I am all for boundaries in the kitchen. Whether they’re halakhic (not serving rabbit) or culinary (traditional Italian cuisine frowns upon serving fish with cheese), limitations tend to inspire creativity. Still, without the speed, the tools, or the technical skill of a professional cook, it’s a tall order to complete the dishes by Shabbat’s arrival and to warm them in such a way that is halakhically permissible and non-detrimental to the food. The meal inevitably suffers.
It’s nearly impossible to serve anything that is both warm and green, for example. Reheated vegetables almost invariably lose their color. This means I can’t make the chive sauce I like to serve with cod, or sautéed spinach. This means my pea soup is inevitably brown.
Restrictions like these can make traditional Shabbat observance seem like deprivation. Shabbat is not conceptualized as an ascetic practice; rather, the obligatory nature of Shabbat and its attending constraints are supposed to usher in a higher luxury. Eating has always been central to that sense of luxury. Rabbinic literature is full of imaginative descriptions of Shabbat meals. In the Talmud, Rabbi Eliezer tells us that a man should always set a full table on Friday night, even if he only needs an olive’s worth of food. Likewise, many traditional Shabbat songs feature culinary themes. “It is an honored day,” writes Ibn Ezra in his poem “Ki Eshmera Shabbat,” “a day of enjoyment, of bread and good wine, of meat and fish!”
I still eat better on Shabbat than I do any other day of the week, since I actually bother to cook, but preparing food ahead of time frustrates me too. I’m not a fan of meats served cold, and other tactics do dry things out.