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This delicious clam dip is slightly spicy

  • NEW YORK TIMES PHOTO

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.

Spicy Clam Dip

Ingredients:

• 8 ounces cream cheese, softened

• 1/2 cup sour cream or plain Greek yogurt

• 2 (6.5-ounce) cans whole clams (1 cup), coarsely chopped (save the clam juice)

• 1/2 cup packaged, low-moisture grated mozzarella

• 1/4 cup finely chopped parsley

• 3 tablespoons thinly sliced scallions, plus more for garnish

• 1 jalapeño, seeded (if desired) and finely chopped

• 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

• 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

• 1 teaspoon hot sauce, plus more to taste

• 1 teaspoon fish sauce (optional) or clam juice, plus more to taste

Salt, if needed, and freshly ground black pepper

• 1/4 cup grated Parmesan

Potato chips, for serving

Directions:

Heat oven to 425 degrees. In a large bowl, using a fork or rubber spatula, stir and mash together the softened cream cheese and sour cream until smooth.

Add clams, mozzarella, parsley, scallions, jalapeño, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, fish sauce or a teaspoon of reserved clam juice, and lots of black pepper, and stir until well combined. If the mixture seems thick, stir in a little more reserved clam juice.

Taste and adjust seasonings, if necessary. If you think it needs salt, add it lightly, or try adding a little more fish sauce or more clam juice instead. Dip can be made up to 3 days in advance and stored in the refrigerator before baking.

Transfer mixture to shallow 1-quart ceramic baking dish or gratin dish. Sprinkle Parmesan on top and bake until golden brown and bubbling, about 30-35 minutes. Garnish with sliced scallions, and serve hot or warm with potato chips.

Total time: 40 minutes, serves 6.

Tip:

If you’d like to serve this dip cold, skip the mozzarella and Parmesan and mound the mixture into a bowl for serving.

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