How is that yet again you have starch but no protein in the house for dinner? Or you have salad, but it’s the saddest salad you’ve ever seen. Or you only have one arm at your disposal, with a baby on the other. Or you Just Can’t Even after a long day at work. You’ve got this! Remember the egg.

Bacon, Egg, and Kale Breakfast Salad
Credit: Jennifer Causey; Styling: Claire Spollen

Soon after the Portlandia cliché “Put a bird on it!” emerged into the American vernacular, it was tweaked by clever food editors into “Put an egg on it!” It’s silly, but it’s true: When your fridge is a hot mess, or your pantry is terribly under-stocked, look to your eggs to save a meal.

As is true of lemons and garlic, tuna and pasta, it’s wise to always have eggs on hand. Soft-cooked, seven-minute eggs are key to the prettiest spontaneous salads, and have happy bedfellows in asparagus and spinach, avocados and smoked salmon, shallots and mustard dressings. (I like to bring my water to a boil, lower the eggs in carefully, cook for seven minutes, drain them, and run them under cold water until cool to the touch.) These eggs have golden, silky-soft centers, fully set whites, and an affinity for sea salt and fresh-cracked pepper.

I reached out to Ian Knauer of The Farm Cooking School, a former Gourmet food editor whose cookbook Eggs features the lovely orbs boiled, scrambled, fried, baked, sauced, and whipped—I’ll be making his Strawberry Rhubarb Rum Fizz this spring—and he wrote back enthusiastically. He adds soft-cooked eggs to homemade bowls of ramen and layers them on top of a can of tuna in olive oil for perhaps the fastest lunch of all time. He tucks them into salads made with warm bacon vinaigrette, a pairing that makes a ton of sense if you think about it.

Knauer reminded me of the glories of drippy fried eggs on Aussie-style hamburgers, and says he’ll often use fried eggs to foxy up fried rice. In my kitchen, I sometimes eschew a “proper” carbonara, in which I temper the egg with water to make sure it doesn’t curdle, in favor of a fat, yolky fried egg whose creaminess elevates the noodles.

That half chicken leg you gnawed on, with the cold biscuit on the side? Get the meat off the bone, plop it into a hot skillet shellacked with butter, put a lid on the the whole setup, and cook over low heat until the white sets. Stack everything together like you’re working the line at Waffle House, drizzle with hot sauce, and boom: Chicken and egg on a buttered biscuit, no need to get in your car, and everyone thinks you’re a genius.

Alex Van Buren is a food and travel writer living in Brooklyn, New York whose work has appeared in, Bon Appétit, Travel & Leisure, New York Magazine, Martha Stewart Living, and Epicurious. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @alexvanburen