Clam sauce, but a little hot and spicy

Most of the time, canned oysters are a backup measure, something to reach for when you’re craving spaghetti, vongol, or a steaming bowl of chowder but fresh bivalves aren’t on the cards.

Not so for the clam dip, which was made specifically for canned oysters.

The recipe’s heyday was in the 1950s, so unsurprisingly its main ingredients are two supermarket staples – cream cheese and canned oysters – blended together, then seasoned with a little chili, Worcestershire and lemon juice. Fresh oysters will be as misplaced as pink albacore slices in a tuna melt. The whole point of clam talk is to celebrate the comfort of the can.

Most classic recipes are served cold or at room temperature. But, inspired by my huge love of hot crab dip, I tried baking a clam-cream cheese mixture just to see what would happen.

Very good things followed.

In another nod toward the crab dip, I tossed in some shredded cheese, something you’ll never see on a cold dip, for an attractive sticky gooey texture that helps it clump on your chips. Another benefit of hot dipping: Oysters become soft instead of a bit chewy, which is a welcome change.

To squeeze things out, I added jalapenos, hot sauce, and green onions to the mix. The quantities given make for a full-flavored dip that isn’t too fiery. Feel free to use more or pull it off a bit to suit your heat tolerance and taste.

One of the unconventional and optional ingredients here is fish sauce. This intoxicating amber liquid is the essence of seafood and really enhances the flavor of the dipping. If you’re using it, you probably won’t need to add salt, as it gives the dish saltiness with an extra umami shake.

Like all hot dips, this one is at its best right out of the oven, and stays good for about another hour or so, after which it starts to fade.

If you want to make ahead, mix the dip up to three days in advance and store in the refrigerator. It gets better as the flavors soften with each other. Then bake the dip as soon as possible. And don’t worry about it getting too hot: The chances of this rich, delicious cream being infused long enough to chill are slim at best.

Recipe: spicy clam sauce

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