Tide to Table Profiles: Madhouse Oysters
Madhouse Oysters is a shellfish farm located in Hooper's Island, Maryland.
On Hoopers Island, a tiny chain of islands in Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay, Madhouse Oysters cultivates the Eastern Oyster. Entrepreneurial shellfish farms such as Madhouse Oysters provide sustainable jobs for the local community that allow area residents to make a living on the water like many generations before them.
Oysters from different areas have their own flavor profiles; they can be briny or sweet based on the salinity (salt content) of the waters in which they grow. Madhouse Oysters sells to various restaurants along the coast; chefs at raw bars will often feature oysters from several different farms to suit a range of palates. “Each region has a unique flavor; order a few oysters from different places and find out what suits you,” suggests owner Ted Cooney.
Growing Rocks for a Living
Madhouse Oysters owner Ted Conney jokingly compares their aquaculture enterprise to “growing rocks for a living.” At the Madhouse hatchery, each oyster is grown from a seed-sized larvae called spat. Over the course of several months, the farm uses a system of water tanks, known as upwellers, to raise the larvae until they are large enough to be moved to the bay.
Once in the Bay, a variety of gear including off-bottom cages, floating cages, and Seapa baskets allow the oysters to filter feed and grow. As the oysters continue to grow, they are tumbled and sorted by size into new cages to provide space to filter feed until they grow large enough for harvest. Tumbling, where oysters are placed in a spinning metal cylinder, knocks off the sharp edges of the shell to promote the development of a deep meaty cup before the shellfish reaches market.
Sustainability in Action
The Chesapeake Bay is the third largest estuary in the world. As filter feeders, oysters are an important resource for keeping the bay clean. One adult oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water per day. By eating phytoplankton Madhouse oysters maintain a water quality that helps aquatic ecosystems thrive.
Madhouse Oysters donates a portion of their revenue to Lifetime Wells International, a nonprofit that drills wells in Ghana and Tanzania to give communities access to safe, clean drinking water.
Recipe: Grilled Oysters
Never shucked an oyster before? No problem, you can learn here.
- 16 whole oysters in the shell
- 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- black pepper to taste
- 1 tablespoon parsley, minced
- Old Bay seasoning (a Maryland classic)
- Hot sauce of choice
- Heat a small saucepan over medium heat. When hot, add the olive oil and butter. Add the garlic and saute for 30 seconds. Add lemon juice, salt, pepper, and parsley. You can also add the optional hot sauce and/or Old Bay seasoning. Turn off heat.
- Shuck the oysters and spoon a little sauce into each oyster. Place oysters on preheated grill, cover and cook for 5-6 minutes or until the edges of oyster meat curl slightly. You will want to use thick BBQ gloves or tongs to handle the hot oysters.
- Remove the oysters from the grill. Lift carefully so you don’t lose any sauce. Enjoy!
Notes for Non-Shuckers:
Another option is to cook the oysters cup side up on a grill, covered, for 1 minute. This will slightly open them, and enable you to fully open them with a shucking knife. Hold the oyster with an oven mitt to protect your hand as you shuck. After you have opened the oysters, spoon some sauce into each one and grill for 4-5 minutes.
To learn more about Madhouse Oysters, visit their website. To learn more about shellfish restoration in the Chesapeake, visit NOAA’s Chesapeake Bay Office.
Sustainable Seafood from Tide to Table
The Tide to Table series profiles members of the aquaculture community, who provide valuable jobs and increase access to fresh, sustainably sourced American seafood. Aquaculture is about more than seafood production. It also promotes ecosystem stewardship, coastal communities, and economic opportunities.