My dad was a fairly typical dad of his generation. He was not a cook like Tyler Florence, or Emeril Lagasse, and while he now enjoys watching Alton Brown–it is largely for the science content, I suspect (he was a biologist). And though he would barbecue burgers or steak occasionally (we lived in Northern Indiana, so the grilling season was short), he wasn’t exactly Bobby Flay, either. But I do recall those burgers and steaks with great fondness. The only other meal I really remember him making was his awesome French toast, usually when my mom was gone. But the dish that makes me think of my dad more than any other is his clam dip and chips he made for us.
Clam dip was a special occasion appetizer for us, and every Notre Dame football game we didn’t go to (he taught there from ’70-’84) was an occasion to break it out at home while we watched on tv, as were birthdays and holidays and bowl games (same thing, really).
It really is a remarkably simple (plain, Colleen would say…) recipe that I’m sure benefits much from the childhood memories and family connections I associate with it. My dad’s recipe, which he got from his mom, was simply a block of cream cheese, a can of minced clams with juice, worcestershire sauce, and garlic salt. And growing up, that was all we needed.
I’ve modified it just a bit in my later years, replacing regular cream cheese with low fat neufchatel cheese, replacing garlic salt with garlic powder (I think the chips add enough salt), adding dried onion flakes, and occasionally adding a little lemon juice, horseradish, or hot sauce, to pep it up a bit. I’ll also get baked chips to make it marginally healthier when Colleen is eating it with us, but really, what kind of health benefits do you expect from chips and dip? I’ve written it up below with the way I do it most often with the kids, but added the occasional additions as a note. For the record, until the last time I made it, I’d also never measured any of the ingredients before. This is the kind of thing where you just sort of add things to your own taste and adjust until it is right, but the amounts below are pretty close to how we eat it.
- 1 Block Neufchatel Cream Cheese (8 ounces)
- 1 Can Minced Clams (Chopped is too big)
- 2 Tsp Worcestershire Sauce
- 1½ Tbsp Dried Minced Onion
- ½ Tsp Garlic Powder
- Dump room temperature cream/neufchatel cheese into bowl.
- Open can of clams, pour juice into glass.
- Dump clams into cream/neufchatel cheese.
- Add worcestershire sauce, onion, and garlic to taste (something close to the proportions above).
- Add about half of the clam juice, or a little more until you can stir the dip into a consistency that scoops well onto a chip in a way that doesn’t break the chip, but doesn’t turn into a liquid that won’t stay on the chip.
- Put dip into refrigerator (especially if you got it too watery). You can store overnight–I usually make it the night before to let the flavors mix and let the dip set.
- Serve with potato chips!
I sometimes will add a tablespoon of lemon juice, a teaspoon of horseradish, or a half teaspoon of Louisiana-style hot sauce to the mixture, depending on my mood. Colleen is not a big fan of the clam dip without at least some of the “spiced up” alternatives added.