Grilled sardines on a fig leaf, served with a simple sliced fennel salad. Picture: New York Times
Consider the sardine. The name alone evokes a crowded subway car (“packed in like sardines”) or saltine crackers — or, if you’re me, a lip-smacking treat.

The sight of sardines in an opened can, pressed together tightly and cleverly layered, is actually quite beautiful. If you are a fan, a portable lunch of tinned sardines and crackers is a fine thing. 

Some, however, prefer a canned-sardine sandwich, whether on white bread with mayo and onions, on toasted buttered brown bread, or open-faced on rye with lettuce and tomato.

Simple Grilled Sardines (Serves 4)

8 fresh sardines, cleaned and scaled
Salt and pepper
Extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium fennel bulbs, trimmed and very finely sliced
Lemon wedges
2 tablespoons chopped parsley, for garnish

Grilled sardines on a fig leaf, served with a simple sliced fennel salad. Picture: New York Times
Prepare a medium-hot charcoal fire or stovetop grill pan, or light the broiler.

Season sardines inside and out with salt and pepper and paint both sides lightly with olive oil
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Lay sardines on the grill and cook them on one side for about 2 minutes, until nicely browned. (Sardines rarely stick to the grill.) Carefully flip sardines and cook for about 2 minutes more, until just done.

Transfer each portion to individual plates. Put the sliced fennel in a bowl and season with salt and pepper. 

Dress with about 2 tablespoons olive oil and a squeeze of lemon. Place a pile of dressed fennel evenly on each plate. 

Serve with lemon wedges and a sprinkle of parsley.

The New York Times