Most of the time, canned clams are a fallback measure, something to reach for when you’re craving spaghetti alle vongole or a steaming bowl of chowder but fresh bivalves are just not in the cards.
Not so for clam dip, which was, quite specifically, made for canned clams.
The recipe’s heyday was in the 1950s, so unsurprisingly, its main ingredients are two supermarket staples — cream cheese and canned clams — that are mixed together, then spiced up with a little cayenne, Worcestershire and lemon juice. Fresh clams would be as out of place as a pink fillet of albacore in a tuna melt. Clam dip’s whole point is to celebrate the convenience of the can.
Most classic recipes are served cold or at room temperature. But, inspired by my outsize love of hot crab dip, I tried baking the clam and cream cheese mixture just to see what would happen.
Very good things ensued.
In another nod toward that crab dip, I threw in some grated cheese, something you’d never see in a cold dip, for an appealing gooey-molten texture that helps it mound onto your potato chip. Another benefit of hot dip: The clams turn supple instead of being slightly chewy, a welcome change.
To zip things up, I added jalapeño, hot sauce and scallions to the mix. The amounts given make a full-flavored dip that’s not too fiery. Feel free to use more or pull it back a bit to suit your heat tolerance and taste.
One untraditional and optional ingredient here is fish sauce. That heady amber liquid is the very essence of seafood and really bolsters the flavor of the dip. If you use it, you probably won’t need to add salt, as it gives the dish saltiness with a bonus umami jolt.
Like all hot dips, this one is at its best right out of the oven, and it stays nearly as good for another hour or so, after which it starts to fade.
If you want to work ahead, mix the dip up to three days in advance and store it in the fridge. It gets better as the flavors soften into one another. Then bake the dip as close to serving time as possible. And don’t worry about its temperature too much: Chances of a dip this creamy, rich and savory lasting long enough to get cold are slim at best.
Recipe:Spicy Clam Dip
Follow New York Times Cooking on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, TikTok and Pinterest. Get regular updates from New York Times Cooking, with recipe suggestions, cooking tips and shopping advice.