Clam Dip is a quick and easy party appetizer you can make for a large gathering, be it a backyard BBQ, sports event, holiday, or other celebration.
This easy creamy dip studded with bits of clams is given the Maryland treatment with the addition of Old Bay Seasoning. Cream cheese and sour cream make the base of the dip while tangy and spicy prepared horseradish, Worcestershire, lemon, shallots, chives, and parsley round it out making an extra special party dip.
I suggest making it a day or two earlier which allows the flavors to meld and develop and for the dip to firm up. This recipe makes a generous amount so put out plenty of chips, crackers, and crudités.
What is Old Bay Seasoning?
Old Bay Seasoning is a spice blend created in Baltimore by Gustav Brunn, a refugee from a German concentration camp. The spice mix was formulated for seafood, specifically crabs and shrimp. It is still especially popular for Maryland blue crab boils and crab cakes.
The main ingredient is celery salt followed by a secret recipe of “spices,” and red pepper, black pepper, and paprika. It adds a salty warming savoriness and spicy kick to this Clam Dip recipe.
This seasoning shouldn’t be limited to just seafood though—it can liven up fried foods like French fries or fried green tomatoes, mixed with butter for corn on the cob or popcorn, or added to or on the rim of drinks like a Bloody Mary.
Best Clams for Clam Dip
I always use canned clams for this dip because they are easier to work with than fresh clams, are more convenient, and inexpensive.
Canned clams are cooked and packaged as either whole clams, chopped or minced, either in water or clam juice. Sometimes preservatives, salt, and sugar are added to the clam juice.
For this recipe I prefer Snow’s Bumblebee Chopped Clams because it has stronger clam flavor than other varieties that I’ve tried. The chopped clams are irregular in size—some minced and some larger pieces, which creates an interesting texture to the dip. Plus, the recipient of a larger clam will feel like they’ve won a prize. Any clams deemed too large can always be chopped smaller, though I didn’t feel it necessary.
If you want to know more about canned clams, how to cook with them, and how they’re different than fresh clams this guide has you covered.
What Cream Cheese to Use?
My go-to cream cheese is a block of Philadelphia Cream Cheese. Blocks of cream cheese should soften within an hour at room temp. You can quicken the softening by cutting the cheese into cubes and placing in a single layer on a plate.
If you’re really in a rush, you can unwrap and transfer the block to a microwave-safe plate and microwave in short 10-second bursts until soft. I haven’t tried to use cream cheese that comes already whipped because, frankly, it’s more expensive so I never have it on hand. I imagine it would work if that’s what you have on hand.
Ingredient Swaps and Substitutions
This dip is pretty forgiving with substitutes so rifle through your pantry before heading to the store. Here are some swaps and subs that you might already have in your pantry:
- If you don’t have Old Bay seasoning, you can make mimic the main flavors using celery salt, or a mix of ground celery seeds and salt, crushed red pepper flakes or cayenne, paprika, and black pepper.
- Old Bay Seasoning is the main source of salt in this recipe. It you feel that it needs more salt but it’s getting too spicy for your palate, add kosher salt to taste.
- Conversely, if you want more zing but it’s getting too salty, add a couple of dashes of hot sauce or pinches of cayenne or coarsely crushed black peppercorns.
- I prefer the freshness of lemon for both the zest and juice but free to substitute with white wine vinegar.
- Add garlic powder or onion powder for or in addition to the shallots and chives.
- Substitute red onions for the shallot.
- Substitute scallions for the chives.
- Substitute mayo for the sour cream, although you may want to use less mayo. While many dips substitute Greek yogurt for sour cream, I’m not a fan of that substitution unless it’s for an herb dip.
- If you have a head of celery, chop up some of the leaves for another layer of celery flavor.
- Swap canned smoked clams for the plain ones.
- If using whipped cream cheese, get a double dose of allium and herb flavoring by using flavored cream cheese like a garlic, chive, or an onion one.
Taking out the Old Bay Seasoning and horseradish from this recipe leaves you with a pretty basic clam dip. You can also take out the chopped clams and use other seafood here too.
Feel free to use other clam-based or seafood-based dishes as inspiration for variations on a dip. Take out the old bay seasoning and horseradish and add in the below ingredients for new spins on a dip:
- Make a play on clam chowder by using grated garlic, finely chopped celery, and chopped bacon.
- Make this more like the French version of tartar sauce by adding chopped tarragon, capers, and cornichons.
- To make a shrimp dip: Remove the chopped clams, add in chopped, cooked, shelled, small pink shrimp, also known as salad shrimp
- To make a smoked salmon dip add chopped up smoked salmon.
Make Ahead Clam Dip
This dip benefits from being made ahead of time so that the flavors have time to meld and for the dip to thicken up. Make this up to two to three days ahead of time and store, covered, in the refrigerator. Garnish just before serving.
How to Scale Up Clam Dip
This recipe makes a generous three cups so you should be able to feed about 10 people, maybe more depending on how many other dishes are being served at your gathering. If you need more, you can easily double or triple the recipe.
Chips! Sturdy, thick, ridged or kettle chips are a classic combo with clam dip. Crackers and crudités are popular too.
Store the dip in airtight container for up to three days.
More Party Dip Recipes
This clam dip is best when chilled for several hours or a day or two for the flavors to meld as well as for the dip to firm up. If serving the dip immediately, use half the amount of sour cream and add more as necessary to get it to the thickness you’d like.
1 (8 ounce) block cream cheese, room temperature
1 large shallot, minced
1/4 cup chopped parsley
3 tablespoons chopped chives
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 teaspoons Old Bay seasoning, or to taste
6 teaspoons prepared horseradish, drained
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup sour cream
3 (6 1/2 ounce) cans chopped clams in clam juice, drained with 1 tablespoon clam juice reserved
Chopped parsley, for garnish
Thick-sliced potato chips, crackers, or crudités
Make the clam dip:
In a medium bowl, beat the cream cheese with a handheld mixer on medium speed until smooth. A whisk will work fine if the cream cheese is very soft.
Add the shallots, parsley, chives, lemon zest and juice, Old Bay, horseradish, Worcestershire sauce, black pepper, and sour cream.
Add the clams and clam juice:
If any of the clams are too large for your liking, chop them smaller. It’s nice to have a mixture of sizes—it feels like you’ve won a prize when you get an occasional larger piece of clam.
Add the clams and the 1 tablespoon of reserved clam juice. The clam juice will provide more clam flavor to the dip, but it will be fine if you don’t include it.
Mix the dip on low speed until well combined.
Taste dip and adjust seasoning:
Taste the dip and adjust seasonings, if needed. The Old Bay is the main source of salt so add more if needed or add kosher salt if the dip is already at a good spice level for you.
Chill the clam dip:
Cover and chill the dip for at least 2 hours and up to 3 days.
Garnish dip and serve:
Sprinkle with the reserved parsley just before serving with chips, crackers, or crudités.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 13g||17%|
|Saturated Fat 7g||36%|
|Total Carbohydrate 8g||3%|
|Dietary Fiber 1g||2%|
|Total Sugars 3g|
|Vitamin C 6mg||29%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|