Creative Cooking

Figuring Out Fleur de Sel (Ocean Salt)

During a recent minibreak to New Orleans, I realized two things: 1) If prepared well, muffulettas are terrific and 2) I have been confusing, at least in my head, fleur de sel and fleur de lis.

The latter is hard to escape in New Orleans, which has appropriated this botanical design as a symbol of the city's vitality. The former, an aromatic ocean salt, is not entirely absent either from NOLA given its remarkable and often francophilic food scene. In any case, I am pretty sure that at multiple points in the past, I invoked the sign rather than the seasoning in casual speech. Props to the listeners who were too polite/kind to correct me. Clearly none of them were my high school French teacher.

Fleurs de lis are lovely and good, but fleur de sel is to me infinitely more appealing because its versatility as an ingredient facilitates culinary promiscuity. These days everything from pancakes to pigeons seems to be sprinkled with fleur de sel.

This artisanal sea salt is what elevates Celebrity Cupcake's chocolate-on-chocolate cupcake into a sophisticated confection that wonderfully straddles the sweet/savory divide. (Okay, the caramel filling doesn't hurt either.)

And, at Uchi, fleur de sel is why the house salad is anything but pedestrian. A dash of sea salt on the hydroponic greens highlights their crisp, refreshing quality and enhances the fragrant heat of the edamame jalapeño dressing.

Added in the very last stages of a dish's preparation, fleur de sel is the ultimate edible accoutrement, the parting touch between entrée and chef. Of, if you're cooking for yourself, as I often am, it's a final flourish that gussies up boxed butterscotch pudding and renders that rare steak you haphazardly marinated into haute cuisine. If it weren't so darn expensive, I would probably line margarita glasses with it, though perhaps that's going too far.

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Joanna O'Leary