New England-Style Clam Dip

Recently, I was thinking about all of the questionable things I eat to this day, because of the positive associations I have between these marginal food items, and memories of time spent with my dad. Snacking was of great importance to both of my parents; a plate of vegetables and dip would almost always appear before dinner, for example, and my dad’s late-night trays of celery ribs spread with both cream cheese and peanut butter were legendary.

Every occasion, it seemed, provided a new opportunity for snacking. Company in the evening meant cocktails with trays piled with cucumber sandwiches, while an airing of “The Wonder Years” or VHS-taped episodes of David Letterman from the night before* meant that someone would be cracking into a bag of Pepperidge Farm “Geneva” cookies. And just when you thought the cookies were gone, you could pull out the paper divider to find another layer of dark chocolate and walnuts.

*Unrelated detail that seems to bear mentioning: My dad and I would watch sitcoms together at night in my parent’s room. It was a special time when just the two of us would hang out, in a house full of lots of other kids. There was a chimney running next to the head of the bed, and pounded into the cement between the bricks was a tiny nail, and hanging from that tiny nail was a pair of antique doctor’s forceps, which my dad occasionally used as a roach clip and which probably had much more of a bearing on the amount of snacking going on at the time than I perhaps understood.

My mom’s snacks were always fancy; some good cheese, maybe, or the kind of fancy lady crackers that have seeds on them and come in divided plastic trays, spread with pate, a squeeze of lemon juice, and a few capers, or steamed artichokes, with leaves that she would remove one at a time and plunge headfirst into a fat tablespoon of mayonnaise. Though these snacks may align more closely with my grown-up snacking sensibilities, as a kid, my tastes tended to more closely resemble my dad’s. It’s his snacks that have shamefully stuck with me most, that trigger some deep-seated pleasure response in reaction to a mix of unholy amounts of fat, MSG, and a father’s (sometimes difficult to earn) approval.

Spaghetti in a can. Evaporated milk. Smoked oysters. Cheez-it crackers. Cream of Mushroom condensed soup. Steak-Umms. Saltine crackers spread with butter. And this: New England Clam Dip, made with an entire brick of cream cheese and a can (a can!) of chopped clams, and scooped up with Cape Cod kettle potato chips.

This is the stuff, my friends. The stuff that fueled evenings soaked with gin and episodes of “America’s Funniest Home Videos.” The stuff that packed at least 75 pounds on my dad’s previously wiry, seacaptain’s frame, and sent him snoozing to the barcalounger by 11PM. The stuff that made doctors scratch their heads, even as they upped his Lipitor dosage. It’s got no fresh ingredients, nothing artisinal, and nothing made locally. It’s also jaw-droppingly delicious, whether you’re swiping crunchy chips through it, or running your finger around the wet edge of the serving bowl in an effort to get every last precious drop.* And now that “prepackaged clam dip” no longer seems to be something that’s sold at the supermarket, I thought it was high time that I taught you to make it, too.

*True story: My dad used to store the clam dip leftovers in the plastic cream cheese tub. Once, as a teenager, I unknowingly spread some on a bagel. Even after realizing my mistake, the result was so delicious, that I ate the whole thing and never looked back.

Please remember that eating this means likely consuming an entire brick of cream cheese, likely in one sitting. This is not a snack that is good for you. In fact, I only allow myself a batch around once a year, usually around the holidays, and usually when I’m thinking about my papacito.

New England Style Clam Dip

New England-Style Clam Dip
 
Author:
Serves: About 1 cup
Ingredients
  • 1 8-oz block of Philadelphia cream cheese, softened
  • 1 heaping tablespoon sour cream
  • 1 6.5 ounce can minced clams (with about half of the liquid drained)
  • ¼ cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon Sriracha (or your favorite hot sauce)
  • Squeeze of lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
Method
  1. Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Mix thoroughly to combine.
 

Malcolm Bedell is co-author of the critically acclaimed "Eating in Maine: At Home, On the Town, and On the Road," as well as the taco-centric blog "Eat More Tacos," and the junk food-centric "Spork & Barrel." His contributions include Serious Eats, Down East, L.A. Weekly, The Guardian, and The Huffington Post and his food truck, "'Wich, Please," was named "Hottest Restaurant in Maine" for 2015 by Eater. Finally, he finds it very silly to be trying to write this in the third person.

10 Comments

  1. Thank you for this recipe at such a perfect time. My mom and I used to polish off a container of Helluva Good clam dip in it’s hey day… I guess it’s just not in vogue or foodie enough these days! I’m hosting Christmas this year and told my mom I was determined to find a recipe. Found a copy cat but didn’t sound or look 1/2 as good as yours. But you are correct…nothing but kettle chips for the dipping.Or possibly just a spoon!!! Merry Christmas to you and yours!!

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    1. Oh, how you’ve hit the nail on the head. Being from Maine, and being lucky enough to see the ocean, our family revels in clam dip. A get together is not complete without my mom making a batch of this lovely concoction. It is not abnormal for one of the grown up grand kids to fly into the cottage, give a hug and kiss to her, and head for the fridge…because they know it’s there, waiting. We all indulge, circled round the dip dish, with chips in hand, saying “Why, why is this so good?”. But we continue eating, laughing and exchanging stories of what’s going on in our lives. Thank you for bringing a smile to my face this Sunday morning, I’ve forwarded it to all of my family, and I know they’ll understand why.

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