This is a great holiday dish that is a good reminder that summer is only about 6 months away in Vermont!!
Recipe tip: For a Vermont twist you can substitute local smelt for the sardines and either grill them or fry them.
8–16 fresh sardines (8 if large, 16 if small), heads and tails removed, gutted
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 bulbs fennel
2 cups baby arugula
4 blood oranges, peeled and segmented (can substitute navel oranges or clementines)
Remove the spines from the sardines. With the skin side down, flatten the sardine as best you can without tearing up the meat too much. Grab the spine where the head would have been and gently pull the spine away from the sardine. The bones should come right out with the spine. There will be some tiny bones left but will not be an issue.
Next, marinate the sardines. Mix together the garlic, thyme, pepper flakes with half the oil. Add the sardines and toss to coat. Let marinate about 30–45 minutes.
To prepare the salad, thinly slice the fennel on a mandolin (or with a sharp knife if you do not have a mandolin). Toss the fennel with the arugula, orange segments and the rest of the oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Evenly distribute salad on 4 plates in the back center of the plate.
Preheat grill to medium-high.
Place the sardines, skin side down, on the grill. After 1 minute turn the sardines over and cook an additional 45–60 seconds (larger sardines will take a bit longer).
Remove from grill and place in front of the salad on the plates—2 per plate if they are big and 4 if they are small.
Serve immediately with crisp, dry white wine.