Christophe Happillon, the Master Ecailler
Ecailler is the old name of Oysters in French (called Huîtres today). It is now the professional label of seafood specialists in charge of preparing seafood plates, skilled in manipulating and shucking oysters and other shell fish.
They will ensure the freshness and quality of the sea food. This knowledge is aquired either by years of experience or in specialized classes, in both cases, a diploma is delivered.
Christophe Happillon is a diplomed Master Ecailler.
Fresh oysters must be alive just before consumption or cooking. There is only one criterion: the oyster must be capable of tightly closing its shell. Open oysters should be tapped on the shell: a live oyster will close up and is safe to eat.
Oysters which are open and unresponsive are dead and must be discarded. Some dead oysters, or oyster shells which are full of sand may be closed. These make a distinctive noise when tapped, and are known as clackers.
Opening oysters requires skill. The preferred method is to use a special knife (called an oyster knife, a variant of a shucking knife), with a short and thick blade about 5 centimetres (2.0 in) long.
Insert the blade, with moderate force and vibration if necessary, at the hinge between the two valves. Then twist the blade until there is a slight pop. Then slide the blade upward to cut the adductor muscle which holds the shell closed. Inexperienced shuckers can apply too much force, which can result in injury if the blade slips. Heavy gloves are necessary: apart from the knife, the shell itself can be razor sharp. Professional shuckers require less than 3 seconds to do the deed.
If the oyster has a particularly soft shell, the knife can be inserted instead in the sidedoor, about halfway along one side where the oyster lips widen and there is a slight indentation.
A Master Ecailler, such as Christophe, provides the customer the assurance the are getting oysters that are the freshest and of the highest quality.