From our Ask the Chef series:
Q: I live where fresh oysters are not available. We must rely on canned ones. As a result, I have not made oyster stew for 30 years. Questions I need answered are:
1) What does it mean when it says "boiled oysters" on the can? Some cans don't have that instruction.
2) I used to buy a brand called Blue Plate which had Cove oysters. What is the difference, and do you know if you can still by blue Plate brand anywhere?
A: Canned oysters are either fresh or smoked—either way they are cooked and edible right out of the can. However, they are usually used as an ingredient, whether in a dip, a soup or chowder, a stuffing, or a casserole. Presumably the ones you are finding that say "boiled" are not smoked, which means they retain more of the original oyster flavor.
Canned oysters can usually be stored unopened for up to a year from purchase (check that expiration date). Once opened, be sure to refrigerate any unused portion and use within two days.
As for brands, we aren't familiar with Blue Plate and don't find anything in our archives so would throw it open to any readers who know the brand. If you need oyster recipes or more background on oysters, you might check out our documentary on the Gulf, complete with some great recipes from New Orleans' chefs who know their oysters. Find them in "related links" to the right.