Fish in a Flash

If you feel like you’re, um, in over your head when it comes to cooking fish and shellfish, here’s some good news: You can reel in some delicious seafood dinners without a lot of time or effort. Here’s how to enjoy the catch du jour:

Buy ahead on occasion. Even though fish and shellfish are best cooked on the day you buy them, they will keep for a day when properly stored. Just be sure to wrap your purchase loosely in plastic wrap, store it in the coldest part of your fridge, and cook it as soon as possible.

Save time, sauté. Heat a little extra-virgin olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking, then add the fish fillets. Cook thin fillets over medium-high; for thicker fillets, reduce the heat to medium. Flip the fillets once, but don’t keep flipping or the fish will break up. Cook until the fish just flakes when tested with a fork.

Go elegant yet effortless. Try cooking fish “en papillote,” which means “in parchment.” Place the fish on a piece of parchment large enough to make a packet around the contents: Top the fish fillets with seasonings like a mixture of rice vinegar and lower-sodium soy sauce, or with fresh herbs and lemon slices, along with some thinly sliced vegetables, such as fennel, zucchini, scallions, or carrots (on Phase 2). Fold the parchment paper so it looks like a packet and roll the edges to seal. Bake at 400ºF until the fish flakes easily and the vegetables are tender (usually about 15 minutes).

Enjoy it with pasta. If you like shellfish, stir-fry some scallops or shrimp in 1 tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil along with some freshly chopped garlic. Meanwhile, steam or microwave some vegetables while you cook whole-wheat pasta. Toss the cooked shellfish with the vegetables and pasta. Add some rinsed and drained canned beans for extra protein and fiber, if you like, then sprinkle with whatever fresh herb you have on hand. If you want, reserve and add a little of the pasta cooking water to make a sauce.

Check for doneness. However you cook your fish, don't overcook it! To test a fillet for doneness, insert the tines of a fork into the thickest part of the fish. When the fish starts to flake, it’s done. For fish steaks, check for opaqueness at the center. Salmon and tuna steaks may be cooked to pink or rare, as desired. Always start to check for doneness at the minimum recommended cooking time.

Shop smart. Haddock, snapper, cod, and scrod have a mild flavor and are great for those just starting to eat fish. Stronger-flavored fish include bluefish, salmon, blue fin tuna, and Spanish mackerel. On the list of fish to avoid due to high levels of mercury and other contaminants: swordfish, shark, tilefish, orange roughy, bigeye and ahi tuna, and king mackerel.

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