Fleur de sel (pronounced "flure-de-SELL") is a rare and expensive form of sea salt that is harvested in parts of France. The name fleur de sel is French for "flower of salt."
Salt is a common mineral on our planet, and most of the salt that's used in cooking is either dug out of the ground, in much the same way coal or other minerals are extracted, or extracted via a technique similar to fracking, where fresh water is pumped into the ground above a salt deposit. The salt dissolves in the water, and the salt-saturated water is then pumped out and evaporated on large heated pans.
Both these methods are comparatively simple, albeit performed on a large scale.
Fleur de sel is produced by a process that is considerably more complicated, which involves collecting the thin layer of salt that rises to the surface of shallow pools of seawater along the coast of France, mainly but not exclusively in the Brittany region. Similar high-end sea salts are produced in parts of Spain, Portugal and the U.K.
A useful analogy might be to think of diver scallops, which are collected by hand, by a human who literally dives to the ocean floor to gather them, as compared with ordinary scallops, which are harvested by a boat dragging a net behind it to scoop them up.
A Rare and Elusive Sea Salt
Because it forms naturally under certain very limited weather conditions, and because it must be skimmed off by hand, fleur de sel is, by any estimation, an extremely expensive product, costing $30 per pound or even more.
This high cost means that it shouldn't be used as an ordinary seasoning. Instead, think of it as almost a garnish or condiment. A few crystals of fleur de sel sprinkled over a dish right before serving add a burst of flavor, visual appeal and even texture.
Here's a 4.4 oz container of fleur de sel (about 125 grams) harvested in coastal parts of the south of France, near where the Rhone river meets the Mediterranean sea. This will set you back about $9, which is actually pretty reasonable as long as you understand that you're purchasing a flavorful and high-end garnish. You would not, for instance, want to use this product for salting your pasta water.
Having obtained a stash of fleur de sel, you will want to use it carefully. For one thing, it is very delicate and will quickly dissolve, so it really should be added to a dish immediately before serving. You'll still taste it after it dissolves, but you won't see it or feel its distinctive texture.
One interesting use of fleur de sel is sprinkling it on candies, on caramels, or other sweet items, like creme brulee, which both heightens and contrasts the sweetness.
It's best to store fleur de sel in a glass or porcelain container (i.e. a jar) with a lid.