriate usage of this seasoning. You’ll get the right amount of salt for your cooking needs when you follow these simple rules:
To make a roux, start by grinding fresh sea salt until it becomes a powder. It should be quite coarse (a little like coarse sand) in order to distribute the salt evenly on the food. Then, add a few drops of water, a little at a time, to the mixture and stir until it becomes elastic. Then, using a pastry bag fitted with a small round tip, drop the mixture into your prepared pastry shell. Gather the petals as they fall and then flatten them with your fingers until they are no longer soft.
Another thing that distinguishes salt flowers from fleur de sel is that the former should be applied over the entire surface of the food or the cake, while the latter is applied only to the top layer. If you’re going to apply the former, remember to go slowly, as what you’re doing here is to ensure a smooth, even surface all the way through. When you’re done, make sure to gently wipe your work with a piece of tissue paper, as this will help you avoid any stains or mineral build-ups. On the other hand, when you’re done with fleur de sel, remember to leave the sheet of salt exposed to the air. This will ensure that the top layer dries out thoroughly, but in such a way that you can just sprinkle on the right amount of salt flower over the dry top layer.
The key to creating this type of dish is to apply the Fleur De Sel properly. It works best to go over the entire surface area of the cake or pastry, as this guarantees even distribution of the salt over the entire surface. As you start out with the process, remember that you are not supposed to do this for more than half an hour, as the longer you leave it, the more mineral build-up you will have. When you reach this point, you should lift the sheet of gauze and sprinkle on the right amount of salt. Finally, lift the sheet and gently shake off the excess, leaving your newly created fleur de sel to dry in the air for about an hour.