In June of 1998, my husband and I spent 10 wonderful days honeymooning in New England. Jim is from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and after 3 plus years of dating, he couldn’t wait to take me back and show me his favorite places. We ate an obscene amount of lobster, did tons of sightseeing, and spent time with his family and friends. It was wonderful, and just as charming as I’d always imagined it would be.
One evening, we went to dinner at the York Harbor Inn in York Maine, with Jim’s parents. As is the case with so many inns along the Maine Seacoast, the York Harbor Inn has a history dating back to 1637. In the 1700’s, John Hancock (yes, THE John Hancock) was a resident of York Harbor and ran a wharf as well as other businesses in the area. The wharf remains there today and is operated as a museum and art gallery by the Old York Historical Society. By the 1870’s, the York Harbor Inn, then known as the Hillcroft Inn, was operating with a handful of guestrooms, a dining room and a tavern. The popular lounge was known as The Cellar, and still operates today as a tavern that pays homage to its history with horse stables converted into cocktail sitting areas, and a functional hitching post outside by The Cellar door.
Okay, enough of the history lesson and back to the dinner! For an appetizer, my mother-in-law Valerie, ordered her favorite; the bacon wrapped scallops. I had eaten bacon wrapped scallops before, but these had a New England twist that took them over the top. They had a maple syrup and mustard sauce that was the glaze and also created the base that they rested on. And while that may sound like a strange and perhaps overly sweet combination, it was divine. When we had finished sharing the scallops, I could see my husband going through the mental debate of whether or not anyone would notice if he licked the plate:)
While I don’t have the exact recipe from the York Harbor Inn, and a quick check of this year’s summer menu no longer has them as an option, I decided to try to emulate the recipe and yet still make it my own. The key to giving these scallops a distinctive New England flavor is in the glaze, with its base of maple syrup. For my glaze, I used a honey mustard, but any Dijon style mustard will work. To offset all of the sweetness, I added a small amount of low sodium soy sauce, some ground ginger, and salt and pepper to taste. For the scallops, use the larger sea scallops, not the tiny bay scallops. For the bacon, use regular not thick sliced. For garnish, I sprinkled some sesame seeds and parsley on the top for additional crunch. See the full recipe below on my new printable and downloadable recipe page!
Scallops are delicious, but also very rich. If making them for an appetizer, plan for 2-3 per person, and for an entree, plan on 4-5 per person. One tip I discovered is that it would be best to par cook the bacon either in a pan or the microwave. This will ensure that it cooks thoroughly under the broiler. Our bacon was just a little under-done, as the scallops cooked faster than the bacon. For our dinner, we had the scallops on a bed of Near East Rice Pilaf, and to continue the New England theme, brussel sprouts with dried cranberries, almonds, and balsamic glaze. It was a good combination. Another tip is that once you’ve made the glaze, divide it in half into two bowls. Use the first bowl for glazing the raw bacon and scallops. Use the second bowl for placing under the cooked scallops on the serving plate. This will prevent cross contamination of raw and cooked food. I forgot to do this and had to make another batch of glaze for serving:(
In the 22 years since my first visit to New England, we have made numerous trips to the area, especially during my in-laws simultaneous illnesses in 2010-2001. We have also been fortunate to share delicious meals at the York Harbor Inn over the years. It is a very special area that has come to own a piece of my heart as well. There are certain foods that have the ability to transport you back to another time or place; fresh baked bread in your mothers kitchen, the fried chicken at a family picnic, or the aromas from a favorite restaurant. That’s exactly how it is for me and bacon wrapped scallops. Whenever I see them on the menu, I am immediately taken back to that first fun evening at the York Harbor Inn, and the night Jim almost licked the plate.