When you're in the mood for a great-tasting meal, but short on time, pick up some fish fillets.

Fresh Fish and Herbs
Credit: Jennifer Davick / Styling: Lisa Powell Bailey / Food Styling: Kristi Michele Crowe

How to Choose the Perfect Fillet

Truly fresh fish smells only faintly of the sea. A little salt and coarsely ground pepper along with a drizzle of olive oil are the only things needed to bring out the fabulous flavor. A sprinkling of fresh herbs is purely optional.

Rather than shop for a specific type of fish, see what looks the freshest.

Similar types of fish can usually be substituted in a recipe. If the ingredient list calls for a mild-flavored white fish such as cod, for example, you can easily substitute orange roughy or snapper. Bolder-flavored fish, such as tuna and swordfish, are often interchangeable.

Fresh fish should be stored on ice in the display counter and well drained so that water doesn't pool around it.

Fillets should look moist and firm, with no discoloration or dryness around the edges. Whole fish should have clear, shiny eyes; moist red gills; and scales that cling tightly to the skin.

High-tech methods of freezing lock in fresh flavor, providing a quality selection of fish year-round.

Look for packages that are clean and tightly sealed, with no signs of freezer burn. Allow 24 hours to thaw a 1-pound package of frozen fish in the refrigerator. Speeding up the process by thawing at room temperature or under running water drains the moisture and breaks down the texture of the fish.

WATCH: The Best Way To Grill Fish

Fix It Fast

Fish fillets are as quick and easy to cook as boneless chicken breasts and almost as versatile. In fact, many of the same cooking methods and dry seasoning blends used for chicken work equally well with fish.

It takes just 3 to 4 minutes to sauté thin fillets in a hot skillet. (A general rule is to cook fish about 7 to 10 minutes per inch of thickness.) Use a well-seasoned cast-iron or nonstick skillet, and turn the pieces only once―the first side down gets the crispest. Baked or broiled fillets don't need to be turned at all. To check for doneness, slip a small knife under the fish and gently lift. When fully cooked, the fillet will begin to flake and break open, changing in color from translucent to opaque.